Consequences of the fashion school bubble

Posted by Kathleen Fasanella on May 6, 2011 at 5:50 pm / Newbies, Slavery or Bravery / Trackback

Last June the New York Times published Oh, to Be Young and a Star, addressing the question of who deserves success. Reporter Eric Wilson mentions tension in the “generational shift taking place in fashion” writing there are “more than 350 designers showing collections during New York Fashion Week, compared with about 50 just two decades ago”. He also said (paraphrased) that today’s designers think they’ve had it harder than anyone preceding them.

I can see it both ways. In many ways it’s easier to become a designer today (barring the case of celebrity designers) in that a designer-entrepreneur only needs money because they can outsource the technical mastery. It’s a double edged sword though; without technical mastery, they must outsource requisite skills. [I know many of you are annoyed by people who call themselves designers when they have no training or experience but I'm only bothered if they imagine skills are commodities.]

I’m troubled by the consequences of the fashion school bubble -350 designers at NY Fashion Week being but one sign of it- the blame for which we mostly attribute to Project Runway. A similar thing happened with the TV show LA Law, law schools were inundated with applicants and our legal system is burgeoning with excessive lawsuits as the logical consequence of lawyers needing to make their student loan payments. Simplistically speaking, these are trend careers. In the same vein, Mr. Fashion-Incubator says many young people are studying to become forensic pathologists because of CSI and Bones. I think that is great because it makes science and math careers more popular. Anybody who can make the grades can find a fulfilling and rewarding career even if they don’t become forensic pathologists. Conversely, the problem with fashion careers is that few will find jobs.

Let me lay it for you. In order for a person to have a full time job as a designer -meaning an employee, not someone who also has entrepreneurial duties- there needs to be a given number of personnel to support that position. Based on my experience, you only need one designer for every 75-150 stitchers. Anything less than that, the designer has cross duties he or she is not happy about. However, we have a crisis in the industry in that we can’t find enough stitchers to fill demand -at least domestically. The short answer is, if we can’t get people in front of machines, we can’t hire any more designers.

Here’s a little chart I drew up to illustrate it.

design_hierarchy

We also have a crisis with sales reps.  Being more technologically astute, most of the people coming in to that side of the business are more interested in marketing via social media (twitter, FaceBook) or doing email blasts to showcase their lines to showrooms and editorial (traditional fashion pubs and blogs) but the vast majority of product lines will never be sold that way successfully. Sure, you can drum up interest in the social space but if you don’t have reps slogging samples to stores, consumers can’t buy it. So, even if we solved the sewing to designer ratio problem, there’s no way to get product into stores because road reps are decreasing because they’re getting older and retiring with no one taking their place.

Thus, if a designer is determined to get a job designing, most will not have that option unless they become entrepreneurs or unless they start working on the support positions problem. Unfortunately, there’s no Project Runway for pattern makers, production sewers or sales reps to drive interest in those support positions that make a full time design career a possibility.

Even when I went to school 30 years ago, a fashion career was competitive but it wasn’t as bad as it is now so I admit to being perplexed by the unabated interest in fashion degrees. While there is always room for someone who is good (85% of Gen Y thinks they are above average), there are few to no jobs in design unless you do your own line because at precisely the time we have the most design grads and outsourcing startups is when we have the fewest number of people actually sewing. Contrast this to the forensic pathology career; each of those jobs also requires support staffing but few of those support jobs can be outsourced as the needle trades has been.

Katja Grace recently posed the question of how thoroughly do you research your dreams? I responded that I didn’t research mostly because I couldn’t but if I could have, probably wouldn’t have wanted to know the ugly truth of it. [That's also true of kids today so I have no business throwing stones while living in my glass house.] Vinnie said (oversimplified) that there’s no incentive to do the research. That kids, schools and parents are complicit because there’s no gain to being the dream killer. I thought there was a lot of truth to that -and explains why I haven’t published this post since I first starting writing it last June. Some things don’t improve with age but must be said anyway.

