Lauren Chivers, a Portsmouth Fashion and Textile Design student, did a Placement+ year completing placements at two different companies. Lauren tells us about working at Paul Smith and why you should 100% do a placement.
Who are they and what do they do?
I completed a 10-month internship at Paul Smith, a well-known British fashion designer who started the self-named fashion brand in 1970, and has been showing at fashion week since 1976. The brand is a worldwide success, with over 300 stores, and two successful fashion lines for both Men & Women – The Mainline collection, shown at fashion week, and the PS collection. The head office is in Covent Garden, London where I was based.
Which department do you work in?
At Paul Smith, I worked in the design department for the Mainline Womenswear team as a ‘Design Development Intern’. This was on the design floor of the head office, where all of the design and development for all of the collections take place.
Have you had the opportunity to work with different departments?
Although I was specifically working for the Mainline Womenswear team at Paul Smith, I often had to interact and assist designers on the Mainline Menswear team, and also the Print team. With Paul Smith recently bringing their Mainline collections together so that they are shown at one catwalk show, the teams now work much more closely together and it is vital that they communicate well. And of course, a vital part of the development of a collection is the Print, so I would often assist the print team by recolouring artwork, putting together packs to send out to factories etc. I also had the opportunity to assist the PS Mens & Women’s teams whenever I had a bit of down time and they needed any help.
The majority of the design, development and creation process happens within the same studio at Holly Fulton, meaning that depending on the workload, I was involved in a whole range of tasks. This varied from pattern cutting, toiling, organising the studio and even helping out the sales manager.
What was your role? What were your main duties, tasks and responsibilities?
My role at Paul Smith was an assistant to Clare Bickford Smith – she is the Mainline Womenswear Design Development Senior Supervisor. She oversees the design team, and is in charge of the majority of fabric sourcing, trim sourcing and general organisation of the collection. Therefore, I undertook a whole range of tasks – from sorting out fabric selections, contacting and liaising with factories and suppliers, pulling out suitable trims and fabrics from the archive, updating and organising the design boards and inputting all of the season information onto spread sheets….
Are you treated like an employee?
I was most definitely treated like an employee at Paul Smith. On my first day I was given my own desk and computer, and even had my own Paul Smith email address! I had a key fob to enter the building meaning I could come and go as I pleased. But even the responsibilities I was given were as if I were an actual employee. I would come in each day and just get on with the tasks that Clare or other members of the Womenswear design team would email to me. As time progressed, I began to learn what was needed from me, and which jobs I had to oversee, and then could just come in each day and get on with them! Other members of staff would talk to me as an equal, and even when Paul himself was around the office, he would stop and chat, meaning there was just a general friendly atmosphere within the building!
How was your placement related to your degree?
My role at Paul Smith was less of a design role; the work I undertook during my placement was to do with the development and creation of a collection. However, this is still completely related to my university degree, and if anything has helped me a great deal into thinking about things that I may not have considered so much within my own collection – for example, the consideration of elements such a zips and buttons across a collection, and budgeting for fabrics.
What are the benefits of being on a placement?
There are so many benefits of being on a placement! Firstly, the confidence you’ll build! I cannot explain how much my confidence has improved over the last year! I wasn’t necessarily shy before, but the confidence I have in myself now has definitely changed – particularly because I actually got offered the internship at somewhere as prestigious as Paul Smith! It made me believe in my work and myself more than I did before.
I also feel more aware of the potential jobs I could have in the future. Although I was aware of the roles in design, I was not aware of roles such as Clare’s which was all about overseeing the design development – part of her role was to attend all of the fabric fairs to source fabrics and trims specific to the design teams requirements for the season.
I also feel that I have matured as a person and a designer, as I am now aware of what I want to achieve in my final year and where I could get to afterwards if I put the time and effort in!
What have you got out of being on a placement?
The contacts for the future. I have met so many people and interacted with other companies that could potentially help me in my final year, or even beyond when looking for a job after university. Whilst at Paul Smith, I was also allowed access to their fabric and trim archives, meaning that I have a lot of samples and inspiration that I will take forward into my final collection.
What have you most enjoyed? Is there one part of your placement that really stands out?
I most enjoyed attending and working behind the scenes at three Paul Smith fashion shows – particularly the most recent SS18 Show in Paris on the 25th of June. This was a brilliant experience for me, as I was part of the development and creation of this collection from start to finish. Therefore, I got to see the entire process – from the initial research, to the development of designs and prints, and then to the final garments on the catwalk! Also being in Paris with the whole of the Mainline design team – there was a real sense of belonging and being a part of the team!
