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Photo Credit: Meme Haokip’s Collection @ NIFT Fashionova 2012

What are the opportunities for pursuing a management degree in Fashion Designing or a Masters in Fashion Management?

This was one of the queries in response to the post I recently shared on ‘A Career in Management’. I have occasionally been approached in the past for inputs and suggestions with regards to a career in fashion designing. And on such occasions, as anyone in a similar situation would typically do – I try and reach out to friends and associates in the industry to get the right answers or facilitate a direct connect.

If the response to my earlier post on management (particularly from the aspirants) was any indication, there is certainly a potential for such humble efforts to enable young aspirants make more informed career decisions or atleast help them ask the right questions! Therefore, I have decided to put together another such attempt in the form of this sequel post – to try and address the specific query above as well as other common queries relating to a career in fashion designing – with the hope that it would be of some help to aspirants planning to take-on this exciting career choice.

The Indian fashion industry has come a long way since the first fashion store ‘Ravissant’ opened in Mumbai in the 1980s – a decade which saw the emergence of the first generation home-grown fashion designers and also the first National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT) in Delhi. The industry got a further boost post the economic liberalisation in the 1990s as rising affluence and disposable income led to higher consumption spending (including on fashion) and the entry of big global brands led to increasing exposure and affinity towards global fashion and designer brands.

A wide array of career opportunities also opened up in this fast-growing industry (broadly at 4 different levels – textile design & production, fashion design & manufacturing, fashion retailing and fashion marketing & merchandising) which led to the ascent of fashion designing as a popular career choice – a successful career wherein is today touted to hold the promise of “Name, Fame and Money”!

We are not too far behind in catching up and capitalizing the opportunities offered by this rising industry. Several members of our community have already set out to pursue this rather offbeat career path (atleast considered so until recently) and are making significant strides – creating a ‘name’ for themselves while at the same time giving a fresh lease of life to many of our traditional motifs and ethnic wear by contemporising them with modern design techniques! Therefore, in line with the promise that all knowledge and experience sharing on this platform would come straight from the horses’ mouth, I have reached out to three of our young and emergent fashion designers – Roslyn Khongsai, Teresa Tungnung and S. Thangminlian (detailed profiles at the end of this article) to share their knowledge and personal experiences as well as provide us a brief contour of the opportunities and ‘behind-the-glamour’ challenges that younger aspirants need to be-aware-of while considering this career choice.

I have again structured their inputs and suggestions as – What, Why, How, When, Where, etc. so that you may pick or skip sections based on your specific interests or disinterests.

WHAT – what does a fashion designing degree/course has to offer?

As I had mentioned in my earlier article, a clear understanding of what a degree really has to offer – which is frequently overlooked or completely ignored – is critical, if one wishes to effectively manage the ‘expectation-reality’ gap or extract the maximum out of any degree. Hence, let’s start off again by trying to understand what a degree in fashion designing has to offer to young aspirants who have set their eyes on the top-role in the fashion industry’s corporate hierarchy – the Creative Director of a fashion company!

Much like the CEO of a company, a Creative Director is responsible for the overall design decisions and product delivery – from initial design conceptualization to final manufacture and marketing. But at this level, he is expected to play more of a managerial role with actual design and product development work being executed by others. What is, therefore, required to be effective at this position (besides the technical design knowledge ofcourse) is a keen understanding of the business side of the industry and the ability to make critical decisions (based on information presented by the design team) about design ideas & strategies, trend forecasting, brand identity and communication.

But, you don’t get to lead your own design team straight after a degree in fashion designing (unless ofcourse you decide to launch your own label). You will have to spend several years laddering up the corporate hierarchy in one or few of the specialised areas like – fashion design, leather design, accessory design, textile design, knitwear design, fashion communication or apparel production. The progression can be expected to be fairly slow, particularly in the initial years. However, each progression would provide increasing opportunities to contribute more creative inputs and influence major design decisions – before eventually landing one at the top role!

The bachelor programmes in design attempt to cater to these two basic requirements. A holistic understanding of the different aspects of fashion design – i.e. design, technology as well as management (including the basic knowledge, skills and competencies) is provided through the initial ‘foundation course’. This initial exposure is also invaluable for a future fashion entrepreneur who plans to incubate a new venture or launch one’s own label.

The latter part of the 4-year programme is geared towards providing in-depth knowledge and skills in a chosen specialisation, which inter alia includes – an industry exposure through an internship programme in the 3rd year, specialized training in various categories like menswear, children’s wear, fashion styling, lingerie design and couture design in the 4th year, before finally culminating in ‘Design Collection’ – wherein students get an opportunity to present their collections in a show. This focused exposure helps build the necessary base required to initiate the corporate ladder climb in one’s chosen specialisation after graduation.

