A placement year “is the best time to get real hands-on experience” according to Alex Marin who graduated in 2016 with a 1st in BA (Hons) Fashion and Textile Design. In between years 2 and 3 of her degree Alex completed a placement year at Debenhams and she explains how this helped her in her final year and to get that graduate job at Topshop.
Who do you work for now that you’ve graduated?
After one year of actively looking for suitable graduate roles I was offered two different positions, roughly at the same time. Both jobs were too good to say no to and, luckily, both are fairly flexible. So my main job is working for Topshop, which is under the umbrella of Arcadia Group, and my 2nd one is for a fashion supplier to the high street.
Topshop is a British multinational young women’s fashion retailer selling mainly in the UK, but also in the US, China and Europe. The brand encapsulates clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, make –up and some delicious sweeties – yum!
At Topshop I work in the Technical Department as a Freelance Chemical Compliance Coordinator (a bit of a mouthful)…and this is one of those titles that needs explaining. I am in charge of six departments (Smart Jackets, Smart Coats, Tailoring, Brands, Knitwear and Blouses). My main responsibility is to check chemical testing performed on this type of clothing ensuring they comply with legal requirements across multiple markets (UK, US, Europe, China, etc.). The products must be safe to be worn and handled, in terms of health, but they also have to be good for the environment (during production as well as when they are being disposed at the end of their cycle).
Freelance Womenswear Designer
The second company supplies clothing to numerous retailers across the high street focusing on Young Womenswear and Womenswear fast-fashion from stores, to online and even catalogues.
I work as a Freelance Womenswear Designer and a really big part of it is creating mood boards and Illustrator flats and constantly researching into trends. One of my designs has recently been picked by a renowned Young Fashion brand and it will be in store for the Trans Season.
Your placement company
My placement year was at Debenhams HQ, which is a multinational fashion brand selling Womenswear, Menswear, Childrenswear and Homeware products.
Your placement role
I worked in the Childrenswear Quality Assurance department as a Clothing Technical Assistant. I was checking testing performed on Childrenwear Clothing, which is a particularly high-risk area. My job also included attending and running fit sessions ensuring best fit for purpose and doing general admin tasks. I was also involved in various projects like writing a quarterly supplier newsletter, creating a series of Illustrator Flats showing suppliers how to fold different types of clothing to avoid creasing during transportation (see below) and designing care labels for small soft accessories (ties, bowties, handkerchiefs, etc.).
How did your placement help you in your final year?
Even though it felt a bit hard returning to uni to do my 3rd year, mainly due to the idea of not earning anymore and not having free evenings and weekends, I did come back 100% motivated to do well and finish my degree with a 1st. And that is something that my tutors picked up on too.
My placement definitely opened a lot of other doors for me by connecting with amazing people from the industry and gaining valuable skills & knowledge in an area completely different from my course (which was very much a creative one as supposed to technical). Even my final year collection had an equal balance between creative and quality (technical).
What was the best part of your placement year?
I think the best part of my year out was discovering how versatile my uni course actually was by creating a great foundation to approach different areas within the fashion industry and beyond. I was pleased with how quickly I settled into my new role and amazed to see how much more work goes behind the scenes of actually seeing a product in store. The only thing that I did not enjoy was the Portsmouth-London commute for the last couple of months of my placement, but it least it kept me in shape (every cloud has a silver lining).
What concerns did you have before going on placement?
My major concern before going on a placement was the possibility of not securing one, but like quite a few things in life – it came last minute and it was followed by other good news. Fat Face offered me a three-month Assistant Design Internship and a private up-and-coming Womenswear Occasionwear brand hired me as a Freelance Designer.
What advice would I give to someone concerned about doing a placement?
Definitely do one! This is the best time to get real hands-on experience in an area that you love, an area that you find interesting or simply to discover an area that you definitely do not want to work in further down the line.
It’s tempting to simply focus on getting your degree done, but I genuinely believe that my placement in the industry made all the difference and it has shaped my career path.
What skills did you develop?
There are so many skills that I have developed whilst working without even realizing: communication skills was a major one, not that I was lacking this before, but it was good experience having to approach different people across and outside the business in order to complete some of my tasks.
What training did you do?
Working for such a large and developed company like Debenhams, I was lucky to have access to so much training. On average I completed 1 course per week. There were very specific courses related to my industry like knitting techniques, thread count and colour, but also courses such as Being Assertive, Time Management and others.
Did the placement help you get your current job?
My placement has played a fundamental role in what I am currently doing and I certainly would not be here without it. I tend to think as Technical and Design as two opposites in fashion, and I hope to be able to carry on doing both at the same time.
What advice would I give to fellow students regarding their placement search?
When I was searching for my placement there was only one Student Placements Officer in a tiny office hidden in one of the wings of Eldon. Now there are two more lovely team members in the spacious Creative Careers office right in the reception area waiting for you to “bombard” them with questions and ready to tell you that “you will do well”. Make sure you use the Creative Careers service to support you with your placement search.
See more of Alex’s work on her website.