Fun fact: This week I'm excited, not nervous, to announce that I have officially left my fashion degree and notified the university that I will not be returning to complete the course.
I’ve always had a passion 4 fashion and style but it wasn’t until my 2nd year of A- Level Textiles that I actually started to enjoy sewing. Before this I absolutely HATED it (with a passion) and it wasn’t until the summer of Year 12 when my brain suddenly ‘clicked’ , literally overnight, and I decided I wanted to actually practise it. From this point onwards, I became obsessed, enthralled and every inch of my thinking was motivated by designing and making clothes. I was crazily obsessed because I always had new things I wanted to try out and to turn from my imagination into a reality. This sudden love to sew saw me from a low B in AS, to finishing with a 98% A* by the end of Year 13! When finishing A Levels I still wasn’t sure where I wanted to go from here so took a year out to chill and travel. During this period it became so clear what felt like the natural next step for me… I love designing, making and styling and couldn’t imagine (and still can’t) not perusing my dream. Excited to learn so many new things, I applied and was accepted to my chosen university to study a fashion degree. So why 2 years on, has this not gone to plan?
Last November I abruptly made the decision to intermit (pause) my Year 2 degree place and move back home. Many would say I ‘quit’ uni, but I definitely did not quit, instead I like to say I’ve just changed my direction in life.
So the BIG question: Why did I leave?
Apart from the obvious that I hated it, there was a build-up of reasons that contributed to this.
1st Year, 1st term I absolutely loved – I was learning so much and constantly excited with what was next on the course. 2nd Term I didn’t mind and 3rd .. well lets just say I wasn’t a fan of it. And its no surprise that with each term decreasing in enjoyment, that my grades also slipped from a high 1st to a low 2:1. When starting this course I never expected it to be easy and moreover, I didn’t want it to be. I didn’t mind the crazy amount of work levels and always kept up with them– but the more I grew to dislike the course and the way it was taught made it very difficult to keep motivated.
Universities encourage you to be a ‘independent’ learner which is great to prepare you for work- life but I always struggled with the creative restrictions that this particular course put on us. It frustrated me at how contradictory the course was – ‘you need to be independent, but you can’t do this.’ And being the type of person I am, quite stubborn, I hated not being able to do what I wanted because it didn’t fit a written criteria or one person’s opinion. I will always listen to constructive advice and work with it but nothing I was creating was really me – which is why I think I started to loose interest by the end of 1st year. The main thing I wanted to do was learn loads of technical skills from professionals to compliment my creativity, but the course lacked in this area. So much so, that when I asked if we were to ever be taught how to pattern grade (create different pattern sizes) I was told there was only possibility to learn in the very last week on Year 3 and was advised to get a book from the library to teach myself. They said I would never need to know how to do this in industry- as would always work with a sample size. But surely a understanding of different sizes would be beneficial when designing and what if I wanted to be a pattern cutter or do my own thing? I realised at this point that this course was preparing me to work in industry for a large company which I could never see myself doing. And also, to be paying £9,000 a year to be told to read a book to teach myself on something which is so important was just not good enough. Throughout 1st year my head was always in other places and over summer I went on and did my own thing whist contemplating not returning.
Unfortunately I did return and this is where it goes from bearable, to unbearable VERY quick.
2nd Year was awful. Looking back I was there for less than 2 months, but it was so bad that It felt much longer. Since the very beginning of the course I couldn’t grasp the way I was being taught.. I can’t be told to go into the library to pick up a book and base a project on that. It’s fake. I’m inspired from real life experiences, real emotions and real people so that I can create garments that actually have some meaning behind them. Not just because I liked the shape of a flower in a photo or will study WW2 because my lecturer likes it and all so that I create something aesthetically pleasing. This meant that sometimes I didn’t have visual evidence to be able to show the development of my ideas. (Hence why I like to write a lot to explain myself.) But lecturers wanted less words and more photos and I just don’t work like that. Furthermore it didn’t help that I found the town I was living in completely uninspiring. I would say that if your thinking of going to uni, you should really consider the place you will live as it will have a massive impact on your studies.
Fashion and art are both incredibly subjective to opinion and I found it SO difficult to grasp the concept of all teachers giving me their conflicting opinions. They would use constructive criticism to push students to improve, but when every opinion would clash with another it would completely throw me. In year 2 I found myself constantly bouncing between opinions whilst also having no clue what I was doing. Rather than push me forward it left me stuck and demotivated. It got so bad, that even some lecturers were contradicting themselves from week to week – one gave me an idea to look into- so I did and then in a following meeting after I’d spent a whole week developing on that, was laughed at by the same person who suggested it, for doing it. So there I was back at square 1 – still no clue what I was doing.
