Fashion is big business. The fashion sector is worth £26 billion to the British economy and employs 800,000 people. If you want to get into fashion, whether your taste is Primark or Balenciaga, an apprenticeship or internship may be your best option. It really worked for Karen Millen, Alexander McQueen and Stella McCartney, all of whom started their careers as apprentices.
You could find yourself creating a window display for Marks and Spencer, helping to develop new materials for trainers or designing costumes at the Royal Opera House. There’s so much on offer it might be easier to split fashion apprenticeships into two categories; Making It and Selling It.
A lot of the clothing we see in the high street is manufactured abroad but more and more retailers are reacting to consumer demand by making their clothes in the UK. These manufacturers offer a wide range of apprenticeships, as do a number of bodies like Creative Skillset and the Textiles Skills Council.
Creative Skillset, for example, offers apprenticeships at Levels 2, 3 and 4. You choose the pathway you want to follow, such as Apparel, Textiles, Footwear, Leather Goods and progress along it as far as your ambition or talent will take you. If you choose the apparel pathway, at Level 2 you will learn the skills required to work in the industry as a machinist, a hand presser or a dressmaker among others. You could then progress to Level 3 to learn the skills of a Sample Machinist or a pattern cutter. Level 4 Apprenticeships available would prepare you for roles such as Process Engineer or New Product Development Manager, working at the cutting edge of textile development.
If your style sense is a bit more extravagant and you know your way around a sewing machine, why not consider a Costume Design apprenticeship? The Royal Opera House is one of many organisations where you could make your wildest clothing fantasies come true, and get paid in the process.
British high street shops lead the world in retail and many of the people running them started out on the shop floor. Selling isn’t just about operating the till though, and the courses offered by institutions like the Fashion Retail Academy give you a flavour of just what’s involved. You will study Fashion Marketing, Buying, Visual Merchandising and Supply Chain learning the skills required for a number of different roles including Retail Management, Styling and Display.
Courses like these are not just store based and can lead you from behind the counter to become a stylist, a personal shopper or a PR executive. If you think apprenticeships and glamour don’t go together, you couldn’t be more wrong.
What to expect during a Fashion Apprenticeship
Whether you’re training for a career revolving around apparel or accessories, what you’d be doing during your apprenticeship will cover anything and everything from design technology like CAD or Photoshop, to helping create a manufacturing sample, to assisting a designer, working as a researcher or sourcing materials for a project. You’ll also be answering phones, making teas and coffees, photocopying and filing. But as you do those tasks expected of you, you’ll also be absorbing, consciously and unconsciously, what it takes for you to create a name for yourself in the fashion universe.
And you’ll be learning in the classroom as well: you’ll be dividing your time between your workplace and a local educational establishment, where you’ll study towards a relevant, nationally-recognised qualification to help you get your foot into the door of the fashion industry.
Pay and prospects
In the past, the fashion industry recruited through the use of unpaid interns, a situation that meant companies could asses potential and dedication (whilst not paying...) and interns got experience for their CV. These days the situation is different, since the Government has had a crackdown on companies that do not pay at least the national minimum wage to ALL workers, whether interns, apprentices or temporary staff. At the same time, National Occupational Standards have been introduced and the Creative Skillsets body has been charged with setting and maintaining these standards for the fashion sector.
All these changes means that pathways into the fashion industry for young people are better defined and controlled.
The UK apprenticeship minimum wage starts at £3.50 an hour (as of April 2017) for the first year of an apprenticeship. At the beginning of the second year of your training, the wage you’re on should rise to at least the national minimum wage for your age group. As far as employment rights and benefits go, apprentices are legally entitled to exactly the same as all the other workers in the company where they’re receiving their training.
And what happens after your apprenticeship? That’s up to you to decide: you could go on to a higher apprenticeship where you’d learn about a specific area of the fashion industry, and go on from there to make a career out of specialising in that area. On the other hand, since you’ve got the work experience, training and qualifications employers are looking for, it’s quite possible to go straight into the world of fully-employed work after you’ve completed your initial apprenticeship.
Think Outside the Box - Sometimes you may see only the glamorous side of the fashion industry, but there’s a lot more going on behind the scenes and how you can get a foot in the door of a fantastic, but extremely competitive, industry may not be straight-forward.
Think about your CV in advance - Obviously, you’ve got to have a deep interest in fashion, but it also helps to have a background in art or textiles at school, plus some relevant GCSEs or A-levels when you start your job search. A portfolio is pretty well essential, too.
Are you up for the challenge? - For many people fashion is an obsession, and it attracts those who want to be associated with glamour, creativity, hype and money. But it can be very hard work too - certainly so for juniors - so if this is your chosen career be prepared for long hours and constant dedication.
Still interested? If so, check out the latest opportunities and vacancies in our Fashion Sector here