Unlike B-Schools, where you have the option to choose a specialisation in the later part of the course, most design institutes in the country require you to choose a specialisation right at the application stage itself (except ofcourse for National Institute of Design – where the allotment of specialisation is done after the foundation programme based on the performance therein). Institutes like NIFT do provide a limited opportunity for candidates to change their choice of specialisation after the initial foundation course. However, it would be advisable not to subject such a crucial decision to any uncertainty and make an informed choice – while applying, if not before – based on one’s own unique strengths and interests!

WHY – why a B. Design degree?

One basic question most often asked by young fashion enthusiasts is – does one really need a formal degree to succeed in the fashion industry? Shouldn’t a talent to sketch well and an artistic or creative ability already qualify fashion enthusiasts for a successful career as a fashion designer? The talented and committed fashion enthusiasts should be able to start off at the bottom of the hierarchy and successfully work their way up, even without a formal degree. After all – it’s an industry where, aptly put – you either have what it takes or you don’t – right! This line of argument sounds rather compelling and could easily tempt one to write off a formal degree – as maybe, not worth the time or money. However, a more careful consideration reveals equally compelling reasons as to why acquiring a formal degree might still be worthwhile, even for the highly talented or gifted aspirants!

Firstly, fashion designing entails much more than a vivid imagination and an instinct for creativity. To be successful, whether in a corporate set-up, running a boutique or launching a label, one requires the ability to ‘design for business’ which typically comes from a holistic understanding of the fashion business – the technical as well as the business or financial side of design. The exposure provided by these formal programmes (which ranges from art history, textiles and fabrics to design techniques to business or marketing strategies) help refine or build a strong foundation for design sense, creative application and individual artistic expression as well as enable the graduating designers to be industry-ready.

As a result, fashion enthusiasts with a formal degree are better positioned or equipped to fully leverage their own natural talent and creativity instincts to create maximum design / business impact – which, needless to say, usually translate into better chances to excel and stand-out in this highly competitive and fast-paced industry!

Secondly, in a country which is so hung-up on academic credentials, a degree from reputed institutes like NIFT, NID, Pearl Academy, etc provides easier access to lucrative job profiles and opportunities in the industry. Also, with the industry becoming increasing competitive, a formal degree in fashion designing is today a ‘must-have’ or atleast the minimum ‘weeding criteria’ – particularly for those planning to pursue a career in the corporate sector.

Lastly, like all other professional courses, a degree in fashion designing offers an opportunity to develop an invaluable network consisting of your own batchmates, immediate juniors and seniors as well as access to a large alumni base – many of them holding responsible positions in different organisations or running their own, which believe me, always come in handy when you are on the look-out for just another friendly advice to business relationships or even business partners.

HOW – how to bell CAT, cross GAT or beat DAT?

The gateways to the top design institutes are the entrance exams which are held annually and typically comprises of two stages – a written admission test (a design cum general aptitude test) followed by a second stage which varies depending on the institute or the programme (situation test, studio test, group discussion and/or interview).

Unlike the engineering and management entrance exams which have now been streamlined to a large extent, there is no common entrance examination for the design programmes and most institutes conduct their own separate tests – General Ability Test (GAT) and Creative Ability Test (CAT) are the two separate written tests for the 15 NIFTs while General Proficiency Test (GPT) and Design Aptitude Test (DAT) are the written tests conducted by Pearl Academy. IITs and IISc Bangalore conduct a joint entrance exam – Common Entrance Examination for Design (CEED) for their Master in Design programmes while National Institute of Design (NID) conducts its own separate Design Aptitude Test (DAT).

GAT or GPT is a general aptitude and therefore comprises questions on – quantitative ability, communication ability, comprehension, analytical ability, general knowledge and current affairs, while CAT or DAT tests the candidate’s aptitude for creativity, drawing, design ability, power of observation and imagination. Only candidates who qualify the written test are invited for the second stage of the selection process – except in case of the Bachelor of Fashion Technology (B.FTech) programme, where GAT is the final and only selection test.

The second stage of the selection process for the Bachelor of Design (B. Des) programme at NIFTs is a ‘situation test’ – where candidates are asked to make a model using a given set of materials (to test skills for material handling and innovative ability) while that of the masters programmes comprises of a group discussion and personal interview. The second stage for Pearl Academy is just a personal interview while that of NID and Symbiosis Institute of Design (SID) consists of a ‘studio test’ and a personal interview.

