Big Breaks and Humble Beginnings - The Struggles of a Fashion Student
We chat to up and coming fashion designer Aoife McNamara about her journey so far. She breaks down her experiences at Marc Jacobs, from her humble beginnings in Limerick to her time in Paris, and the daily struggles of being a fashion student.
Recent fashion design graduate, Aoife McNamara is living every girl’s dream as she works her way up the fashion ladder, from Marc Jacobs intern to spending 5 months in the heart of fashion capital, Paris, to growing her own collection – the girl has got it going on.
In this article Aoife talks about her big breaks, humble beginnings and the struggles of a fashion student.
The now 23-year-old bagged her first major opportunity when her application to leading fashion label Marc Jacobs, as part of college work experience, was successful.
“You just have to fill out these forms online and you’re sort of filling them out like why am I even doing this I’m obviously not gonna get it”.
The young fashion designer is quick to add that despite nabbing a job in a high-profile company, her resume up until this point was by no means of high-profile standard, revealing the extent of her fashion career was “random jobs” and internships with local designers in the Limerick area.
“I think everyone knows like, when you’re an intern, you’re not gonna have much experience, like you’re an intern for a reason”.
Aoife made her way to Paris, originally for a once off job at fashion week but ended up loving it so much she decided to stay:
“I was like feck it I wanna live in Paris, I’ve no French, no job, all by myself so I sort of just went for it”.
With the help of her AirBnb host, Aoife translated her resume into French and off she went knocking on the doors of fashion houses, luckily landing herself a job with Stylist Natalie Yuksel and then Laurence Schuler.
However, Aoife doesn’t attribute her success to simple luck but rather to the excellent standard of teaching she received in The Limerick School of Art and Design (LSAD) where she studied fashion design for 4 years.
Prior to choosing fashion design course, Aoife recalls her experiences with the stigma surrounding art college and the pressure to do more “proper” courses.
“I’d go into the guidance counsellor and they’d be like “what do you want to do” and I’d say fashion design and they’d be like “and is there any business or anything you’d be interested in as well”. They look down on you a bit”.
But she swiftly follows up noting how supportive her family were and how the mantra “you only live once” made this choice of course obvious.
“It’s so cliché but really at the end of the day it’s your life so do what makes you happy.
I think the main thing is like if it’s your passion like don’t they always say, “work in your passion, you’re never gonna work a day in your life”".
Nevertheless, Aoife would like to remind people success doesn’t come overnight. She encourages any young aspiring designers to be patient and “keep nagging people, keep getting your name out there”.
“I feel like with New York I was like this is gonna be it, I’m gonna be such a big deal, but nothing happened after that. Like it was amazing, but it didn’t go anywhere major. It's just stepping stones, keep doing bits even if you’re like, (uh what am I even doing?) just keep doing it and just be patient.”
So, what does a fashion design student actually do?
The fresh graduate begins by listing off the workload: stand works, pattern cutting, sewing, website development, sketchbook drawing- which she quickly adds is kept to a minimum as nowadays a lot is done through photoshop. So, don’t freak out if you want to be the next Louis Vuitton but draw like a three-year-old- there's still hope!
She also went on to describe the process of fabric shopping whereby the design students jet off to London three times a year gathering materials as well as travelling to a variety of mills across Ireland.
‘AOIFE’- the label, in fact came from Aoife’s final year project which, as Aoife explains, wasn’t intended but “sort of just happened”. The collection is based on the story of Annie Moore (a young girl from Ireland), who emigrated to New York in the famine times. The collection begins with Irish fabrics and then gradually moves to more silks and lavish materials symbolizing the sense of “the American dream” as Annie flourishes in New York.
“It sort of reminds me of my story obviously not the famine but a young girl immigrating to New York”.
After 5 months working in Paris, the young designer has returned early to Ireland for what she describes as “an opportunity I couldn’t turn down”.
Although the future of AOIFE is being kept hush hush for now, she does reveal she has a few big styling numbers lined up for the near future so keep your eyes peeled - it’s gonna be good.
Things to consider before applying to fashion:
Aoife recommends checking out a few different shows ran by the fashion departments throughout Ireland, although in Aoife’s opinion LSAD has the most to offer.
The portfolio is only necessary to get your ass in the door but that being said, you want it to be good. Classes are run to help secondary school students prepare their portfolio’s. Aoife attended a Saturday portfolio class in Kilmartin’s school, Limerick.
Apply to them all- you can’t win it if you’re not in it. For internships in New York Aoife used and recommends using CICD (An American company as opposed to the Irish USIT- it's cheaper but she encourages you to shop around).
In Aoife’s words: “just keep nagging them”. Message stylists, designers, high profile people – anyone to wear your pieces and get your name out there. Worst case scenario they’ll say no, but more often than not, if they’re also Irish they’ll be more than happy to help you out!