“As someone who does a lot of recruiting, I was interested in finding out how FAD was helping students get jobs,” says Nicola Breen, who became a mentor for FAD’s INTOFashion programme after seeing a post on LinkedIn. “I found it frustrating that the portfolios I was seeing didn’t show enough of the graduate’s work. It’s so tough for them now, so I wanted to get in touch and see if there was anything I could do to help.”
Currently, Nicola is design director at accessory, gift and stationery designer Caroline Gardner, heading up the team that deals with the products, greeting cards and wrap, as well as coordinating the visuals for the shop, web and catalogues. It’s a varied role, and one where a typical day might involve working on one season’s work while art directing a shoot for the next. Before that, she worked at Boden for 10 years before joining Cath Kidston as a print design manager for two years.
In her time as a mentor, she’s been paired with one graduate, Ruby, who she worked with to ensure her portfolio, CV and confidence was ready for industry. “I’ve really enjoyed mentoring,” Nicola continues. “I’d like to get into lecturing eventually so it’s good practice for me.”
With a deep understanding of the number of CVs a recruiter can receive for a job, as well as what Ruby was interested in, Nicola has been as asset through the entire process. “Every time Ruby had an interview she would come to me and we’d do practice interview questions and tailor her online and actual portfolio to what she was interviewing for,” Nicola explains. “Then, she’d call me after and we’d have a debrief about how it went.” After some interviews at Vivienne Westwood and Erdem, Ruby ended up at Hush in a print role.
“I think there’s something lacking with the degrees,” Nicola says, talking about why programs like INTOFashion are so important for upcoming talent. “I know from my degree there’s so much emphasis on the final collection show that I don’t think people are really prepared for what’s going to happen afterwards. A few lucky people are snapped up from the show but there’s a real gap around how you actually go about getting a job, presenting your portfolio, and finding interviews.”
When it comes to advice for those looking to break into the fashion industry, and standing out when you secure an interview, Nicola says, “don’t sell yourself short and don’t think any piece of work isn’t worth seeing. If I’m interviewing with Caroline now, for example, she might not love someone’s portfolio because it’s too polished but might flick through the sketchbook, see one little thumbnail or doodle and say, yes they’ve got it. That’s what I’m looking for.
“It can sometimes be that simple, so don’t hide the development,” she continues. “People might not like the finished product because it’s not right for their brand but, if they can see the vision of where it came from, it becomes almost more valuable than what you produce at the end.”