A summary of the different tests conducted by the top design institutes (at both stages) is provided in the table below –

  NIFT NID Pearl Academy SID IITs/IISc
First Stage GAT & CAT DAT GPT & DAT SET CEED
Second Stage Situation Test Studio Test & PI PI Studio Test & PI Typically, test & PI

Final selection is based on the performances in all the tests with different weightages assigned to each – For e.g. a weightage of 50% to CAT, 30% to GAT and the remaining 20% to the ‘situation test’ has been allotted for the B.Des programme at NIFT.

Not surprisingly, the final selection weighs significantly on one’s performance in CAT (the design and creative ability test) which combined with the ‘situation test’ represents a whopping 70% weightage! What might come as a comfort to many though is that – these tests don’t expect or require you to be an excellent artist. What is really being tested here is your sense of observation, imagination, creativity and your basic illustration and representation skills – in terms of proportions, forms, light, shades, etc. Hence, a regular sketching practice along with a keen observation of advertisements, posters, banners, etc in newspapers, magazines and other online sites (to draw ideas) combined with a study of standard preparation books and solving the previous years’ questions should do the trick.

Similarly, GAT (the general aptitude test) is again not so much about ‘toughness’ and could be cracked using any of the standard preparation books or the old faithful books of R.S. Agarwal and ofcourse – a regular test practice. However, should one feel the need for a formal guidance, the available options include – classroom coaching, online preparation portal or test series package offered by institutes like Academy of Fashion & Design, Silica, Trendz Academy, Bhanwar Rathore Design Studio, Arkin, etc – mostly run by alumni of the top institutes!

WHEN & WHICH – which course to pursue and when?

Let’s say – after a careful and diligent consideration, you are convinced that fashion industry is where your heart and passion lies. Let’s also assume for a moment that – after my compelling argument above (pun fully intended), you now subscribe to the idea that acquiring a formal degree is the right career path. Then, these two questions would next require your immediate and undivided attention – i.e. which course to pursue and when!

At the broad level, there are two standard options available – the bachelor programmes (after 12thstandard) or the master programmes (after graduation). However, there is a third and rather unique entry option offered by institutes like NIFTs – a ‘lateral entry’ programme where candidates who fulfil certain specified criteria can secure direct admission into the 3rd semester or 2nd year of the bachelor programmes.

At the next level, one has the choice of design or technology (the latter which lays specific focus on the apparel manufacturing & technology is actually more akin to engineering than fashion designing) – i.e. B.Des or B.FTech and M.Des or M.FTech. Besides, should one opt for the regular design stream, further options are available in terms of the choice of specialisation area as already discussed.

A couple of things need to be taken into consideration while deciding on these choices. Firstly, although most institutes offer both the bachelor and masters programmes, some institutes like Symbiosis Institute of Design (SID) currently offer only under-graduate (UG) programmes in fashion design. Secondly, institutes like NIFT and NID prescribes a maximum age limit for their bachelor programmes (currently, 23 years for NIFT and 20 years for NID – with relaxations provided for reserved categories). NID prescribes a maximum age limit even for its master programmes (30 years – with relaxations for reserved categories).

Lastly, some specialized programmes like the Master in Fashion Management (MFM) programme are offered by top institutes only at the post graduate (PG) level. The MFM course, which over the years has earned a good reputation in the retail and fashion circles, is a sector-focussed management programme and probably explains why it became the subject of a query to my earlier post on management. The programme’s objective is to develop managerial talents in the field of marketing, merchandising and retailing – with specific focus on the fashion industry. The degree today offers interesting opportunities to work in the retail and fashion industry in areas like international marketing, brand management, retail management and consulting – with relatively better packages but also comparatively lesser of the glitz and glam offered by the other hard-core fashion designing programmes.

In terms of the timing of entry, everyone would agree that nothing beats planning ahead and starting-off early, particularly when it comes to career choices. This is because it’s not only important to make the right career decisions or choices – they need to be made at the right time! Hence, if fashion designing is your calling, the bachelor programmes (straight after 12th) is the right place to initiate your career in the industry. The master programmes do offer exciting opportunities and are also open to candidates from other backgrounds. However, there is a clear preference (even where it’s not a necessary pre-requisite) for candidates who either have a qualification or a prior work-experience in the industry – the Master in Fashion Management programme included!

WHERE – the right institute/college?

The next decision aspirants have to grapple with is – choosing the right college or institute. Like all other professional degrees, this decision is easier at the top as there is a clear and generally accepted ranking or preference among the top design institutes and their different campuses. However, I guess a couple of things still deserve a mention here. Firstly, while both NIFT and NID offer bachelor and master programmes in fashion or apparel design, NIFT is particularly famed for its fashion design and allied courses. NID, which actually started out as National Institute of Industrial Design, offers a wider array of courses but is much more focused on industrial design. Infact, some of the top design programmes offered by institutes like IITs and IISc are restricted to industrial design (atleast as of date).