Even the entrepreneurial track with or without a degree is no guarantee. You’ll pay one way or another if you can’t do your own patterns and production. Now there’s tons of businesses that only exist to suck the money out of start-ups, specializing in consulting, marketing or outsourced solutions. If any of their customers make it, it’s a tiny percentage of what comes in the door (no different from fashion school, especially the for-profit schools targeting starry-eyed dreamers). It’s a numbers game, most everyone loses and mercenary service providers know it so they don’t become invested in anyone. You have no relationship at McDonald’s. You go in, buy whatever and leave. Maybe you come back maybe you don’t. That they have the high minimums and set retainers is because they know you won’t be here next season. Probably the worst ones are those who ran their own manufacturing enterprises into the ground and needing a gig, decided to become consultants to tell you how to run your company into the ground too do it.

I think you can be successful if you would have entered the industry anyway, the path I advocate is not easy and it’s hard work. Which is not to say new aspirants don’t prepare but returning to Eric Wilson’s point, it’s a generational difference. They get MBAs, marketing or graphic arts degrees. They write business plans and beg or borrow every dime they can. They have their IP attorneys on speed dial. Indirectly, it explains today’s obsession with intellectual property (and not incidentally, inverse product innovation). With so many new lawyers picking through the pie, the only way they could give everyone a piece is if the pie were made larger. There’s a lesson to take from that but I don’t know how we can make the designer’s pie bigger if we don’t have stitchers and salesmen to support those jobs.

What I worry about is disillusionment, cynicism and the internalized self blame of failure. I worry about the long term psychic and financial costs and how a dream-deferred, demoralized and resentful workforce can affect society. In part I think it’s due to the seduction of simplicity. We all want a big EASY button but in manufacturing, there is no such thing. Fashion isn’t a franchise. You can’t plunk down some money or finance it and buy the equivalent of a UPS shipping outlet in a protected territory. It’s not a turn-key operation run on auto-pilot, its duties worked in after dinner or while the kids are napping. Somebody has to do the work. If your service providers worked the 4-hour work week you imagine you can, nothing would ever get done. You know, like sewing. Nobody wants to sew anymore. I know some fear it because it seems like more complexity but it’s also common to find others who want to pass that off to the “little people”.

Returning to Eric’s point again, some people just want to be a star. They go validation shopping and give their money to people who tell them they can be anything they put their minds to as long as they want it badly enough. A one-armed man no matter how disciplined or self affirming, is never going to take the gold in Olympic swimming. If you believe people have consummate control over their successes, the flip side must hold true too. That would mean people are ultimately responsible for all their failures, that they have ultimate control over something they don’t. I’m reminded of this when I read narratives written by people who’ve beaten cancer. They say they fought really hard, that they put their mind to it. The reverse implication being that people who died must not have wanted to live badly enough. They didn’t fight hard enough when the truth of it is, nobody has this kind of control. That’s not the best analogy because the odds of being successful in  manufacturing are much better than beating cancer because cancer doesn’t care how smart you are or how hard you work.

So, our industry is dealing with a bubble, an influx of people with varying levels of training and competence for whom there are fewer jobs than ever. Thus, if a designer is determined to get a job designing, most will not have that option unless they become entrepreneurs. Even then, most of their job will be business owner, not designer. I don’t see any way around it.

However even as entrepreneurs, designers have hurdles -that again, we didn’t have before. For example, we had more domestic resources. Today, because we don’t have the stitchers, many can’t produce domestically (small lots, it’s the only sustainable way) even if they wanted to. So, what this has done is drum up costs overseas (more competition for production resources), chasing people without the means out of the market.

The only long term sustainable way to grow a line will be to produce it oneself. But again, many people don’t want to  buy the machines, hire and train stitchers etc -and that’s assuming you can find people who’d want the jobs. Many people don’t these days. All this talk of sweatshops (mostly unwarranted at least in the US) and factory work being demeaning has backfired. No parent these days aspires for their child to work in a factory even though that’s where all the jobs are. Three states (PA, OH and I forget who else) are respectively projecting shortages of 100,000 workers each over the next ten years.

So let’s say you’re in a position to take a long term view of improving the job picture for design school graduates. The best thing you could do would be to encourage more domestic production because that’s the only way they will have the support staff needed to produce their lines.

The other generational change we’ve seen is that many people these days think it is someone else’s job to create a more favorable climate. The thing no one seems to understand is that it has ALWAYS been the designer’s role to do this. Designers have always started companies that then become healthy enough to create opportunities for other people. That is the only way that 99% of companies ever started. Today many think it is up to someone else to create these opportunities for them, to create that infrastructure rather than building it for themselves. This expectation creates conflict in that new entrants believe they should be the first generation in the history of the industry to not have to create jobs for themselves. Then again it is understandable that they’re more risk averse. They’re saddled with school debt we didn’t have either. Rock and a hard place, I don’t envy it.

