If you‘ve ever considered moving to New York City to pursue a career in fashion, you should know that it's not as easy as it looks on television. Project Runway and Fashion Star have skewed the idea of what it’s like to work in New York City’s fashion industry, creating a new breed of designers born from televised competitions in extreme circumstances. But that hasn’t deterred countless students who move to the fashion capital of the world to pursue a career in the industry.
There’s plenty about studying and working in fashion that you won’t learn from glossy magazines, college admission counselors, or online forums. Kirsten Geiger, 24, received her Bachelor of Fine arts from the ultra-competitive Parsons School of Design in the heart of New York City’s Fashion District. She’s since parlayed her skills into a career as a handbag and women’s accessories designer at Coach… but had to make sacrifices to land her present day career.
Most students breathe a sigh of relief once they’re admitted to their dream school. But for Geiger, the challenge had only just begun. “At Parsons, probably a third of the students in the Fashion department were either asked to leave (because of poor work or missed deadlines), or left [for their own reasons] because of the stress.”
While it may seem glamorous, studying fashion is more than access to Fashion Week and endless sample sales. “The biggest misconception is that it's a ‘fun’ major,” she says of choosing to study Fashion Design. “I have never worked so hard in my entire life as when I was in school. I literally did not have a social life at all, and slept 3-4 hours a night—if I was lucky.”
If Geiger’s description of what it’s like to study fashion seems daunting, the harsh reality of “making it” in the industry may shock you. While she credits landing her job at Coach to hard work and determination, it was Geiger’s desire to succeed that propelled her through sleepless nights, endless criticism, and cutthroat competition in the classroom.
“There is going to be rivalry. It was an extremely competitive program at an extremely competitive school. It had an incredibly positive effect over everyone, whether they realized it or not. There's no way you can't compare yourself with others during class critiques; but it pushes you to make the next collection you design even more incredible and amazing. It definitely reflects the nature of the industry,” she says.
Fashion fanatics, take note: “The only reason you should ever go into this career is because you cannot ever see yourself doing anything else,” Geiger warns. “It has to be your biggest passion in life, otherwise—[you‘ll torture] yourself. The pressure is immense, the multiple deadlines are killer, and the critiques are harsh.”
“You're given so much work to do in very small windows of time. You also have to create something that's completely flawless in every way. It's incredibly stressful and tiring to say the least.” But with that being said, “It was one of the best experiences of my life,” she assures.
Was sacrificing her social life for four years of struggle and sleepless nights worth it? “The best part of being a fashion student is the excitement in completing a collection or even a single garment to the best of your abilities. Of course, having your good work recognized by your peers and teachers doesn't hurt either,” she says. “It's extremely gratifying.”