By PHILIP AUGUSTINE
BEAUTY, indeed, lies in the eye of the beholder when it comes to fashion. Whether it’s haute couture, avant-garde or off-the-rack, fashion has no boundaries and the potential for new ideas is limitless. In its ever-growing and evolving state, a career in fashion could just be the ticket to a whole new, kaleidoscopic world of art.
Victorious Art and Fashion Design school principal Vivian Chua, who has 15 years of experience in the business, sees huge potential for “fashion education” in the country.
“Many students love fashion and have an interest but are unaware of the prospects in fashion,” she says.
Chua, who studied fashion in Britain for five years, acknowledges the lack of awareness among students and their parents about pursuing a career in the industry.
“Parents don’t like the idea of their children becoming tailors or dressmakers and this is a major misconception that has to change,” she says, adding that there is a wide spectrum of career opportunities to choose from, such as fashion coordinator, consultant, lecturer and wedding planner, just to name a few.
How did it all begin for you
While studying, I travelled a lot to do research and to find inspiration for my designs. I was very involved with the British lifestyle and loved the culture. I learnt to be independent and got involved with textile design, graffiti and pottery, and also focused on contemporary fashion and history.
When I came back in the late 1980s, I wanted to have my own brand and identity, and I wanted to create clothes for the higher end market.
I started as a part time/freelance designer as I wanted to work independently. After a while, friends encouraged me to start a school and teach. I did research on the fashion schools that were available in Malaysia at that time and I didn’t think students were getting a good direction in fashion education. So, I started a small school and it proved to be very successful because there was a market for it.
Do you have to be good in drawing?
You don’t have to be very good in art or drawing as these can be taught. The most important element to have is a strong interest in fashion. If students have a keen interest, the school will be able to lead them and guide them step-by-step.
It is very important to learn how to sketch manually and draw proportionately and not just rely on computers that do it automatically. If students are not good at sketching manually, they won’t be good at drawing with the computer either.
Where do you get ideas for designs?
Students can be taught to use their own lifestyles to inspire them and give them ideas. From there, they learn how to break the ideas down and apply them in their designs, using textures, colours and fabrics in a realistic way.
What qualification do you need?
It is very important for a student to have a diploma and a good portfolio. In Malaysia, companies look for people who have been trained and have a good portfolio.
A good portfolio may get you a job but it will be difficult to up the corporate ladder without the diploma.
What’s a typical day at work for a ‘fashion educator?
I have classes where I supervise the work of my students. I also design my own advertisements, including brochures and flyers, and I work with a team to produce all these.
What does a designer’s job entail?
Expect a lot of hard work and not just glamour. Your job is not just about designing. You will also spend a lot of time searching for the right fabric, colours and print, and the best design.
Keep in mind that it is very much a business and it is crucial for a designer to understand the different markets and know what will and will not sell.
Also, you need to pay visits to those in the industry you work with in order to maintain good relationships. This will help enhance your work.
What’s the best part of your job?
It’s very challenging and keeps you on your toes. Fashion is not a set of rigid rules that you have to follow. It’s up to you to decide how you want to explore the ideas that you come up with. I welcome the challenge because every day is different.
And the worst part?
I guess when you run out of new ideas. It happens sometimes, but if you keep a dyna-mic outlook in life, you’ll come up with even better ones.
What sort of personality fits the bill?
You need confidence. You have to think right, speak right and carry yourself well. I encourage my students to talk and be open and express themselves in their design. One must also be a people person in order to work well with others and build good relationships with those in the industry.
How do Malaysian students compare to their British counterparts?
Students in Britain work independently while students here expect to be spoon-fed. But it is slowly changing and our students are increasingly becoming more independent as they understand what they’re doing and what they want in their designs.
What’s the salary range?
It is not so much the salary but the satisfaction one gets from seeing others enjoy the work put in.
Fresh graduates can expect a starting pay of RM1,200 and above, together with other perks like travelling, depending on the company. Some opt to start their own businesses and grow from there.
What are the career prospects?
A popular choice for many is to become a designer or merchandiser for retail stores. The career opportunities are numerous; one could also be an image consultant, textile designer, fashion trend forecaster, computer designer, brand manager and many more.
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