Secondly, there is a lesser clarity on the ranking or preference as one gets down to the lower-rung D-Schools. This doesn’t mean that they should be completely discounted though! There are infact, several good lower-tier design institutes (from private sector institutes to the polytechnic colleges) which could be considered by aspirants should they fail to secure a seat in a top institute. However, what becomes critical – as one goes down the list – is a more diligent research and a much more informed decision making. As mentioned in my earlier post, what is ideal in such cases is to get in touch with the alumni of these institutes – to get first-hand information and feedback. Since that is not always possible, one should atleast make the effort to dig out as much information as possible through professional networks like LinkedIn or from other people within the industry, before taking a final call on these institutes!

Finally, another critical factor for consideration, particularly for the Tier-II and Tier-III D-Schools is the course fee. Here again, I would like to propose the same ‘financial test’ suggested earlier for B-schools, although with a small caveat – instead of the average CTC of atleast 70-90% of the course fee suggested for B-schools, one should apply a lower benchmark of about 25-45% for the bachelor design programmes. This is because unlike B-schools where a relatively higher return on investment (ROI) kicks-in almost immediately (in the form of the final placement offers), the period of high ROIs in a fashion designing career kicks-in much later. To try and put is more accurately – it’s actually name, fame and only then, lots of money!

CONCLUDING….

A few months back, a cousin of mine posted what I thought was an interesting and rather profound update on her Facebook page – “With the right pretty clothes and make-up, a girl is reborn again and again!” This innate desire and innocent wish of every girl or any human being for that matter, to be reborn again and again (from the average Joe to the world-famous celebrities) is the key inspiration and driving force behind a whole fashion designing industry. And given this natural and inborn aspiration, the human race will always have a special place for fashion designers to help them fulfill this ever-evolving need and in the process, continue to make this world a beautiful place – or atleast a fashionable one!

So, it’s no surprise that India’s economic growth and increasing prosperity during the recent decades has already translated into a high rate of growth for the industry and the emergence of fashion designing as an exciting career choice – and a glamorous one at that! However, a word of caution coming from everyone within the industry – our very own emergent designers to the world-renowned designers – is that, it’s not always glitz and glamour. The ultra-competitive career is definitely not for the faint hearted as it would take years of hard work, passion, patience and undying perseverance to succeed in the industry. Which is why, nothing could be more critical for aspirants than to objectively assess if this is the right career choice for them and if they have what it would take to persist – and if so, still ensure that informed and timely career decisions are taken along the way – as this is an industry where there could be no bigger difference between making-it and almost-making-it!

PROFILES…

Teresa Tungnung

Teresa currently works as Section Head – Genes Menswear with the Paris founded fashion house, Lecoanet Hemant – which is known for its intricate architectural details. Based out of their Gurgaon office, she is part of the team which creates high end luxury garments for the European market (under the name Lecoanet Hemant Fashion) and for the Indian market (under the name Lecoanet Hemant Genes).

Prior to this, she has worked with Givo Pvt. Ltd as Head Designer – Menswear, with Grasim Bhiwani Textiles as Senior Designer – Menswear and also with Gesture Jeans as Junior Designer – Menswear and Womenswear.

She graduated from NIFT, New Delhi in 2008 with a specialisation in Knitwear Design.

Lhangum Tingneineng (Roslyn) Khongsai

Roslyn is a Fashion Design graduate from NIFT, New Delhi. During her years as a graduate in NIFT, she developed a vision to do something for her society through her imbibed knowledge so that the traditional fabrics of North East India could be showcased globally. Her graduation design collection which was based on the Kuki traditional motifs was in itself a portrayal of her enthusiasm & attachment towards the traditional fabrics & motifs of the Northeast.

After working in the garment industry for various organizations from export houses to buying houses as well as a design house for 8 years, she started creative developments. This eventually led to the production of neckties for men & unisex scarfs based on the Kuki traditional motifs. Having seen a tremendous acceptance with the design within and outside the targeted market, she decided to venture into deeper waters by starting her own label “ROSLYN KHONGSAI” (www.roslynkhongsai.com)

S. Thangminlian

Thangminlian completed his Bachelor of Fashion Design (B.Des) from NIFT Hyderabad in 2011.

After graduation, he also took on the entrepreneurial route and launched his own label “LIAN SUANTAH”. Based out of Churachandpur district in Manipur, the label specializes in womenswear & bridal wear and is already the preferred choice in town when it comes to haute couture dresses for all special occasions. He is also a wedding planner.

(This is an attempt to provide a broad overview of a career in Fashion Designing and should lead to aspirants asking more specific questions and hopefully, the right ones. Please feel free to leave any such specific queries or your thoughts as comments below!)

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