Updated: Aug 20, 2020
I didn’t set out to do this when I attended Fashion Institute of Technology for Illustration in 1985. It never occurred to me when I earned my BFA in 1989 what I would actually do once I graduated. I literally didn't think about this for a minute while painting away in my life drawing classes or drawing countless still lifes. During the 1980’s there wasn't a computer graphics major, which in hindsight I may have majored in.
Once I graduated I relied on the job board at FIT ( literally a bulletin board with handwritten index cards with job leads) I went on countless interviews, mostly for entry level, or freelance positions. I was prepared to use my artistic skills out in the workforce!
One of the more memorable job interviews was painting “make up” on mannequins in
A Soho warehouse. My 4 years of painting gave me excellent blending skills and I was
offered the job on the spot!...I kept looking.
Months later I found a part time freelance position in an apparel company that manufactured boys apparel. I spent my time hand drawing prints that I would then copy and color up in marker and paste together in repeat and send a physical copy to the factories in China for strike offs. My job encompassed creating allover prints, screen prints and evolved into hand drawing the flat sketches that were needed to produce the garments. I then would take these sketches and color up multiple styles and color ways. This was my first foray into design. My very good college friend at the time, Eric who had been an illustration major with me said to me one day "Susan, you need to be the designer, not the artist! The designer makes more money then the artist!" With that I started to interviewing for design positions.
I need to take a moment here to just give honor to the memory of my friend, Eric who was a casualty just a few short years after graduating of the 1980's AIDS epidemic. I will always treasure his advice and his friendship.
My first actual design position came a few years later. I remember vividly, the interview.
The woman, Ginger liked my portfolio but when reading my resume she said to me, "but you don't have formal training as a fashion designer" call it either ignorance, or nerve, I replied "Oh I design now at my current company!" with that I was given the design position. I spent a year at this company and received my industry training in design. All the designers would meet with Piece goods salesman & trim suppliers where we would sample yardage and trim for the season. I sketched out what I wanted then worked with a patternmaker who would make my patterns, then to the sample hands would sew up my garments. I used my artistic skill to hand paint art when necessary. When I left there I continued to progress as a Children's wear designer. I have traveled to factories where I was educated on how things are produced. I have visited print mills where I had to approve print and color on the spot before they printed hundreds of yards of fabric for production. Fabric mills where they would do knit downs of my stripe designs for presentations. I have spent many years learning and being able to make a living using my creative skills.
At one of my last companies where I spent 16 years at, I was the manager and designed the brand "Flapdoodles" for many years. I traveled to Europe to shop twice a year, met and worked with buyers, put together seasonal line plans together and thought that I would someday retire from there. Unfortunately the fashion industry is not a stable market. The last year that I was there, the brand was transferred to a different divisional president. I can safely say I worked for "The devil wear's Prada's" main character and we did not see eye to eye. I spent one of my hardest years during this time, but yet again I learned so much. I would go to work at 7:30am where I befriended the technical designer and we spent a year of mornings, cutting, draping, working on sketches and specs for my designs. Luckily I had an extensive network of industry friends, and one who is also my personal friend, Nicole helped me make a move to my current company. Luckily I was able to take my many years of experience and my design know how and within a few short months grew their business.
I encourage anyone who feels strongly about a path to just follow it, you never know where it may lead. I tell my two kids, "Follow your inner compass, it will never steer you wrong!" However I am a prime example that not everyone will work with the degree that they received from college. The Fashion industry is not what it used to be when I started in it over 30 years ago. But it has provided a living and a creative outlet for me. I am currently back at FIT taking a certificate program for sustainable design. I am learning so much and meeting so many amazing people. We will see where my path continues to lead me.