Life as a fashion student

How I became a fashion student?

I didn’t continue my study straight away after high school. I took a year off, just started dating my ‘boyfriend, now husband’ and did some soul searching - I was just an average science-stream student. I know I wanna do things that I love - art. I did my own researches and applied for fashion design in local Uni, but I missed the interview - I didn’t even know there was an interview 😕. So I brushed up my drawing skills in the next few months and worked on my portfolio - a portfolio was required to bring during the interview. Then I applied for the second time in the same year (this time I came prepared and I was finally ready to go Uni.) I went to the interview and I got accepted.

What others think of my decision?

"I was lucky to have a strong support system, my husband and families have been there for me since day 1. I don't think I can do this without them."

Both my parents respected my decision. My mom was very happy that I finally doing something for my future. My mom saw my portfolio and she didn’t know that I was interested in art. She did continued to support my dreams, even though she was a little hesitant with the idea of me being so far away from home. Dad said follow your heart.

People around me questioning my decision for not choosing the usual path - to be a doctor, lawyer or a government servant. “so what’s you gonna do after you graduated?” A seamstress? 😆

How long is the course? 

It was a 6 semester, 3 years course - we learn about art on our 1st year, then learn fashion design the next 2 years. *I was the last batch to use this system, it had changed since then. Now it’s only 5 semesters.

I was 19 when I went into fashion school and finished my diploma when I was 21. Officially graduated a year later on May 2013.

How many subjects that I have?

I have 7 to 9 subjects on the first 2 years ; 2 to 3 subjects with final exams and few 2 to 3 hours studio classes. On my final year I have 4 to 5 subjects; no final exams, mostly just 3 to 6 hours studio classes. 

How’s the process begin from start to finish? 

In the beginning, we were given the task. Pick a subject, do some research, present your ideas.
Start your projects after it was approved.
Do some initial sketches, design development and start making toiles/muslins.
After everything was approved, the final projects begin - find materials and begin sewing.
Everything needed to be documented, approved before moving on to the next steps and we had to do all this in less than 12 weeks time.

What’s my daily routine as a fashion student?

I spent most of my time in the studio, we have to be early to fight for workspace. The studio open from 8/9am to 11pm every Monday to Friday, it was open on weekends too. During finals, the studio sometimes closed after midnight at 2am.

I was either in the studio (sewing) or the library (doing research) between classes, I even eat and nap in the studio. After class usually spent with going out to print artworks or finding materials, then straight to the studio again to work. Came home at midnight, continued working on my laptop or reading, sleep for few hours and woke up early again the next day. On weekend we usually went out to buy fabrics and materials, rent a car, drive to KL from Perak to buy fabrics. Doing photoshoot, scouting models etc.

How’s life as a fashion student?

"It’s hard work, nothing glamorous at all."

I was so excited and pumped up to learn new skills and meet new people - it helped me to expand my social skills. I might seems naïve at that time, but I feel like a kid again, learning things from zero - I had no idea how to use a sewing machine and they made fun of me, but it motivated me to push harder and be the best. 

In freshman year, everyone - including me cared how we looked, but that end up pretty quickly - as soon as assignments started piling up, we all looked like a living zombies. It was stressful and I lose so much weight on my first few semesters, I did gained it back as I really love the foods there.

I didn't took out the study loans and my parents and family paid for everything, I spent around Rm2500+ to Rm4000+ every semester. All the money goes into printing artworks, buying threads, fabrics and art materials like canvases and colours.

Besides going to classes and catch up on assignments, we do have extra curicullar activity like preparing fashion show for fashion day or for seniors finals. We learnt how to run a fashion show, do the backstage work, runway setup, scouting models, doing photoshoot, makeup and clothes fitting on the models, catwalk practise, music, advertising etc.