If you’ve noticed, my driver has always been job creation. I do love all of you but I’m using you to get what I want, which is really what you want even if you’re not there yet. I once thought of  starting my own factory to provide a few jobs but that was silly. As a friend kindly pointed out, I could have a much greater effect on what mattered to me if I focused on helping entrepreneurs start enterprises because they’d need to hire people. You know, another order of magnitude. It’s why my focus is training and education. If money was my singular focus and I had one lick of sense, I’d either focus on producing my own line or consulting, sourcing and offshore packages because those are DE spending priorities. So, people buy my book and that’s good because it pays the bills and keeps this site scraping by but I’m inspired to work with people who are interested in developing jobs domestically.

I like factories. I like to start and grow them. I’m proud of that, the littlest ones are my favorites. My favorite thing is to improve quality and make them better. My point being -circuitously- is that we share the same interests. I’m a one man band trying to grow domestic factories without which designers cannot get jobs. So in my opinion, what would really be great is if designers worked toward that end too. Hopefully more people will become interested in it before we’ve completely lost the vestiges of institutional knowledge we still have. I won’t be here forever. Like those stitchers and reps, I’ll retire too. I want to make marionettes and play the banjo.

I’ve digressed a lot. The summary conclusion is that today’s design grads have it worse in some ways than we did but there’s always room for somebody who is good and the ones who deserve success are the ones who work for it in meaningful ways -which doesn’t mean blowing start up capital by keeping an IP attorney on speed dial. And maybe not even by going to fashion school. One advantage designers have today is that they have more money than we did to start enterprises even if it’s only access to credit and also, disposable income has increased by quite a bit with a 300% increase of expenditures going to clothing. So, the only difference can boil down to how you choose to allocate your resources to greater advantage. I remain convinced that the apparel market is going to tighten up and people who produce domestically will have marked advantages over others come five or so years from now.

Related:
Which fashion school is best?
Which fashion school is best? pt.2
Should you go to fashion school?

30 Responses to “Consequences of the fashion school bubble”

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katyrenee
May 6th, 2011
6:19 PM

I appreciate this post. Thank you.

As I’ve talked to local designers they are closing their local manufacturing because it isn’t cost-effective. Granted we are talking on a “superficial level” meaning I am one of a bunch of people touring their facility. But does this hold true? Is it just because I live in an area that has an high cost of living? Or is there more?

Rocio
May 6th, 2011
7:38 PM

There is just SO MUCH here that been running through my mind over the years…

Having paid for my Fashion Education without resorting to loans makes it a bit difficult for me to feel sorry for those who couldn’t be bothered to do the research… Specially since we didn’t have internet back then…

Oh well!… Business as usual… SURVIVAL OF THE FITTEST

Jennifer
May 6th, 2011
8:26 PM

Great post, Kathleen, I can never thank you enough for all that you’ve done. Have you ever thought about translating ‘the book’ to other languages? I have clients, DEs who are non English speakers, I think your book can benefit people from around the world. I know you are focusing on the US, but hey why not? And what do you think about e-book, for those of us halfway around the world? Just an idea….

Christine
May 6th, 2011
9:11 PM

Hello! A question and a comment…

My question is for your definition of commodity…i.e., a person who views the sewing skill as a commodity doesn’t recognize/acknowledge differences in skill/quality between stitchers and therefore isn’t willing to pay a price based on quality?

My comment (two, really) is regarding science education and jobs. The forensic science track is an interesting one, particularly because the field has such a lot of improving to do. This report, http://www.nap.edu/catalog.php?record_id=12589, talks about the major problems forensics has in terms of resources, policies, and the quality of the science that is done. There are real unmet needs in the field, perhaps some of the newly trained can lead the way.

I am a Ph.D. chemist by training, now working in health/science policy. There seems to be a constant debate about the glut of Ph.D. scientists and how there aren’t nearly enough professorships to go around…but at the same time there is this debate about how the US isn’t producing enough scientists so that we can remain competitive economically with the rest of the world. Replace professor with designer and scientist with fashion industry-trained people and it’s the same problem.

Just some thoughts…I won’t fill up your comment page, but thanks for the thought-provoking post as always.

