5 Reasons the Fashion Industry is a Playground for the Rich

fashion school, london college of fashion, graduate collections

All photographs and illustrations are the work of London College of Fashion student Yuliya Kyrpo, www.showtime.arts.ac.uk/YuliyaKyrpo

When I studied fashion in Paris, I was the poor girl. My classmates had parents with pied-a-terres in Paris, they took the Concorde to New York on the weekend, and they had their own one bedroom apartments. It sucked, and I am pretty sure that contributed to the reasons I loathed living in Paris. In London, when I did my MA, it was almost the opposite. While there were a handful of rich kids, I felt privileged because I could afford the bus to school every day, I only had to work 15 hours a week at a bar job (not 40, like most of my classmates) and my parents were able to help me out so I didn’t have to work during the last three months of the course.

Times have changed a lot in the ten plus years I have graduated. Not only in schools, but also in the industry. When I started there were hardly any celebrity designers or daughters of rock stars in charge of big brands – the media was dominated by socialites, but there were still opportunities for people who didn’t come from privileged backgrounds. Nowadays, it is so much harder to break in, and as a result, we are going to miss out on so much great talent. Here are five reasons the fashion industry is becoming a playground for the rich.

fashion school, london college of fashion, graduate collections

1. Fashion school is prohibitively expensive. This article by Alexander Fury in The Independent highlights the potential crisis in education because tuition fees have become so unaffordable. I looked at the fees for the MA at St. Martins, and they gone from £4500 for 18 months (when I studied) to £8500 for 18 months (now.) I’m pretty sure inflation can’t be responsible for that price hike in 12 years. What will fashion be like if only the rich can afford to study it? A great quote by Sarah Mower sums it up: “In fashion, in Britain in particular – I hate to say this – very rarely has privilege produced great designers. It’s always the outsiders and the outcasts.”

fashion school, london college of fashion, graduate collections

2. Famous people get first dibs at the jobs. Celebrities, their offspring, and socialites seem to be behind so many of the new brands these days – and they are frequently first in line for jobs in major publications. The worst thing is, many of them don’t study. Where does that leave the normal people who want to work in the industry?

3. You need to do internships. But who can afford to work for free for 6 months? Rich people can. They aren’t busy paying off $50,000 of student loans.

fashion school, london college of fashion, graduate collections

4. The inner circle is closing up. I feel like contacts come before creativity now. The number of people who are interested and want to be a part of the fashion industry has grown exponentially over the past few years, so there is a much bigger pool of talent out there. When there is a job going, there will be thousands of applicants, and it’s natural that brands will chose from people they already have a relationship with (even if it is second or third degree.) This means “normal” people stand much less of a chance to get in, because the circle of contacts is filled with so many celebrities and socialites who already have most of the jobs.

fashion school, london college of fashion, graduate collections

5. Competition doesn’t favour the lower classes. Even with a wealth of scholarships, contacts, and talent, when competition is so fierce for jobs in the industry, the rich people are often going to have better access to the jobs. They will be able to take extra courses to work on their portfolios, they will be able to travel and move easily for work, and they will probably do better in school because they aren’t working thirty hours a week in a bar to pay rent.

The solution? I don’t know. Decrease the gap between the classes? I wish. Stop buying celebrity-designed fashion? That’s always a good idea. But as far as making the fashion industry accessible to talent from all income brackets – I think this is a huge problem that is going to require a colossal overhaul to the industry and education. And it needs to be done soon, before we lose more talent because they can’t afford to go to school or work.

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  • James

    Fashion is bullshit

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Kinda, yes. But we all need to wear clothes :-(

  • http://www.imtheitgirl.com/ anya

    All true, but not unlike other fields. For instance, I’ve heard similar complaints from friends working in law, architecture, medicine etc. I think wealth always has an advantage, although I hope true talent does prevail in the end. Or at least I hope so!

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I imagine most creative fields are similar, but I would hope medicine is different. While you need to have loads of money to get through school, I would hope you’d get jobs and promotions based on your abilities. Ugh, as I write this I realize it is most likely not the case. I’m sick of this world!

  • http://www.imtheitgirl.com/ anya

    I’m more worried about the fashion industry being so image-oriented. Editors are expected to look like models these days. Sometimes I worry I’m not skinny enough to land a high profile publishing job.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Yeah – I would feel the same but remember the model-editors are the ones getting all the attention, whereas the normal looking editors just get the job done behind the scenes, like it should be. So it’s not impossible to have a good publishing job if you are bigger than a size 2 (gasp!)

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    I agree, and everyone should do a short internship. The problem is that people are expected to intern for years, and that’s just not possible. And very true about breaking into fashion.

  • Yuliya_Kyrpo

    Not sure whether the title of the article is positive or negative reference to my work used above, but either way ‘rich’ is far from the name of my ‘playground’. I have immigrated from Ukraine 9 years ago, I studied in a comprehensive school in Woolwich and my dad is a builder. As an immigrant I am not entitled to any benefits so my degree was paid by Student Loan which has 5% of interest rate which I will have to pay. Yet I still managed to be selected for the Press Show and successfully graduate with the 1st. Money and connections would certainly help however the success in fashion like Simona mentioned below is based on humility, passion and very very hard work.

  • alexandrasuhnerisenberg

    Hi Yuliya, when I write articles like this instead of sourcing random images I usually feature a student’s work from the Showtime site. Your work is there because it looks nice, it is not directly related to the article’s topic. And yes, I totally agree that with humility, passion, and hard work – you CAN succeed. But it is much easier if you are rich and famous. Your collection looks great – can’t wait to see what you do next.

  • Yuliya_Kyrpo

    Thanks, hopefully ‘next’ I will be able to prove that point :)