They say that hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes looking back on past events you can pin-point and exact decision or moment that your entire life changed or shifted.
The first time I realized this was when I was 21, looking back on my college experience. Like every fashion design student my dream was to go to the Fashion Institute of Technology in NYC. If you went to FIT you were going to make it- that was the mutual understanding: you would be among the elite fashion designers in the world. When the rejection letter came in the mail and it hit me like a brick to the face! My dreams had just been crushed! Then another rejection letter came, and then another! No one wanted me! I felt hopeless and utter shock! How was I going to pursue my dream of becoming a plus size fashion designer if no one would give me the chance?
I applied not only to FIT, (Fashion Institute of Technology) but also to Parsons: The New School of Design: Tim Gunn’s school. (Now Project Runway at the time had only aired its 1st season back in 06 or 07′- and did not have the following it has today- and I was only 16 and could not apply!) When that second, third and forth rejection letters barreled through my door, I couldn’t believe it! So upset at myself. I was convinced that all of my self taught efforts had been for nothing! I should have been so proud of myself; I learned so much on my own, even made my own prom gowns without any formal training and here I was being told I wasn’t good enough.
Not going to college was not an option- I wanted that college experience and I wanted to learn what I knew others could teach me about my craft. I mean I could always just transfer right? Begrudgingly I also submitted an application to a local private college (my mothers alma mater) Mount Ida College in Newton MA. And don’t you know I was accepted! Now I wasn’t thrilled to receive the acceptance- but I was relieved that at least I could go somewhere. I just wanted someone to give me a chance.
I just have a stick it out a year- I don’t have to stay, I told myself. The school was smaller, and local (only 40 minutes from my home town). If I just stayed a year, I could reapply and transfer to my dream school- FIT. To my surprise, I didn’t hate it as much as I thought I would. My freshman class of designers had 35 students (this was a huge number of designers!) It was eye opening that some of the students I met had never sewed before in their lives! I thought- how could you want to be a fashion designer and have never sewed before? Well I guess you have to start sometime! Other classmates I met, even went to a high school that offered fashion design! Now I was impressed- I only wished I would have had that available to me!
Now I couldn’t decide if I was ahead or behind? I was so confused. The whole point of going to college was to be taught. I left my interview at FIT (I knew I blew it the moment I walked out of that door) feeling totally disheartened and frustrated. All of the other applicants I spoke too seemed to be almost twice my age, and have degrees in other subjects. Should I have been this accomplished before even applying? I didn’t get it.
The discovery that changed everything was that my current local small college offered a double major program. This was a new opportunity that might not be available to me elsewhere. I was already enrolled at the college, on my way to one degree, but why not go for two? Many students who graduate with a fashion design degree walk across that stage thinking that they are the next Valentino or Dior, and often that isn’t the case; not by a long shot. Fashion Design students (regardless of which college) tend to get slammed back into reality of the real world of fashion; interning, production, management, international business, marketing etc. Its much more then I think most bargain for.
This double major for me was a game changer. What if I could get a degree in not only fashion design, but fashion merchandising and marketing? I could learn not only how to make clothing, but how to sell it to! This lit my fire! My goal was always to make a living doing what I love, and this opportunity was another way to get there. And if I decided to continue onto graduate school, my merchandising degree would open that door, should I ever choose to walk through it.
My life changed the moment I decided I would stay at Mount Ida and work to receive two degrees in four years! Yes that’s right, 2 degrees in 4 years. I made a plan, and with some luck and careful consideration, executed it. Now I was one of Mount Ida’s first ever double majors to graduate in the history of the college (graduating mind you, with over 230 credits ((the average major is about 125)) and I might add, with a 3.9 GPA (Suck it doubters!)
The double major was a huge factor but it wasn’t everything. I had truly found an amazing support system. I was far enough away from home that I felt I had true independence, but close enough that I was only a short car ride away. The longer I stuck with fashion design, the fewer and fewer designers remained. Remember that I told you we started with 35? Well out of those 35, we graduated only 8! EIGHT! Including me! Fashion is one of those majors with huge drop out rates; once students realize the long studio classes and work involved after hours, it becomes too demanding and too much.
Fashion design is not like Project Runway, you don’t just get some money, go to Mood Fabrics, and whip up a nice dress in an hour. Its measurements, and fit, and mathematics, and entire world of fabrications and technology, etc. I could go on for hours! It takes hours upon hours of hard work, endless sleepless nights, seam rippers and yards upon yards of fabric, and dedication. And sometimes, you have to just make it again. It really is blood, sweat and tears; but those who persevere and have the tenacity to endure, will succeed.
I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be during my time at Mount Ida I would meet a professor who would become the gateway to my now full time job in fashion. If I had changed schools, I life would have ended up drastically different. I wouldn’t have the day job I have now, working in men’s big and tall fashion in international business, global sourcing and product development. And for sure I would not have two degrees like I do now. I wouldn’t have met the same people, networked and push my career forward in its current direction.
I also might not have had the confidence to do what I love, despite the world telling me that I wasn’t good enough. In the word’s of Jim Carey- during a graduation speech he gave..” the eyes are not only viewers, but they are projectors, and the title of that story is, I’ll never be enough”. The world will always be telling you why you can’t do, what you can’t have etc. You have to decide to not give a shit and do it anyway. Go ahead and doubt me, you just make me want it that much more. And again in the word’s of Jim Cary.. “You can fail at what you don’t want, so you might as well take a chance at doing what you love”.
I am not a believer in fate, only in choice; cause and effect. But sometimes what looks like a set back or a major disappointment is really one door closing and another opening. Its hard to see at the time in this moment, but trust in yourself and in the process. You will get where you need to be, it just might not have been the way you intended; and that’s OK. My first life lesson: Success is not a straight road.
Thanks so much for reading! Did you have a college experience that way similar? Did you overcome people telling you no? I would love to see you comment!
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