Reader
May 7th, 2011
9:23 AM

“A similar thing happened with the TV show LA Law, law schools were inundated with applicants and our legal system is burgeoning with excessive lawsuits as the logical consequence of lawyers needing to make their student loan payments. Simplistically speaking, these are trend careers.”

I agree with the point that law as a career was hyped starting in the late 1980s. The New York Times was a big offender. The logical consequence has been too many lawyers, but also too many law grads with absolutely enormous student loans they can’t easily repay because the $100K+ job they expected no longer exists or isn’t open to them because they didn’t do well enough at the best schools. A lot of lawyers are un- or under-employed or doing lousy, poorly paying work that is hardly legal work.

We do live in a litigious society, but that is partly because our society is very heterogeneous. Values aren’t shared, the rich and corporate tiers try to take advantage (and usually succeed). The only thing that helps, although not consistently, is the enforcement of the law, and law is expensive to enforce. We need lawyers to make it work.

If you want to blame someone, blame law schools. Nobody forced them to make classes bigger and to charge huge fees. But they saw interest and money to be made and this is America. :-)

Reader
May 7th, 2011
9:32 AM

I found this post very interesting, but I think the need for future forensic pathologists has been overestimated. :-) (Grass is greener syndrome. :-) )

I also don’t think a whole lot of young or new designers have IP lawyers on retainer. Even inexperienced IP lawyers don’t work for free.

sahara
May 7th, 2011
11:50 AM

Kathleen, I’M IN AWE of your post. This trend couldn’t have been stated more succinctly. But what’s interesting to me, is that here in NYC, the young people who are becoming the most interested in sewing (see The Textile Arts Center website, among others), are those who aren’t fashion school students or into becoming designers–they’re into “re-claiming the domestic realm” as one young woman told me. While I don’t see them sewing for a living–this city is too expensive to support oneself by it–I find the renewed interest encouraging.

“Unfortunately, there’s no Project Runway for pattern makers, production sewers or sales reps to drive interest in those support positions that make a full time design career a possibility.”

LOL! Watch out, you’ve put it out there–and your blog is HUGELY popular. What would it be called? Pattern Wars!

Bente
May 8th, 2011
9:49 AM

Great post Kathleen! I agree that it has to be more focus on “getting” the designed items out there; production/ sales reps etc. but what about the consumer: are they willing to pay the price for quality?
People in this country want their closets filled up with thousands of items. It looks like they don’t bother how long it last and if it is good quality.

MBVoelker
May 8th, 2011
10:31 AM

I’m a commercial sewer in a parachute plant. I also have a BS in a science field. But when I had to go to work after 18 years as an SAHM I, like my father before me, discovered that I like working with my hands better than I like pushing paper from place to place.

For anyone reading this who is thinking that they might be “above” sewing I want to tell you that you are missing out. It is highly rewarding to be able to point to a stack of finished goods at the end of the day and know that its your work accomplished. The act of running the machine is pleasant in itself and once your hands acquire skill your mind is free for creative thought.

Additionally, if you are in any kind of position of authority telling sewers how to do their jobs and cannot sew you will get no respect on the floor. We don’t expect you to do our jobs as well as we do, but we do expect you to know what is and isn’t possible to achieve with a given set of materials and machinery.

Just a little food for thought from the production tier of the pyramid.

Chris V
May 9th, 2011
7:26 AM

@ MBVoelker: I happen to be absolutely in agreement with you. I was actually trying to think the other day how one might get a job as a sewer. I’m much happier constructing things – one of my best summer jobs was third shift computer construction (cooling fan sub-assemblies). I may be data entry now, but I hope I keep my sewing and other construction skills up for when I need a career change. :)

Tula
May 9th, 2011
10:35 AM

It’s fascinating how much media and television influences life. I’ve always believed that media portrayal of those in technical professions has played a large part in the dearth of people going into fields like engineering and the hard sciences. Like you, I’m glad to see shows like CSI and Bones portraying technical people as something other than uncool, socially-awkward “nerds.” This is especially true when it comes to women. It’s nice that we can now see techies on television who are normal people (like most of us are in real life) and not stereotyped as geeks. I look forward to a day when saying “I can’t do math” is an embarrassment rather than a cool thing to say to your friends.

