How I Learned From The Best Without Going To Fashion School

When I tell people I own and design a line of swimwear, the first question is usually, “Did you go to fashion school?” No, I didn’t. I am self-taught. As a little kid I loved to sketch fashion illustrations. As a teenager I gave up Saturdays in the summer to attend FIT classes.  I was obsessed with finding vintage swimwear at thrift stores and wearing them until they disintegrated.

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Years later when I began designing my own swimwear out of sheer necessity to find styles and fits that I liked, I realized I knew nothing about practical design and I was going to have to start from scratch and learn everything I needed to know on my own. For many of us, this is a familiar route. We have a passion that we’d like to turn into a career, but we have often been told that it’s impractical to be an entrepreneur, so we push our dream down, study majors that we don’t really care about and take on day jobs to pay the rent. Yet all the while that dream grows bigger and louder inside us, until we decide we have to honor it and give it a shot.  Not having gone to school can be a hindrance, but I see it as a blessing.

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You’re not overwhelmed by the competition of peers who are studying the same thing as you. In a school environment, we are constantly comparing ourselves to others. It can’t be helped. We see projects that others are working on and begin to feel ours may not measure up. This can be a confidence killer right out of the gate. Being self-taught allows us to remain in a little bubble of our own work long enough to develop a specific style, so that once we are surrounded by competition, we are already confident in our approach.

In a school setting, we are taught a specific way to accomplish tasks so that any new approach we come up with might feel impossible or crazy. Being self-taught allows room for free thinking and discovery.

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Trial and error are the cornerstones to being a successful maker. Without formal training, we have no choice but to throw ourselves into a field we are passionate for but barely know anything about. This is terrifying. We often make decisions out of panic or fear, then realize when something goes wrong that we knew better as we were doing it but didn’t trust our gut out of lack of experience and formal knowledge.  This discovery process is school in and of itself. We learn far more through practical application than we would in a theoretical classroom setting.

We get a chance to learn from those who have been in our industry for years. Coming out of a school setting, we may falsely believe we have all the answers, but when you’re learning as you go, this isn’t an option. Every single thing I learned about swimwear design I learned from my pattern makers, my production facilities, my cutters, my graders, other designers, boutique owners, customers, friends and friends of friends who worked in fashion. Over time, and through trial and error and many questions asked, I put together a procedure to match my vision.

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I always knew I wanted to design swimwear made locally in New York with beautiful bold prints and great fits, that would never fall apart (as my lovely old vintage bikinis had). I wanted the fabric to be not only the best quality but environmentally sustainable, which several years ago seemed impossible for swimwear fabric, but I have recently found a beautiful company producing that very fabric. So, with no formal schooling, I have been able to build the brand I envisioned by asking questions along the way. It’s remarkable what you can discover when you are really looking and listening. Today my line K Belo matches my vision, and I’ve never set foot inside of a formal fashion classroom.  This is not to say formal schooling is not without its benefits, but if you’re on this path like I am, don’t be discouraged. Without sounding cliché, the world is a classroom and this is why local manufacturing is essential, because the people who know what we need to know are all around us and they are usually more than happy to answer our questions.

Maybe you didn’t go to design school either, but that doesn’t mean you can’t get started on your own line. Take our free Sourcing 101 e-course today.

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