Can A Passion for Fashion in Scotland Really Pay the Bills?
The loud whirring of a modern sewing machine pierces through my eardrums as I sit in a small design studio belonging to young Scottish fashion designer, Yasmin Moy. Hunched over the apparatus that is crucial to her construction process, Moy guides the most delicate tulle fabric through the sewing machine with confidence, her long raven-coloured tresses dangerously close to the presser foot. Tall and slim with large emerald Bambi-esque eyes surrounded by jet black, feather-like eyelashes Yasmin looks increasingly more like a model than a designer. With a slight gothic aesthetic of her own, wearing combat boots, dark skinny jeans and a large over-sized men’s shirt, she stands to light a cigarette and I’m captivated by her coolness. At almost 26 years old, Moy, from Clarkston, near Glasgow, has started and funded her own design business, Tinker Tailor, and today she invited me into her world of creation, to see for myself the struggles of a young Scottish designer.
Graduating from Heriot-Watt University with a first class degree in Fashion Design, spending two years in the Scottish Borders at the Galashiels campus, Moy had access to the largest knitting, weaving and print studios in Europe, where she learned pattern cutting, garment construction and more. Focussing on menswear, she displayed her final design collection at the university’s own fashion show and took her portfolio of work to Graduate Fashion Week in London in the spring of 2016.
Speaking of her time at the university, Moy said: “It’s fantastic in the aspect of promoting and helping work when you’ve left university, giving you advice and opportunities through other businesses. They really helped to push you and pick out your strengths as a designer, it’s probably the only place I’ve directly received advice from lecturers”.
Moy added: “But, all the job and internship opportunities are down in London, there’s nothing in Scotland. I did do an internship with menswear tailoring designer Joshua Kane, but again, this was in London for six weeks. Travel wasn’t paid for, I was given an allowance, but this was the equivalent for £100 for the six weeks I was there”.
Despite menswear being Moy’s speciality, she is currently working on a prom dress for a family friend, having previously secured work for alterations, upholstery and upcycling. With flowing income uncertain, she has started to design quick and easy-to-make luxury scarves and kimonos with kaleidoscopic silk fabric sourced from Liberty of London.
An incredibly tidy workspace, Moy’s studio is clean and open, with paper pattern cuttings hanging neatly on a rail, organised from trousers to skirts and blouses. Dozens of fashion related textbooks are lined up in size order across several long, industrial-inspired shelves, their spines facing outwards. Sketches, hundreds of which are delicate with intricate detailing, are hidden inside a large antique suitcase, I see them only upon request and feel as though I should be wearing white latex gloves so as not to spoil them in any way.
Discussing the difficulty in being a designer in Scotland, Moy said: “I also clean part-time in order to help me fund machinery and production of my business to boost me as a designer and help me run Tinker Tailor as a service for my clients”.
Scotland may be churning out successful designers such as Christopher Kane, Jonathan Saunders and Holly Fulton, but all three are in fact based in London. Yes, Paris, Milan, London and New York are the big players in the fashion industry, but Scotland has a rich heritage of luxury textile trading, a true powerhouse in supplying the finest fabrics to some of the biggest brands in the world including Chanel, Prada, Louis Vuitton and Burberry, to name a few. The reason being Scotland’s 300 years of experience in weaving fabrics to create luxurious cashmere and tweed, the most renowned of all being Harris Tweed.
Speaking to the Financial Times in 2014, the team at luxury French design house Maison Margiela said of Harris Tweed: “The fabric is synonymous with sartorial savoir-fair, it is something the Maison strongly admires”.
The only fabric in the world to have a 1993 Act of Parliament, Harris Tweed cannot be manufactured anywhere outside the Isle of Harris, making it more appealing in terms of exclusivity for high-end designer brands. Worth an estimated £1bn to the economy, Scotland’s fashion and textile sector employs an estimated 24,000 people, but if this is true, why are fashion graduates finding it increasingly more difficult to secure employment in this sector?
With two fashion related degrees, including a Masters, Maria McAllister, a 24-year-old former graduate from both Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow Caledonian University said: “When I finished my course and looked for jobs within Scotland, there was really not a lot to apply for, if any. Not many people are in a position straight out of uni to go to London to get a job, I didn’t have financial support from my parents, like many students did”.
Currently an interior design consultant for Next, travelling across the Central Belt of Scotland, McAllister added: “As a whole, the fashion industry just isn’t focused towards the fashion industry or any creatives. There are so many courses nurturing creative talent in Scotland, but we have nowhere to put that talent! So, we end up in jobs that don’t reflect what we’ve been taught or what we are passionate about. Passion only takes you so far”.
With a plethora of fashion-related courses taught in Scotland, The Guardian released a university league table guide for 2018, ranking the best universities for fashion and textile design in the UK. In a list of 46 institutions across the United Kingdom, four Scottish universities made the list; ranking third is Dundee University, 11th is the University of Edinburgh, Heriot-Watt is ranked at number 17, and Glasgow School of Art with a ranking of 32.
It’s not just universities refining the future generation of designers, organisations such as Fashion Foundry nurture and develop creative talent in Scotland. With a recent design exhibition at the Lighthouse in Glasgow, Fashion Foundry paired an emerging designer with a mentor to progress their business and showcase some eclectic designs to the Scottish public. Despite being a successful development program, others have struggled, such as Fashioned In Glasgow – a business created by two fashion lecturers offering studio space, business mentoring and clothing manufacturing, which is now insolvent, despite the website still live.
If the businesses created in order to help struggling Scottish designers are failing, how can Scotland’s creatives be supported, developed and refined into the designers they were destined to become? If passion doesn’t pay, can Scotland expect to still have a flourishing textile industry in 25 years? With first-class graduates like Moy and McAllister unable to secure employment in an industry worth 1bn to our economy, it’s difficult to tell. Dare I say, but are Scotland’s creatives hanging on by a thread?