As far as designers, though, I have a feeling a lot of these newbies will be greatly disappointed to find that it’s not going to be as easy and glamorous as they expect. Reality television really isn’t reality and a lot of people are sadly going to find this out the hard way.

Don
May 11th, 2011
1:06 AM

Looks like there is going to be a whole generation of Master/Iron Chefs and Project Runway celebrities that are completely out of touch with reality. ‘Celebrity-syndrome’- they want fame without doing the hard-yards.

Kathleen Fasanella
May 11th, 2011
10:48 AM

Interesting post from another source that says 80% of manufacturers are having difficulty finding qualified help. It also says that manufacturing hires is the one bright spot in the economy with over 100,000 jobs added since January and another 230,000 planned hires before the close of the year. There’s also a nifty chart showing what skills used to be needed vs what is needed today.

Following up with some comments. Christine wrote:

My question is for your definition of commodity…i.e., a person who views the sewing skill as a commodity doesn’t recognize/acknowledge differences in skill/quality between stitchers and therefore isn’t willing to pay a price based on quality?

I mean commodity in its strictest definition, that being fully fungible -namely, no qualitative sourcing difference. I suspect newest DEs think commodity sewing is relatively elastic (or that sewing period is elastic) but I don’t think it is… I’m open to debate. Quality production of course being much less so (and why quality producers are mostly busy). DH and I were musing the irony that many aspiring DEs who presume sewing is a commodity, are a commodity themselves… Christine continues:

There seems to be a constant debate about the glut of Ph.D. scientists and how there aren’t nearly enough professorships to go around…but at the same time there is this debate about how the US isn’t producing enough scientists so that we can remain competitive economically with the rest of the world.

Through your comment history I know you to be thoughtful and introspective so I assume I’m missing something; my first thought being the obvious alternative of private industry jobs as opposed to professorships. DH says they have 12 Ph.Ds on staff and are always looking for more.

Reader: Agreed on the matter of forensic pathologist demand which is why I said “Anybody who can make the grades can find a fulfilling and rewarding career even if they don’t become forensic pathologists.” You then said:

I also don’t think a whole lot of young or new designers have IP lawyers on retainer. Even inexperienced IP lawyers don’t work for free.

To which I can only say, from your mouth to God’s ear. Interest in IP used to be somewhat infrequent; such that patent seekers were occasional and the butt of many jokes. Now they are tragically common. Nearly everyone who contacts me these days expects me to sign NDAs etc. I don’t believe they all have attorneys on retainer; many have cobbled together their own agreements from free sources on the web (the trickle down effect of underemployed attorneys) but many many more have than ever previously.

Christine
May 13th, 2011
2:42 PM

Thanks, Kathleen, for helping me out with the ‘commodity’ definition.

I will take the opportunity to clarify…my effort to be concise was not so successful… The issue I was trying to point out was that despite the fact that the deficit of academic positions for science Ph.D.s is widely recognized, industry jobs and other jobs that benefit from the additional training are regarded as “back-up” or “alternative”, which reminds me of the disconnect between the training of ‘glamorous’ designers versus less-glamorous stitching/patternmaking/manufacturing professionals. There’s more attention, value, prestige, etc. assigned to the academic jobs over the others, despite the relative demand. Even when a graduate wants to go into industry, finding a job can be next-to-impossible, as Ph.D. graduates are over-specialized in their fields to even be qualified for most available industry jobs, and there is little to no training in business, project or personnel management, communication, or any other non-science skill (at most schools)…which I might loosely compare with designer graduates who don’t sew, understand patternmaking, production, marketing/retail, etc.

One obvious response to this problem, which is being discussed heavily in science journals, is to suggest that there are too many Ph.D.s. But a terminal degree is a sort of passport to higher levels of responsibility, so it can be challenging to be as successful without it. I think the Ph.D. programs need to be fixed.

Comparing this to education for the garment/textiles industry…[looking at FIT programs and course listings]…makes me wonder whether science training programs have something to learn from schools like FIT where the programs have a practical bent. It’s nice to see that you CAN learn the things you need to know if so inclined in fashion/garments/textiles.

So, to sum up: Kathleen pointed out that the problem in fashion is that the specific field of design is overhyped at the expense of patternmaking, production, stitching, etc. In science, I think it’s that academic jobs are overhyped at the expense of industry, entrepreneurship, government/regulatory/policy, and even education/teaching (ironic that a professorship is a sort of code-word for independent researcher rather than educator+researcher in the sciences) jobs.

