The fashion industry can be challenging, inspiring and rewarding, and it can also be notoriously difficult to enter. Charlotte Frisby, trainee designer for David Nieper, explains how winning a competition and paid internship has helped her career.
Anyone dreaming of a career in fashion knows it’s not going to happen overnight. I was determined to get my name known, and my big break into the fashion industry came in 2010, just after I finished my BA in Fashion Studies at the University of Lincoln.
I entered a competition for David Nieper, a clothing company based in Derbyshire, which involved designing a five-piece, high-quality range for women over 45, including the marketing strategy and plan. As I was one of four shortlisted, I was invited to the company for an interview day and to talk through my designs. I was so excited when I was announced as the winner of a six-month paid internship there, as I knew how important hands-on experience would be. I graduated from university and started my first day as intern the next day.
My advice to anyone considering a career in this industry would be to get plenty of experience and build up your portfolio and network of contacts alongside your studies. There are so many great fashion houses in the UK – and not just in London – and you really need to get out there and start meeting people in the industry and show them what you can do. Competitions are a great way of getting a break; it is a good idea to keep an eye out for them, as you never know where and who they could lead to.
My internship was a real eye-opener, as at university I had studied a range of skills including design,but I didn’t learn as much as I did at David Nieper. This is due to the fact that they design, manufacture and sell everything from their Derbyshire headquarters. So I got to see the whole process and spend some time in each department, including the photographic studios, mailing room, customer services and their on-site boutique. David Nieper focus their designs on women over the age of 45, so one of the most important skills I’ve learnt is designing for different ages and shapes. I have to get into the mind-set of the lady that I am designing for and think what it is that she would want, as she would like something that is modest and comfortable while still being glamorous and appealing to the eye.
The internship led to the company taking me on full time as a trainee designer. I am still learning new things and there is more I need to learn, but I am now designing nightwear alongside the head designer, Julie Stone, and some of my designs are already on sale.
I have been at the company for two years in September and I feel that I have come a long way since university. David Nieper has helped teach me about the industry and what it takes to design for a niche market. I feel very privileged to have my designs on sale and very excited to see that our customers are buying them. This is a great feeling.
I’ve also been named as one of the Make it in Great Britain ‘30 under 30’, which means I’m now an ambassador for the Make it in Great Britain campaign. We’re aiming to challenge outdated opinions and transform the image of modern manufacturing, and my role will be to work with other young people, highlighting the great jobs and careers that are available in the industry.
David Nieper runs design competitions for local school children, and I think this is a great way to get younger people thinking about the industry and visiting the company to see how we work. During a visit to the company by David Cameron, I got to tell him how important it is for companies to take on graduates as interns, as from my experience, paid internships, apprenticeships and work experience is the answerto students and graduates gaining vital skills that aren’t necessarily taught at university.
It would be great if more companies would open their doors – learning on the job really is the best way to get the skills you need.
Working at David Nieper has completely changed my outlook on design. I now spend my days working alongside designers, pattern cutters and graders. During a normal week I could be splitting my time between contacting agents and suppliers, viewing and ordering new fabrics, designing garments for the new collection and analysing past ranges for information on what to design next season.I enjoy undertaking a range of jobs which all have a hand in ultimately creating a new collection for the new season.
I’m so proud of everything I’ve achieved so far, especially as I know I made it happen myself. Real, hands-on, day-to-day experience is so valuable, and isn’t something you can learn in a classroom. So have faith in yourself and don’t be afraid to put yourself out there. Don’t wait for open doors, you have to knock too.
Charlotte’s views are echoed by Julie Stone, senior designer at David Nieper. “Often graduates are very single minded about design and don’t have, or don’t want to have, wider experience. Charlotte is very broad minded and has been willing to learn about every single aspect of the company, which is why she is proving so successful.”
Maria Manning, programme leader of BA (Hons) Fashion Studies at the University of Lincoln, agrees: “The fashion industry is very competitive. Most job advertisements require that applicants have experience because companies want to know that candidates have spent some time working in the real world and have the ability to meet deadlines, communicate effectively and work within a team, as well as having the appropriate fashion expertise.”
Charlotte Frisby is a trainee designer in the nightwear department at David Nieper.
Article by David Nieper