Written by Aly Reinert, Edited by esa Staff
My story began
when I decided to go to school for Textile and Apparel Design. I got into my desired school, Madison WI. I was set to spend three years there and go to FIT for the 1-year Fashion Design program as my senior year and the completion of my Bachelor’s degree.
It’s difficult to describe in words the incredible feeling of majoring in something that made my future feel so bright. I have always been a creator and been fascinated by art and design. When I merged this with fashion, I knew this path was the right one. Four years of extremely hard work and countless all-nighters spent with other creative souls came and went. I was feeling as confident as ever in my technical skills and design ability. I was ready to get some real industry experience and so excited to have a salary job that ended each day at 5 or 6 pm.
As I started the search for a full-time position I was suddenly feeling discouraged. I read countless job descriptions that all sounded the same. I wasn’t confident that these positions would be the right fit for me, but I was still optimistic. I also felt that corporate fashion was my only option to stay and survive in NYC. Eventually, I would find this to be untrue.
After a few months of restaurant work and full-time job searching, I finally landed my first position as an Assistant Designer. Despite some my of my concerns about whether I would be happy in such a corporate position, I still had high hopes that my skills would be utilized and my creativity would come through in my daily work. I’m not gonna lie, it felt so good to say that I worked as an Assistant Designer for a real company. However, as I began to see and understand the interworking of the company, I became less inspired each day. As much as I hoped to look at my boss and crave to have a position like his or hers, this was not the case. My higher ups would often take shopping trips and return with countless items from trendy stores. They would then hand them off to me to copy or make small changes based on trend forecasts we were forced to follow.
“As is” is a term we used quite often when explaining to them how we wanted “our version”. I sat next to someone who had been at the company ten years. Her title was Designer, but she did the same work I did, just with a higher salary and a little more control. I couldn’t believe where I had ended up. I felt so alone in my discontent for an industry I thought I would be inspired by each day. It forced me to think deeper about what someone like me is really supposed to do when faced with this issue. As creative people, how are we supposed to just accept that there is such a large disconnect between design school and working in the industry? Are we all supposed to sit at desks every day staring at the computer, pretending we knew we would end up in such corporate positions?
I think the unfortunate thing is that a lot of people DO accept this, and learn to live with it instead of seeing what their other options are. I think many designers feel that they have no other options. If you don’t choose the corporate path it requires you to pave your own way or find a unique makers position. This can seem daunting or even impossible. This is just my experience, but in my assistant design position, I felt like I was anything but an artist. I felt like a soulless worker bee, cranked out of the fashion school system to be a corporate, trend-following, robot. They used me for my skills, so that consumers could purchase cheap throw-away clothing from China, reproduced from other cheap clothing that was already in stores.
I was disgusted by the system that fooled me to believe I would spend my life as a creative artist, and also by the utter disregard for the fact that whipping out more trendy, cheaply produced clothing is destroying our planet as we know it. People are brainwashed to believe they need the “next thing” on mannequins, and they forget about the outfit they bought from the same mannequin last month.
Clothing is treated as disposable, and it absolutely IS NOT. The hardest part for me to accept is that this starts with the designers working at these companies and trickles down throughout consumers because of what is created for them. All these shocking revelations made me realize that if I am to follow my true artistic purpose, I couldn’t work at that place or anything like it another day. I knew my path did not include contributing to this system, and if I were to be involved in fashion that it had to be in a completely different way. So despite knowing what that was, I quit.
When I made the decision that I would work towards finding my way as a designer, I had no idea what that would look like or where that would lead. After I left, I felt defeated for while. Like somehow, the “Designer” title had been stripped from me because I didn’t have an official position somewhere. Making this sort of move can also be stressful when having to explain yourself to others, and I felt incredibly judged and misunderstood at times. However, I always knew that if I was following a path that felt right and putting myself out there that doors would open. That’s exactly what has lead me to where I am now and where I am still going.
My first step towards this path
was giving myself a creative workspace to become a maker again. I signed a lease on a studio space and committed to spending as much time there as possible, creating clothing and rediscovering my craft.
After finding my specialty in denim I really started coming into my own as an artist again. The more I identified myself in this niche and put myself in situations where opportunity was about, the more people I met and the more involved I became. I currently have many of my own clients, and I do independent contract work as a denim artist for a denim repair company. I also showcase and sell my work at markets and events throughout NYC. I am now finding out more about myself and my mission as an artist than I ever thought possible.
Due to my experience in corporate fashion, my values as a designer are also now deeply rooted in sustainability and upcycling is most of what I do. My goals are to reuse what already exists for my creations, give people’s favorite denim a longer life, and spread awareness about the industry’s bad habits to promote positive change in designers and consumers. I also want to be a voice for those who find themselves in a similar place that I was in and encourage them to go after the passions they feel most drawn towards. I think it is important to recognize that many people feel tremendous amounts of pressure to follow a certain type of career path. You should never feel like others have a say in what your life should look like. Someone else’s path is never going to be exactly like your path, and you must always remember the power that you have to write your own story.