Kathleen
May 14th, 2011
6:03 AM

Haven (gorgeousclever) sent me this news item stating more of the same, Mike Rowe testifies before the Senate saying

Right now, American manufacturing is struggling to fill 200,000 vacant positions. There are 450,000 openings in trades, transportation and utilities. The skills gap is real, and it’s getting wider. In Alabama, a third of all skilled tradesmen are over 55. They’re retiring fast, and no one is there to replace them.

…Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture… [said] a governor was unable to move forward on the construction of a power plant. It wasn’t a lack of funds. It wasn’t a lack of support. It was a lack of qualified welders.

Virginia Dan
May 18th, 2011
3:30 PM

I go to Los Angeles Trade Tech (an LA county community college) and am an aspiring patternmaker. Many of my classmates work in factories and are returning to school to improve their sewing skills. There is definitely a large population out there that want to start or work in non-sweatshop sewing factories, but there are few education institutions that train people for the fashion industry. I do believe that fashion design is an art and should be taught as a fine art, but I think there should be a balance of institutions that teach skills that directly lead to sustainable jobs.

Kathleen G
May 28th, 2011
2:31 PM

It’s not necessarily that there is a lack of welders, widget makers etc. The issue is that there is a lack of employers willing to pay a decent wage to craftspeople. I hear the same canard about the scarcity of IT workers from big companies like Microsoft and how necessary it is for H1B visas. In fact there are thousands of unemployed IT workers who were offered a few more months employment if they would train their less expensive (lower paid) H1B replacement prior to leaving.

As it gets more expensive to off-shore d/t employee demands and the pressure of the bad press d/t suicides (Apple?), manufacturers who come back to hire still expect a big discount on the labor front. We are already a big bargain for European and Japanese manufacturers who are thrilled to offer $8/hr wages and weak union support.

Kathleen
May 30th, 2011
8:15 AM

The IT (or related) tangents are not germane; there IS a documented and critical lack of welders, widget makers etc.

We don’t have a fashion school bubble exclusively but a college bubble generally, meaning too few entrants into the trades.

Kathleen
May 30th, 2011
8:47 AM

More on Mike Rowe; he’s starting a PR campaign to elevate respect for blue collar jobs. I wish more people would listen to this guy.

sfriedberg
May 31st, 2011
12:00 PM

There’s some discussion on this topic over on the Practical Machinist forums (practicalmachinist.com) . Lots of wailing about the aging of the workforce and the apparent lack of new intake willing and/or able to do anything but “push the green button”. They are also hoping Mike Rowe’s campaign has some benefits.

As an aside, “push the green button” means activate the computer-controlled machinery. The problem is that someone highly-skilled has to program the machine before the less-skilled operator start it running. Schools are turning out lots of operators, but shops need people who can be more than just operators. It is especially poignant that the main source of training for the highly-skilled is in complicated manual (non-computerized) operations, while the efficiency of computerized operations has devastated manual shops to the point where they can’t stay in business.

Small businesses can’t train (as in old-style apprentices). Their profit margins simply won’t allow carrying the dead weight. Large businesses can recruit people who already have the needed skills. Schools (sensibly) are preparing students for the vast majority of the available positions (operators). Who then invests in training new toolmakers?

Lisa L.
May 31st, 2011
12:31 PM

Thank you again. Excellent article.

My grandmother labored for many years in the garment industry in Manhattan. Her daughter, my aunt, studied at FIT and worked for Hattie Carnegie in the 50’s. I am just a newbie weekend hobbyist.

My stepdaughter wants to be “a fashion designer to celebrities”, and has noted that “there are plenty of fashion designers that don’t sew.”

You are right about parents not wanting to burst their child’s precious bubble, because they don’t win new age parents-as-your-friend points. Which is not parenting, it is insecurity.

I am trying to give her something of an education, in my role as step parent, by offering her sewing classes. She’s a junior in HS, and will be applying to colleges in the Fall. So far, all she has sewn are pajama pants at a local Jo-Ann Saturday workshop. Either she’ll discover some hidden talent or not, at least she’ll have some exposure to sewing.

College will cost $25k to $50k each year. That’s a lot of money to spend to get a foot in the door (the diploma will hopefully get graduates even that) of a declining industry, where people work for $0.00/hour zero pay (as interns, for years).

