Should I attend fashion school?

Text and Photos by Xia Yi

 Are you one of those who typed in ‘Should I attend fashion school?‘ on Google because you had a worrying, unsettling question about your future? Well, I was one of them. I started to question and re-evaluated my financial capabilities on whether pursuing a fashion degree abroad was worth the investment about a year ago. A topic most talked about amongst thousands of creatives who most likely completed their pre-degree education as they eventually arrive at this phase, to either face the reality of adulthood through work or to pursue a degree abroad for the next three years.

The saying ‘Everything comes with a price’. Everything. Some things just cost more than others, accurately describes this dilemma that creatives like me and you struggle to digest. The tedious process in hopes of being accepted by these prestigious fashion schools abroad, or to settle for a degree education back home here. It is quite the substantial jump, indeed. You would more likely feel stressed out about the lack of, or almost no financial support when it comes to pursuing an education in the arts here.

An unspoken matter that we all seem to simply take for granted especially when the completion of a degree today has become a 21st century prerequisite in most workplaces.

I have always wanted to initiate a conversation amongst fashion creatives who went through this exact struggle as I did. I was born and raised in a family of incredibly strong women who constantly had to wear the pants. Growing up in a working class family, I was heavily influenced by my mother’s career path. She was the one figure in my life who had given me an early introduction to fashion. My younger self had witnessed her career progression by listening to stories of how she first started out as an intern in Metrojaya, a local departmental store, to how my mother eventually climbed up the corporate ladder to be a fashion merchandiser.

She graduated with a BA in Business Administration from a local business school. The most practical type of course, a woman could pursue about 30 years ago. A risk-adversed choice, if I were to factor in the fact that my entire family mainly consists of accountants, stock brokers and business owners. It just made perfect sense. No one in my family was working in the fashion industry except for my mother. The efficacy of surrounding your children in an environment of new subjects seemed to have worked in my situation. An individual who was initially utterly confused because she assumed that her mother created fashion scrapbooks for a living, to being someone who has now finally reached a level of maturity to finally understand the pressure and exhaustion, a fashion merchandiser bears. As I looked back, I can’t help but realized how it has all been rather ironic. The genre of fashion used to be something distant and foreign to me. But, I have, now, become perfectly capable of understanding the language of fashion.

I had been thinking about applying as an undergraduate at Central Saint Martins, the moment I first enrolled with Raffles College of Higher Education for an Advanced Diploma course in Fashion Marketing about 3 years ago. It was an easier and less competitive entrance into the industry. I was horribly uncertain on what I was about to get myself into. Raffles College was a renowned arts and fashion institution in South-East Asia established since 1994. They had been producing graduates of familiar names such as Joe Chia, Alia Bastamam and Ezzati Amira.

A life-changing three years there had given me a transient glimpse of the fashion industry in Malaysia. After leaving a full-time job as a beauty writer in a startup company, my enthusiasm to apply as an undergraduate with Saint Martins renewed. There was a desperate need to get out of my comfort zone. It was now or never. I had always been greatly aware of the cultural impact prestigious fashion institution carries — when Saint Martins sent shockwaves down the runway during the graduation collection of Alexander Mcqueen’s end-of-year runway show in 1992.

The Bunka Fashion College in Tokyo, Parsons School of Design in New York, Royal Academy of Fine Arts Antwerp in Berlin to Saint Martins in London. Any avid fashion follower would know of the idiosyncratic graduates these institutions produced, recognizable names such as Junya Watanabe, Marc Jacobs, Martin Margiela, Raf Simons and Hussein Chalayan. Trailblazers who had altered the course of fashion. Besides, their name has now turned into lucrative publicity devices by institutions to lure fashion creatives who are clearly enamoured by the significance of these names.

I was one of them. I was beguiled by the glitz and glamour of fashion. Where else to learn the dirty secrets and tricks of the fashion industry — where these designers went to study? I was accepted into one of the undergraduate course at Saint Martins for a BA in Fashion Journalism. An unexpected gamble of luck turned into reality. If there was a common question that I would frequently receive from curious individuals, it would most likely be ‘how was studying there like?’ And my answer would have always been‘ It was intense. ‘ The truth is, it was an emotional roller coaster ride for me because there has always been an agonising need to worry about my finances throughout my time there.

My inability to keep up with the exorbitant, rising cost of living in Central London alongside the fluctuating conversion between the Ringgit (MYR) and Sterling Pounds currency was one of the main reasons to why I decided to leave school instead of further increasing my education debt. The decision-making leading to my final verdict was filled with tears and a plentiful of rationalizing. In the midst of all this, there was still a gleam of optimism left in me in hopes that I was able to stay but instead, I found it extremely difficult to seek for financial support in a form of loan, scholarships or grants. 

In Malaysia, the form of financial support in education had always been leaning more towards the science, medicine and technology field. As a middle-income Malaysian youth who was pursuing the arts, I was unable to obtain help because I was not eligible for any financial support. No loans, scholarships, grants, nothing. The only reasoning behind all of this was because my family and I was in the middle-income bracket. Why are youths from middle-income families not eligible for financial support from the government or any privately run funding schemes?

I do hope that these questions of mine would eventually come to a form of solution one day and an equal and inclusive educational opportunity could be achieved for all the different income groups. The lack of or almost no, financial support middle income young creatives receive when looking to pursue their tertiary education in the arts worries me greatly today.

Artist Bio

Xia Yi is a photographer and fashion writer based in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. In 2014, she pursued an Advanced Diploma in Fashion Marketing and Management with Raffles College Of Higher Education back home in Malaysia. Moving forward, Xia Yi started pursuing her degree in Fashion Journalism with Central Saint Martins in London only to have completed until Year 1. In 2018, Xia Yi has once interned for fashion labels, Xu Zhi and Hussein Chalayan.

Her endeavours to venture into photography took place simply as a spontaneous experiment. Unexpectedly, causing Xia Yi to produce Family Portrait, her first digital series as another form of visual documentation. The inspiration behind all of her work has been nothing but a combination of an overload of visuals online made by creatives from all around the world to learning through her circle of close friends, who are fashion photographers themselves.