A Lifelong Debt

Central Saint Martins, fashion schools, fashion students, education

All images from the Central Saint Martins 2011 graduate fashion show. Left, Jamie Cockerill and right, Raffaele Ascione.

I was talking to a student last week who had just graduated from a fashion diploma course here in Vancouver. She is very talented, but I struggled to tell her what to do to get her career started. The options are more education, internships, or trying to get an entry-level position, but there is so much competition in this market, that I said luck would play a big role in determining whether she would get her foot through the right door.

On top of that, she had a lot of student loans. I meet many students, who have upwards of $50,000 in loans, but leave a fashion school with less than a degree (a diploma) from a virtually unknown school, and few prospects. What is crazy is that this isn’t exclusive to the fashion industry, as there are so many fields where this is happening.

Central Saint Martins, fashion schools, fashion students, education

Left, Viktor Smedinge and right, William Hendry.

I studied for one year in Vancouver, one year in France, and for one and a half years in London, but somehow managed to walk away with an MA from the most prestigious fashion design school in the world. I had accumulated about $20-30K in debt (not to mention what I owed my parents…), but that seemed worth it for the education I had received. Owing $50K in debt, without having a degree or an MA, is another story. I am still paying off my student loans, and I have earned pretty decently in the past few years, so I can’t even begin to imagine how many students today, particularly those who finish an education with less than a degree, will pay off their debts before they retire.

Central Saint Martins, fashion schools, fashion students, education

Right, Ryan Strong and left, Shaun Samson.

The moral of the story here is not “don’t study fashion” because if it is what you really, really, REALLY want to do, then you should do it. But think about the debt you’ll accumulate and the job prospects. I get scared when I talk to students sometimes… How the hell does a twenty three year old deal with $50K of debt, and no clear plan on how they will earn the money to pay it off? It is terrifying.

Central Saint Martins, fashion schools, fashion students, education

Right, Daniel Lee and left, Helen Bullock.

On that note, there are a lot of very talented, motivated people out there who will get themselves great jobs, rewarding careers, and easily pay off their debts. But they aren’t the ones I worry about.

Tomorrow I am going to write a post about important things to consider when deciding to pursue a career in fashion. Check back then!

Catwalk images from Style.com.

  • guest

    these are vancouver fashion school grads? impressed!

  • J. Fobes

    This seems to be true of most industries these days, not just fashion, although I can’t imagine how much more competitive it is compared to other industries! I have a bachelors degree, plus marketing certificate plus now I’m taking more classes in fashion and I’m still struggling to find a job that pays decently and that actually challenges me while being interesting. Its been tough and yes, the fact that I have so much debt to pay off doesn’t help! But I guess that’s life for most young people these days. I’m working on starting a business in retail and praying it works out ok! P.S. Your posts are great! 

  • Anonymous

    Good luck with it!

  • Nicole

    Hello, such a nice, honest post! I’m currently looking for a fashion design program to go to next year in British Columbia. All the schools in Vancouver are really expensive or have really mixed reviews. I found a little school in Victoria but I don’t know much about it. I was wondering if you have any extra advice, tips or help? Thanks. :)

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I really feel that if you are going to take on a big debt, may as well be at a big university based in a major fashion city so the likelihood of getting a job afterwards is better. Vancouver has too many fashion schools compared to the size of its industry.