What was your greatest success or achievement?
Getting the placement at Paul Smith in the first place was a great achievement! I had applied for a role there before and heard nothing back, so when I applied the second time I didn’t have much faith in hearing back. So to then be asked for an interview and actually get offered the position was amazing! Then being asked to stay longer than the planned 6 months was a definite achievement – I was obviously a valued member of the team who was doing so well that they wanted to keep me on as long as they could!
What have you least enjoyed?
I haven’t enjoyed commuting to London everyday! Whilst at Holly Fulton I was lucky enough to be able to rent a flat just around the corner, meaning that it took 2 minutes to get to work everyday. However, this was very expensive, and when I got the position at Paul Smith, they were able to pay for my travel expenses, meaning it made sense to commute from home as it was being paid for, whereas I would’ve had to pay for rent myself which I couldn’t afford! To start off with the commute from Portsmouth was fine, but delays and crowded trains started to become more and more regular.
What concerns did you have before going on placement?
My first concern was actually getting a placement! I started applying in December and although I heard back from quite a few for phone interviews or sending my portfolio, I only got my first interview for Holly Fulton in April. And then when that was only for 4 months, I was worried about finding another one!
I was also concerned about having to live in London and how I would afford it! Luckily I had quite a bit of money saved, but I knew living in London was going to be very expensive.
How did they work out?
This is where my confidence in my work and myself was built – I heard back from quite a few places and had quite a few interviews. Even though not all were successful, it meant that my work was good enough to be considered in the first place. And I ended up completing 14 months worth of placement!
I managed to find a flat that I shared with a friend who was also on her placement year – although this was very expensive, it worked out perfectly and meant I saved money on travel. However, I could only afford to do this whilst at Holly Fulton (whilst splitting the rent!). Paul Smith actually paid for the majority of my travel and lunch expenses, meaning that I didn’t really spend any of my own money, and was able to commute from Portsmouth to London, which as much cheaper than renting!
What advice would you give to someone concerned about doing a placement?
At least give it a go! It is a daunting thing to start off with, but it is so worth it! You see and learn so much that you just don’t learn at university – particularly for the fashion industry and how it works!
After speaking to so many people on my placement year, it has become obvious that if you want to be successful in the fashion industry, it is all about experience.
If you don’t have any, it will be much more difficult to progress, as nearly everyone at Paul Smith had either interned there previously or at other well known design companies. And although you don’t get as much financial support in terms of loans, you still get some! Plus the support of the university throughout this year has been incredible!
What are your plans for your final year?
To work hard and complete my best work yet, in order to get back out and there and into the industry! Although I have no definite ideas in terms of my final collection, I know that I have seen and learnt so much over the last 14 months that I am determined to apply to it.
What are your plans for after your degree?
I would love to progress on to a design or design development role within an established company such as Paul Smith. The feeling of being a part of the catwalk shows when everything you have worked on has come together and is there in real life is incredible and completely indescribable.
My ultimate dream is to have my own label where I can design my own collection and have people working for me! But realistically, that is not going to be a reality in the near future, as I will need to save up a lot of money to be able to do so! I also think that I would benefit a lot more from learning further skills whilst working for other companies first!
Has the placement helped you with your career decisions?
I’m still not completely sure what I want to do after uni. I have seen a whole range of jobs that could potentially be on offer to me when I graduate, and I am still not sure which of those I would like to do most! But it has made me determined to do well and get back out there!
What advice would you give to students who aren’t sure whether to do a placement or not?
100 % DO IT! I cannot stress enough at how much you will benefit from it if you do a placement year! As I said before, everyone I have spoken to throughout my placement year had interned at a variety of places whilst at university, and that is the reason they are where they are now.
I had previous fashion related work experience on my CV, which was a big topic of conversation in all of the interviews I had for internships, and I believe I wouldn’t have been given the opportunities I had been given without it.
In the fashion industry, EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING!
What advice would you give to your fellow students in year 1 and year 2 regarding their placement search?
Just don’t give up! Apply for everything and anything! Even those roles that you might not be specifically interested in, once you’re at a company and have got connections, they may be able to offer you a more suitable role, or know people at a different company that may be able to help you. It is a bit overwhelming and you may feel like you aren’t getting anywhere, but just don’t give up!
In Lauren’s next post we hear about her time at Holly Fulton.