College is a business. Their job is to get customers. They get customers by selling them some far-away dream achieved by previous few. I do wish more education was offered for skilled vocational jobs.

Thanks for your clear headed analysis.

Kathleen G
June 4th, 2011
4:08 PM

When I was in high school our local vocational school (BOCES) had a program for sewing machine operators. I suppose they were meant to work at Pietrafasa or other sewn product manufacturer. By the time NAFTA was passed, they cancelled that program. A friend of mine had taken that track and now works in retail, managing a mall boutique.

Luckily we still have the vocational option for our high school students but none for learning to be a machinist. Construction trades, HVAC, auto Repair, computer systems, hairdressing, nursing are among the offerings now. However, I note that there are many states and school systems that don’t even have this option.

I live in the Northeast, an area derisively called “the rustbelt” where there once had been quite a bit of industry which has left one by one over the last 30 years. The people who were laid off either tried to retrain to something else or moved somewhere else where they could find their jobs. People stop training for jobs that don’t exist. Why there is surprise that there is a minimal number of older trained workers with no one behind them to take their places is a headscratcher.

Incidently, there was a Wikileak article about the Haitian sewing machine operators wanting to raise their minimum raise at CODEVI jeans factory there (Levi Strauss and Hanes are the principal contracts)–they are currently at 31 cents an hour, and were pushed back with the help of our State Dept. Making over $3/day is not in the cards for them this decade. Honestly, would anyone wish to train for a job with this kind of compensation competition?

Bente
June 5th, 2011
9:48 PM

Kathleen G: This low salary provokes as much as people that doesn’t want to pay at least $50 for a jeans! A good quality jeans can last for at least 6 years..
How could they possible raise the salary if people doesn’t understand the value of clothing?

Dennis
December 14th, 2011
11:31 AM

This is kind of late. Factories in Wisconsin (where I live) are complaining about the lack of skilled labor. There are lots of unemployed people but without the “right” skills. The unemployed don’t have cars so they are unable to drive to farms to work there, but are also uninterested in such work. The tech schools could teach but the gov and his “cronies” have cut $$ from the schools including the K-12s. EEK!

[...] we need those workers again -because of rising costs offshore- we don’t have them anymore. Few young people want the work, they’ve been taught that factory work is beneath them. The only ones who do want it and who [...]

Should you go to fashion school?
May 28th, 2012
9:44 AM

[...] lot of people think that getting a fashion degree is the best path to become an entrepreneur but it rarely works out for the average person in the short term. At least when I went to school, [...]

[...] reality is, this is an industry in crisis. Truly skilled technical professionals are a minority these days, overshadowed by all the people who want to be designers but don’t know much about how [...]

Michele J
January 9th, 2014
12:53 AM

This site is SO incredible. I attend FIT and other students are totally shocked when I tell them that I enjoy pattern making and sewing more than designing. They are basically like “Why would you want to do that?” I am learning a lot about fashion and increasing my skill set, but I still want to be able to pay Sallie Mae back at the end of all this.

I have been doing fashion design, as well as going for the Pattern making certificate in the evening. I may follow up with CAD as well. I believe FIT used to have a pattern making program, but that got replaced with the Tech Design program, which I have thought of, too.

Anyway, I’m so glad I came across your site. I actually have now found interest the manufacturing field as well! Can’t wait to get your book!

Filothea
October 8th, 2014
3:39 AM

I have just discovered your website and I love it.

I have graduated the foundation course at Central Saint Martins with a distinction and now I am on the BA at Westminster. I am seriously thinking about quitting and starting a business on my own – having a reality-check as the so-called academic environment is quite biased and in terms of the market, unrealistic.

I am a very practical, business-inclined person. I would never want to work for a company mainly because after years I know I would appreciate the confort of a stable working place and will want to just get promoted instead of working for myself. I believe life will be the best professor. It is risky but I also believe in myself.

The trouble is the conventional idea of having a BA completed which gives your saying weight. However, in ateliers I believe there is much more to learn than peer rivalry and pleasing tutors.

What do you think about a university degree? Am I crazy to believe so?

Kathleen
October 8th, 2014
7:28 AM

Hi Filothea
At the close of my post are 3 links; the last one, should you go to fashion school, might help you make a decision or reformulate your question.

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