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The Cutting Edge

For dedicated followers of fashion… We give you the lowdown on careers in this stylish industry.


Whether it’s designing handbags, arranging window displays, managing catwalk shows or developing printed textiles, there are plenty of careers available in the fashion world. Scotland is home to several high profile fashion industry movers and shakers, and with a number of Scottish colleges and universities offering highly regarded courses you could do a lot worse than to start your fashion career here.

Ours is a stylish country. We have some of the finest shopping streets in the UK and some of the most fashionable individuals, and we even have our own style awards, which were established to showcase the cream of the country’s creative talent. Starting a fashion career in Scotland means following in the footsteps of some gifted fashionistas – award-winning Motherwell upstart Christopher Kane has recently designed for Topshop and is a consultant for Donatella Versace, fashion photographer Albert Watson – who has more than 250 Vogue covers to his name – heralds from Edinburgh, and former Escada design director Brian Rennie is from Dundee. “Established designers such as Jonathan Saunders and Christopher Kane have proven it’s possible to run successful commercial fashion enterprises – their success should be an inspiration to burgeoning Scottish fashion stars,” says Mary McGowne, director of the Scottish Style Awards. “It’s a hugely exciting time for Scottish fashion right now as there’s a raft of talent breaking through.”

Fashion plays a large part in many of our lives – whether we’re trendsetters or follow the crowd – and there are lots of people involved in producing the garments we wear. But if you fancy getting into fashion, what kinds of jobs could be available to you?

When people think of careers in fashion, the role of the designer is often foremost in their minds. Designers can be self-employed or work for a high street chain or luxury brand, and might work across a variety of areas to plan entire ranges for brands, or specialise in one area such as accessory design, millinery (hat making) or sportswear. Either way, they need to have creative flair and artistic capabilities, along with the ability to develop their own items or work to clients’ demands. A good understanding of
production techniques, an eye on trends and excellent technical skills are must-haves.

Pattern cutter
Working closely with the designer, pattern cutters help to get a sketched design off the page and turn it into a finished, wearable item. Considering the look, fit and fabric structure, a pattern cutter develops the pieces which will be sewn together to create the final garment. People in this role need to have good drawing abilities and accuracy. Pattern cutters frequently work with computers and often carry out pattern grading, which involves deciding measurements to create patterns of different sizes.

This is one of the most sought-after jobs in fashion because buyers essentially get to shop for a living. The key duty of the buyer is to plan and select in-store ranges, basing decisions on forthcoming trends, customer demands and store budgets. The role can involve travelling to visit catwalk shows and trade fairs overseas and buyers need to be flexible in order to react to changes in the market. If this sounds like your idea of career heaven then you’ll need great communication skills as well as the ability to work under pressure.

Retail merchandiser
Retail merchandising involves working with buyers, trend forecasters and suppliers to ensure that merchandise appears in the store at the right time. People working in this role deal with numbers – controlling budgets, deciding what quantity of an item to purchase and setting prices to ensure maximum profits. Good business sense and a head for figures are required, since buyers need to haggle prices, deal with distribution numbers and forecast sales.

The fashion industry is viewed as being very glamorous so there’s plenty of competition to get in, whichever field you want to enter. It takes a certain talent to really make it to the top and, in order to develop and nurture that talent, you’ll need training. A number of colleges and universities across Scotland offer specialist education in different areas of fashion. For example, you can study a BA (Hons) in fashion marketing at Glasgow Caledonian University, Motherwell College offers a certificate in fashion
make-up, Glasgow Metropolitan College provides an NQ in jewellery making and those studying at Adam Smith College in Fife can undertake an HND in fashion design and manufacture.

Fashion is influenced by many different aspects of culture, including music, film, history and iconic individuals – and a qualification in fashion could also give you an understanding of how some of these topics interact. Any course which offers a work experience placement is worth considering – students on Heriot-Watt’s BSc in clothing design and manufacture have been placed with Vivienne Westwood, Nike and Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre – and a programme that provides a well-rounded education with plenty of focus on developing creative skills and business knowledge should give you a great grounding for a career in fashion.

