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Image / Fashion

Fashion university in New York: ‘Forget drinking and sleeping until 12, this is what real hard work is like’


by Ellen Bird
06th Feb 2019
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I didn’t have the most stereotypical American college experience. If you’re a student in mid-west America, you’re most likely attending one of those massive state universities seen regularly in Hollywood movies – brimming with reckless frat parties, red plastic beer-pong cups, boys that have too much to say about politics, and kids who sleep until midday. A student in New York City isn’t like that. New York is chock-full of preoccupied workaholics, obsessive interns, Upper East Side socialites, and overly expensive alcoholic beverages. You become like the city around you, tough.

Making the move

Let me give you some context: I moved to New York when I was nineteen to study Fashion Advertising and Marketing Communications in the Fashion Institute of Technology.

Before deciding on studying fashion in New York, I had always been super independent; but honestly, was never super confident – I just knew exactly what I wanted. Being from a small town in County Meath, watching too much Gossip Girl and endless re-runs of The Devil Wears Prada, the dream was New York.

It wasn’t long before I found myself alone in a skyscraper city with executives carrying expensive leather briefcases, classmates wearing Prada brogues, college friends with their own businesses, and people doing much bigger things than myself. Where I once had expectations of cool American college house-parties and a #girlsquad like the ones I had at home, I instead found frantic deadlines and pressure to spend money on designer anything and everything.

“Each student had a demanding internship, their own brand, or worked exhausting retail hours; the focus was our careers and everyone had busy ingrained on their foreheads…”

Related: The Irish women taking New York…
What it’s REALLY like to live in NYC

The thing is, I wasn’t just studying any old subject in any old New York City college; I was studying fashion in the third best fashion school in the world. When people hear the words ~fashion school~ most remember reality shows like The Hills, which was much more about glamorous people living glamorous lives wearing extra glamorous things. What people don’t realise is that these shows completely disregard hard work, sleepless (stressful) nights, tedious group projects, and long retail hours. It’s not as glam as it sounds.

The design students roll into class in yesterday’s sweatpants and are half-asleep from spending the whole night working on their creations. The fashion business students, usually more stylishly dressed (but equally as stressed), participate in competitive study sessions in the corner of Chelsea’s coffee shops, discussing the convoluted details concerning Fashion Economics. People sometimes forget what fashion actually is; it’s a business – and maybe I forgot that too.

The Hustle

Throughout my college years, I worked nearly full-time to cover my expenses (nobody warned me about the cost of Manhattan groceries?!) and I never took a light class load. I began selling Michael Kors handbags in Macy’s swiftly upon arriving, before moving onto Victoria’s Secret’s flagship store, and finishing my last year at Saks Fifth Avenue. Working crazy hours, and studying even crazier hours was just the culture of my university; it felt normal. Each student had a demanding internship, their own brand, or worked exhausting retail hours; the focus was our careers and everyone had busy ingrained on their foreheads. I definitely excused the “making the most of college” phase by overusing the word busy, and I excused sleep by catching-up on last-minute assignments.

Related: I left New York for Ireland because my
old home was stalking me

I’ll be honest, there’s a tinge of regret, but I don’t think I’d change it. I loved how everyone in my college was all about The Hustle. The mindset was, if you don’t do it, someone else will. I learned so much about hard work and the value of money; it made my transition to “real life” post-college so much easier, but I guess that’s the point in college, right? Yes, I had a lot of fun and established (a few) friendships that I’ll carry deep into my life. But what fashion college really did for me was provide a more realistic picture of what life pursuing fashion is actually like, which is a lot more rigorous than what I originally thought.

While my experience wasn’t based around endless partying, it has overwhelmed my résumé with opportunity. Working and studying in New York is the best thing I’ve ever done, for both my career and my self-growth. A demanding, fast-paced schedule is what life in New York is all about, and honestly, if you aren’t stressed 95% of the time, ‘do you even New York’?

It’s a tireless place where the people are avidly prepared to work, and if you aren’t one of those people, this isn’t a place for you. I’m incredibly grateful for what this university has done for me, and now I’m focused on what opportunities I’ll confidently pursue because of it.

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