Life of a Cass design student

This post is about my personal findings on studying fashion and textiles at The Cass. A bit of background first: I have just recently finished my 3-year joint degree in Fashion Marketing and Textile design, meaning I spent half of my time at design school, half in the business school. Doing a combination degree was a perfect choice for me, as I wasn’t quite sure whether to pick creative or business career. My degree was a great mixture of learning, and I couldn’t be happier I chose it! But I’m not going to lie: It wasn’t easy, combining the two. Neither was it fun all the time, even if I felt really passionate about my projects. Especially on the 3rd year, there was a lot of work to be done all the time so I barely had any social life during the last few months. But I do feel like I got so much out of it in the end, so it was totally worth it. If it wasn’t for this degree I would probably have never found my passion within print design, for starters.

I’ve got a feeling this blog post will be super long – so I’ll only try to be talking about the design school part, as my business studies took place at the Business School anyway! So let’s go back in time to year 2011, when I had just moved to London and started my studies here, feeling excited and nervous…

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The first year of design studies was very much just learning the basics; getting the base understanding on different subjects, disciplines and ways of working. In textile design this meant looking into some design history, learning Photoshop, getting the basics of surface design and knitting. Most people realised early on which was their thing – for me, it was no doubt prints. Just a thought of knitting gives me shivers!

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People came to the course from very different backgrounds; some had studied design for years already, and then there were people like me who came straight from a generic secondary school with no foundation degrees or art college education in their bag. Looking back it probably would have been helpful to have some sort of foundation, but although that might give you an easier start, it’s not to say that you can’t do just as well even if you are a complete design newbie like I was. Creativity and enthusiasm are what you really need.

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On second year, as part of my studio of that time called “Future Fashion” we learned the basics of digital print making which really sparked my interest, so I started developing those skills further on my own. And I really liked it. Quite early on I also realised that my way of working was quite different from most other students. Coming from non-design background I had no idea how to use sketch books, nor did I find it “my thing” although I envied other students amazingly inspiring sketch books. I found that I enjoyed working from photographs. I am no photographer but I do have quite a good eye for snapping pictures, so I started using my own photographs as my main inspiration and starting point for my design projects. The images were of anything from interesting things I’ve seen to just something visually beautiful or striking. For example, I snapped this image on my holiday in Albania, and later on based a print story around it.

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I also did drawing, painting, collaging and used other methods to create imagery, but the main elements in most of my prints still come from photography.

I mentioned earlier something about working as part of a studio.. let me explain what I actually meant. So the way we studied at the Cass is slightly different to other universities. Rather than picking a discipline, such as print design or knitting, we were to pick a studio. Each studio had its own ethos, projects and a creative director (studio leader) under whom everyone worked. The point is to enable the students to experience ‘atelier’ style working structure. Each studio also has their working studio room, different live projects and mentors/tutors that would give us tutorials and feedback on our work. And like in an actual studio working environment, there would be people of different skills and interests, which would also allow collaborating with people that have different strengths.

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My studio for my last year was called “Ornamental/Sentimental” and was concentrated on surface design: print, embroidery and so on. I wanted to specialise in digital print design so to get picked to be part of this particular studio was great. Most often you’d find me at the studio room – tables full of images, sketches and textiles samples. Lap top and Photoshop open; paint brushes, double-sided tape and ink pots ready for some action. Sometimes I’d stay late at night, working, almost wishing I could just curl up under the table and wake up in the morning to continue. It was great having a studio space, and I really miss it now that I’m no longer a design student… Life of a graduate!

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Apart from the studio-specific tutorials and workshops, we were also offered pattern cutting sessions with a fashion designer, which I found beyond helpful, as those sessions allowed me to create some of my own patterns and make entry-level product prototypes. This wasn’t expected from my course as it was textile design, however for me it was important to be able to create some final products.

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But studying at the Cass wasn’t all about studying either – it was also about study trips/visits (we visited eg. Brighton twice, went to see exhibitions in London and took part to Prémiere Vision –trade show in Paris) and being part of the creative surroundings of E1. That’s one thing I really loved about being at The Cass; the location. Being based right next to Brick Lane we’d occasionally go to get a coffee or lunch in one of the street’s cute coffee shops, have a look at some new street art or pop in to Atlantis (a massive art supplies shop). I absolutely love Brick Lane/Shoreditch area and have done ever since I moved to London, for me, I’m sure it will never lose its charm.

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It’s really hard to sum up three years at university in one blog post, but one thing I have to say is that you get as much as you are willing to give. If you work hard, take part to extra sessions, use the studio space and workshop rooms and equipment, pester tutors for feedback (I was really bad at this), try to produce as much work as possible for every new session, make most out of guest talks (again, I sucked at this) and keep your aim high, you’ll learn more than you’d ever imagine. Also it’s important to follow your own design direction – another great thing about the Cass is that you get to fully decide yourself what design market to go for. Meaning if high end/luxury fashion isn’t your thing, you can do eg. streetwear or sportswear or whatever you want, and no one tells you off. So do try to find your own niche and design what you love. When the real passion shines through, your work is also better! For example, for my final major project, I decided to combine my passions (print design + casual fashion + cycling) and spent my last year designing digital prints to be used in funky cycle-commuter-wear. Which was a lot of fun and I was really happy with the outcome!

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So that’s it I guess. Although it was sometimes very tiring, having no free time and loads of work, I still loved my studies and time at The Cass. After all, degree studies aren’t supposed to be all easy, even if you’re passionate about your subject. There were times I felt I wasn’t understood, and times when I thought that my work was too different from everyone else’s. But feeling annoyed or frustrated at times is probably something every creative is familiar with. In the end I learnt to take anything negative and using it as a motivation to do better. And it worked. Even during the last week when I literally barely slept as there was so much work still to be done, I remember thinking that I love my life. I guess it’s always sort of a love/hate thing, with school work?

In a nutshell: It was intense, rewarding and one of the best things I’ve ever done in my life. Apart from getting to know some of the most amazing people, learning heaps and being able to develop myself as a designer I ultimately want to be, I had a good time. It was three exciting and challenging years of my life in London – great as long as it lasted. And now that I look back, I’m so freaking happy I did it.

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