We all have stereotyped views about the kinds of people who succeed in fashion, whether it’s the cold-hearted, steely professional type like American Vogue editor Anna Wintour, or flamboyant individuals such as designer Jean-Paul Gaultier. But there is no particular type of person who makes it in the industry because success is based on talent, creativity and technical skill.

Fashion is a very visual industry. It’s also one in which everyone has an opinion, so anybody who wants to enter the sector has to be prepared for criticism of their work or ideas, whether that’s during their course or in the workplace. “If people don’t like your things they’re probably going to tell you,” says Kevin Stewart, a stylist at Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh. Kevin believes that personality is important in this industry. “It’s about being confident and outgoing,” he explains, “whilst remaining quite humble.” In addition,
excellent communication abilities, a good business brain, an enterprising spirit, flexibility, confidence and good time management will also help you get your foot on the long catwalk towards fashion success. With so many roles to choose from and plenty of exciting opportunities, if you’ve got talent, style and self-belief, you could make it to the top.

Lizzie McQuade has enjoyed plenty of success since she graduated from Edinburgh College of Art, including being selected for the New Edinburgh bursary scheme which provided her with funding to create work to show on the catwalk during Edinburgh Fashion Week 2006. Lizzie, who is originally from Edinburgh, now works as design studio manager with London designer Emma Cook. “My current role involves overseeing production and sampling processes, including quality control and shipment of orders,” she explains. “I arrange appointments and meet with buyers during the fashion weeks to show them the collection. I also assist Emma Cook with design and am involved in the hand creation of the show pieces.”

Lizzie, now 24, has been sketching designs for clothes since she was eight or nine years old and says “I’ve never considered a career in anything else.” Her degree allowed her to develop her skills, as it involved design practice, illustration work and life drawing along with learning practical skills involved in fashion like machining techniques and pattern cutting. She’s happy to be working for a designer she respects, although she’d eventually like to branch out on her own or work as part of a collective. She is realistic though and has had to adjust her goals since graduating: “I think after two years in the industry, having watched a lot of my peers trying to get jobs, I have become more realistic,” she admits. “It’s great to have dreams and keep faith in them but I certainly think my expectations have become more grounded having seen the way this industry works and just how difficult it is to get a well-paid designing job.”

At just 26, Kevin Stewart is already making waves in the fashion world as an in-house stylist for Harvey Nichols in Edinburgh. Since graduating with a degree in fashion design from Edinburgh College of Art, Kevin has made his way through the ranks of the store, starting on the shop floor as a sales advisor, working as a personal shopping consultant and now using cutting edge, high end brands to style Harvey Nichols events.

Although he’s always had a passion for fashion, Kevin started on a graphic design degree which he quickly changed when he realised his talents lay elsewhere. “The more I got into fashion, the more my interest grew,” he explains. After graduating, Kevin returned home to Dumfries and Galloway to live with his parents and work in a bank, but when an opportunity came up for a job as sales advisor at Harvey Nichols, he went for it. “At that point I was living in a friend’s walk-in wardrobe because I didn’t have anywhere to live!” he recalls.

Kevin eventually found himself in the ladies international fashion department where he sold brands like Gucci, Prada and Dolce & Gabbana. But although he still has a few personal shopping clients, he now dedicates the majority of his time to his role as a stylist and, with 12 events to style over the next four months, that can mean working flat-out. “I style all of the fashion shows,” he says, “which basically involves creative direction – finding the models, developing a theme for the event, finding make-up artists and working with different departments to make it a success.”

It’s clear that Kevin has a real dedication to fashion, and he knows he’s been lucky in the career opportunities he’s had so far. “It’s quite challenging,” he says, “but doing the fashion shows are the most fun – and the most hectic – part of my year. I work very well under pressure and that’s probably why I love it so much.”


Adam Smith College
0800 413 280

Can U Cut It

Edinburgh College of Art
0131 221 6000

Glasgow Caledonian University
0141 331 8681

Glasgow Metropolitan College
0141 566 6222

Heriot-Watt University
0131 449 5111

Motherwell College
01698 232 425

Scottish Style Awards