I was the secretary of our fashion blah blah blah,(I don't really remember) but I had to deal with paper works. and my English lecturer signed me up for public speaking competition and I won 3rd place. 😊 Sometimes I helped my friends on their photoshoot. That's when I learned a lot about poses and photography.

What about social life?

I really don’t socialise much during that time, I don’t have time to meet my other friends in different faculty. Only after the finals, during study or exam weeks that things slowed down a little, I studied for my paper and catched up on sleeps.

Are there any dramas?

If you’ve seen Project Runway, that’s exactly how it was in real life, filled with dramas (between lecturer and student - favouritism ) and cat fights (accusing others for stealing their ideas or similarities in their designs). Running around trying to finish sewing (until the last minute) before we presented our work to a panel of judges.

Are there any incident happened to you?

There was so many incidents happens towards the end, mine happened at the last few day of finals, I wasn’t getting enough sleep for weeks catching up on assignments. I was doing freehand embroidery, I dozed off (while sewing) and then I was startled by a loud thumping sound on my machine, I assumed that nothing happened so I continued sewing until I saw my index finger bled - the needle sewed through my finger, it happened so quick and luckily the needle didn’t got stuck on my finger. I didn’t even care about it and continued sewing before the studio closed that night.

What’s the hardest thing you’ve experienced?

Harsh critiques on your artworks - definitely not good for my self-esteem but it taught me to be thick skinned.

Stress - few students will drop out or give up halfway through due to stress or unable to caught up with study. I had nightmares dreaming of unfinished sewing projects due to this bad experience.

Most of the time, you just need to fend for yourself, learn everything by your own and learn to take criticisms better. Do your own thing, don’t get caught up with the dramas and try to survive Uni life. I cried many times, when the lecturers was mad at me, hated my ideas and tore my sketches. It was a bad and traumatic experience for me. But as they said, it was just a preparation to the real fashion world.

What lesson do you learnt from this experience?

"Listen to your heart and follow your dreams. Be yourself and don’t lose your identity. Be friends with people who lifts you up, learn to accept the criticisms and don’t let negativity get into your head. Try to spread positivity and be humble."

Though there are lots of hurdles along the ways, people hating you for being yourself, disapprove your ways of doing things & they looked down on you. You just have to be your own cheerleader and be resilient and just be kind to yourself.
I was grateful for the experience and I learnt a lot throughout the process. It taught me to appreciate life more and find joy in littlest things. I had the best 3 memorable years of my life, I found a lot of new friends, learn a lot about fashion and sewing and I found a new perspective on life.

How do you feel about your life as a fashion student?

I was offtrack at the end (I lost my grandma to cancer and I started questioning my life whether this is what I truly want), but all my hard work paid off in the end, I still graduated with flying colours. 😊

Towards the end of my final years, I don’t think that I like it anymore, I don’t feel like I belong there. The Uni life ; the cookie-cutter education, in which the educator enforced the ideas and everyone was molded into a certain image and leaving behind individuality. In the end, everyone had similar taste and then I started to be like one of them and lose my true identity.

After I graduated, I was lost and I wonder if this is the right thing for me. I have low self-esteem from the constant judgement and harsh critiques that I received over my work, I’m not sure if my work really worthy of any attentions, but throughout the years I developed my confidence back and fall in love with sewing again. 

I didn’t further my study, because I feel like Uni life just wasn’t for me anymore, I felt like it was limiting my creativity. After I got my diploma, I went straight to the real world and work for myself - started my brand, The Chantales.

How do you feel now?

I’m glad I listened to my heart and followed my dream,
Fashion world is a cutthroat world, everyone competing against each other.
But all I truly want is to make beautiful clothes to myself and do things that brings me joy. I’m glad I’ve found the sewing community on Instagram - it helped me to find my voice again and that's the reason why I started this blog - to encourage others to learn sewing in a good happy healthy environment.

What do you want to say to those who want to be a fashion student? 

It’s a tough world out there, you need to be mentally and physically prepared. Good luck!


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