On top of this the course was so disorganised, under staffed and over-populated that I begin to struggle to keep up with the work. It would drive me crazy that teachers would expect so much from you, so much so that they would expect you to know exactly what to come prepared with or know what you were doing even when they hadn’t told us. But it was always our fault that they hadn’t told us? How can I organise my work if the course- or in particular this project – was all over the place? It wasn’t just me that it affected, it was a lot of other students and they started to seek help from the student union. To be in a studio 5 days a week surrounded by people saying more negative than positive things about the course, shows that something was really wrong.
The stress of extreme disorganisation, feeling of being thrown back and forth, not having a clue of what I wanted to do, conflicting direction, no encouragement and constant pressure, completely lowered any confidence I had with my work, but more importantly in myself. I was triple questioning everything I was doing and lost all motivation and interest in everything. To loose interest in something you know you love doing creates a horrible feeling of disappointment in yourself. Everything was like a horrible down-ward spiral domino effect. I became unable to organise myself as I had no time for myself – I was loosing my bank card or ID every other day and didn’t care about little things like doing my washing, eating, showering or just basically anything. I found myself avoiding everything apart from boyfriend and began spending any time I could back at home.
I spent my 21st birthday locked in the UNI toilet crying because I hated this course and basically life. All because I was making myself do something that I wasn’t sure I even want to do, but then also hating on myself because this should be something that I love doing and I just didn't know how to deal with feeling like this. And to top it all off this was also moments before I was about to meet with a guidance councillor to talk about my options with regards leaving. I couldn’t even take myself back to my uni house for ages, I literally just didn’t want to be anywhere. I remember asking my boyfriend if we could run away. This was meant to be my prime time of life, I should have been enjoying it not hating it.
The pressure of deciding what to do and the stress of money and what would happen to the house If I left uni all whilst still trying to do work became too much. I ended up at the doctors literally asking for help because nothing made sense- I was doing something I literally love and want to do for rest of my life but why was it not going to plan? Was I depressed or was my course making me depressed? She told me to see the mental health councillor at the uni, so I booked in on the 3 WEEK waiting list to see someone. 3 WEEKS may I add- does that not ring alarm bells at how much pressure uni puts on students?
In the end, everything got way too much and on my next trip home it was like a switch went in my head- and I realised there was absolutely no way I could carry on- this wasn’t right or healthy for me. And that weekend I went out and actually enjoyed myself for the first time in a while by having a boogie with friends at the Black Swan. It honestly felt like a huge weight had been lifted off my shoulders and I’m pretty sure I cried with happiness. Really – all it took for me was to find that one bit of courage I had left to make the decision which I knew deep down.
The process of leaving was fairly quick; a couple of meetings, forms, and a mission to find a person to fill my uni bedroom. I also took the time to chill out. Of course, I didn’t leave with no direction, I wanted to do Bellisa X proper to see where that went. And in the weeks after moving home, I have never worked so hard in my life- more than anything at university. Every waking moment I would be working on the website/logo/ samples etc but I didn't mind because it made me happy doing something that I love.
In reflection I’ve probably chosen to learn the hard way by leaving but I can’t learn creativity from a library book or someone telling me it’s not good enough. I would much rather do what I do now- and learn from customers- real people, through feedback from real products, mistakes I’ve made and realised and constant improvements. I much prefer to create for real customers than for a numeric grade boundary. And most importantly build my self- confidence back up by doing something on my own.
Since leaving I’ve honestly never looked back and even as a reminder of my new found freedom I had deliberately booked a holiday over when one of my uni deadline would of been to spend the week in Berlin! I don’t regret ever going to university as I’ve met some life-long friends and learnt so much about myself. If you’re thinking about going to university to study fashion, I would very strongly advise you to make sure you pick a course which is taught in a way that is most suited to the way you learn ,so that you can get the most out of it. Don’t go there just because you think it looks good on paper. I know that everyone who was my course will go on to do great things as the talent there was unreal, but it just wasn’t for me. And if you’re in a position like I was last year, then remember there is a light at the end of tunnel and happiness is a lot more important than putting yourself through something you really don’t like. I live by the saying that everything happens for a reason, and the reason here was to clarify that I really want to make the best that Bellisa X can be. Where will I be in 3-5-10 years time? Who knows. But it’s exciting to think I could do anything I want, And as always have many ideas and things planned for Bellisa X.
** If you’re having doubts about your uni degree or can relate to anything I’ve said then please message me as it would really help yourself being able to talk to someone whose felt the same!! And please don't take this as me encouraging you to leave university- its just a reminder that there are always so many options you can take! **
*** Photos are of my 1st Year final Piece **