More than 100 emerging designers supported by DMU ‘summer school’

Designs by student Grace Allen

Valuable support and tips for impressing employers during the global pandemic have benefited students who attended De Montfort University Leicester’s (DMU) ‘summer school’.

More than 100 emerging designers signed up to the free, two-day online event – which was coordinated by lecturers Melanie Petch and Ruth Jindal from DMU’s Faculty of Arts, Design and Humanities – as a response to how the coronavirus crisis is affecting final-year students.

Building on the professional development students acquire on their degrees, the ‘summer school’ included practical workshops and contributions from industry professionals, successful graduates and DMU experts.

Guest speaker Sharon Webb shared her experience of the fashion industry spanning 25 years, including working as a buyer for Debenhams and Peacocks, and offered students advice on how to best present themselves to employers.

London-based fashion designer, writer and author Joanne Yulan Jong shared tips for remaining authentic in challenging times and insights into how the pandemic is likely to change the industry.

Students also heard from new designers who have recently launched their careers, some of whom are DMU graduates, and had the chance to ask them questions ranging from how they found work to what they learned in their first year as a designer.

Ruth Jindal said: “‘Opportunity’ and ‘experience’ are key words when we think about the student journey, so we put a lot of hours into refining the programme, mining resources from across DMU.

“Thanks to all of the staff involved, we managed to create an extremely safe and supportive environment, and we saw students really grow in confidence.”

Fashion Buying with Design student Jemima Jacob has been collecting and selling vintage clothes for years. She attended the ‘summer school’ to see how she can grow her hobby into a business, alongside breaking into the industry.

“It gave me a good insight into what employers are looking for and how to turn my passion into my career,” said the 21-year-old from London.

“All the guest speakers echoed how important it is to take every opportunity going – like sending your work to brands you admire and applying for competitions – which was really motivating.”

Other sessions included making the leap from physical to digital portfolios, finessing LinkedIn profiles, learning how to write authentic designer statements, the importance of staying connected through social media, and developing a positive and resilient mindset.

Students also heard from DMU’s enterprise team about the support available to those wanting to start their own business and how to protect their creative ideas and intellectual property.

Design Crafts student and glass-blower Grace Allen signed up to get help with her portfolio and artist statement, but gained much more than she expected.

The 21-year-old from Surrey said: “I haven’t been able to practice my craft from home during lockdown, so I’ve been feeling a bit lost.

“Dr TJ Moore’s session on motivation and positivity was brilliant though and it inspired me to dust off my graphic design skills and to pick up crafts I’ve enjoyed in the past like embroidery and metal work. It’s helped me to focus on the things I can still be doing, instead of what I can’t do.”

As well as pursuing sportswear design, Contour Fashion student Raychelle Hall is in the process of developing a platform where she can sell her art prints and cultivate an uplifting online community.

“I got lots of advice on how to get started, how to market my business and also how to best present myself as a designer,” said the 21-year-old from County Durham.

“It was so nice to feel like we were back at uni again and to connect with people in the same boat. The chat feature was a great way of interacting with the speakers and each other.”

Melanie Petch said: “We really wanted to help students tie up loose ends and find closure after their final year was cut short. Forging such a human connection online was really lovely and it enabled an awful lot of sharing and dialogue between the participants.

“Students had the option to stay online after each session to ask further questions and we also sent them the recordings and slides from the two days so they can refer back to them whenever they want to.”