Amy Zhang, aspiring fashion student, is at a crossroads: design career or not?
A little girl plays in her room. She moves around clothes, smiling as they make colorful combinations on her pink bed sheets. In the night, she crawls under those same bed sheets and has dreams of bright runways and beautiful looks. Ten years later, that little girl is nearly an adult. Amy Zhang (12) still dreams of the bright runways, but in her dreams, she is no longer a spectator in the audience. She is the designer, sketching designs till late at night, sewing in the day, hurrying about backstage during shows.
“[My first memory of fashion] would probably be me when I was really young, I think maybe 10 or 11…This Hello Kitty shirt from Sears that I was obsessed with for like 2 weeks, I had to drag [my dad] back to get it for me… I immediately ran home and I just put it on and danced in my room,” Amy recalls.
“It kind of started in quarantine. In my Junior year, I would watch runway shows and I would start sketching out ideas and planning them in my head… I love the shows from Comme Des Garcons as well as Maison Margiela… My parents got me this really cool sewing machine and I started playing around with it. I realized that I can sew my own stuff and make it unique to me. Because for me, fashion is a really essential way for me to express myself and what I’m feeling at the moment… It’s such a creative way for you to portray how you are to the world,” says Zhang.
Amy slowly looked back on how she began her creative process. A sewing machine and finished outfit were in the background as she leaned back and thought. The outfit was a complex top and pant set, showing the hard work its maker had put in.
“At the start, I had to watch a lot of tutorials… For me, I would plan out how I wanted it to look in my head. I would start cutting out different pieces. The body would be a rectangle or something… Let’s just say I want ruffle details. I would create these other two rectangles, longer ones, and I would figure out how to sew it to make it look this way,” says Zhang.
Anusha Damle (12), who has known Amy since 7th grade, says that, “Amy has always been a really creative person. I remember she used to be very creative with her writing and even before she would draw and other things. I think fashion is just another outlet for creativity. I think it serves as an inspiration for her… She seems to be really drawn to the career. I think she will pursue it at one point… She talks about fashion designers, their shows all the time, who she admires in the industry, who she would like to achieve as much as, or their creations, creations that she really admires.”
Tanisha Damle (12), who is “less close to Amy than Anusha,” also described Amy as creative. “I think Amy gravitates towards fashion as a hobby because she is very artistic and creative. She likes exploring new kinds of fashion… She’s the only person I know that is that into fashion. Only person I know that makes clothes… It seems super fun. A good way to spend time. She’ll never run out of clothes,” says Tanisha Damle.
Amy’s former teacher, Ms. Jeung, raised her voice at the name “Amy.” She tapped the wooden desk in front of her, thinking a bit about how to explain her former student’s fashion obsession.
“Amy is a very creative person. Here’s my take on that: Amy’s a quiet creative person. She has so much creativity inside of her that she doesn’t let out… I can see with fashion, it being truly a way that she can express that creativity now,” says Ms. Jeung.
Connecting to her career, she recounted teaching Amy a few months back and first seeing her enjoyment of fashion.
“I did have her this year, but it was first semester Economics. I believe we did this-one of the projects you guys are going to be doing is making up a pretend small business. Now that I think about it, she did one with fashion…It was actually a really good business proposal too because a lot of it was recycled, it was her art she was putting on things and stuff,” says Ms. Jeung.
Amy is visibly excited at the idea of going to fashion school, and talks longingly about it. There was excitement for new surroundings, passion for a place to fulfill her dreams.
“My dream school for this is Central Saint Martins. It’s a top fashion school in London. The work that I’ve seen from those students is incredible. There’s so many famous alumni from that school, there’s Alexander McQueen… I love the process and way they teach,” says Zhang.
At the mention of an actual fashion degree however, she becomes somber and undecided. It is clear that this is a topic that weighs heavy on her mind, a topic that has taken many hours of thinking away from her. This is the practical portion of her dream, the one with all the forms, tuition fees, and job opportunities (or lack of). It was a clear struggle.
“I would love to [get a degree in this field]. This is actually something that I’ve been struggling with for the last couple of months. For me, this is something I’m really passionate about… Fashion school is pretty expensive. Everything I read online seems really discouraging. I guess I’m kind of feeling almost stuck about it, because yeah I do want to do it as a career, but then, it’s very risky in terms of finding a job… I know that fashion is super competitive, especially for designers. People say that you need to be extremely talented and you also need to be extremely lucky,” says Zhang.
Anusha displayed a similar sense of discouragement. She scrunched up her eyebrows at the question of studying fashion design, then encouraged caution with such a choice. Like so many other students, she clearly had preconceived notions on the usefulness of certain fields.
“A fashion degree is not the most stable degree you can get… If you look at it from an economic perspective, the money you put into a fashion degree versus the outcome… She’s still able to get a degree after and still pursue the same goals. I advised her to pursue the fashion industry while also pursuing something that is economically beneficial,” says Anusha Damle.
“I think the biggest [struggle] is unemployment [if Amy decides to study fashion design]… From what she described to me, because she was very concerned about this, she said that fashion is a really hard industry to break into and not many people are able to do it successfully. I know she was worried about not getting a job after graduating fashion school,” says Anusha Damle.
Ms. Jeung showed a similar sentiment. As a teacher, she recalled students that had gone into creative fields and had not done well. These experiences played a clear role in her wary response.
“One of the issues, more than even fashion design, any kind of creative profession, is always more risky when it comes to having a secure, stable job that you get the same paycheck every month and that sort of thing. There is a risk going into creative fields, especially in the beginning. You’re going to make a lot less money,” says Ms. Jeung.
Much like Anusha, she encouraged the choice of a more stable degree to go with creative studies. It was a common idea— get a “serious” degree that brought in guaranteed money and employment, then get a “fun” degree that had little stability. With the way the world is constantly changing, it is not surprising to see this is popular advice.
“What I always recommend to people, especially those getting into any kind of creative field is to study that and also study business so that you’re able to do what you love to do and you have those business marks that go along with it that will allow you to have your own small business, your own company, your own line of fashion, those sorts of things… Knowing the business side of things with something like fashion is going to be extremely helpful. Her being able to know what she should be charging for things, and how much stuff she should make,” says Ms. Jeung.
Tanisha disagreed with both Anusha and Ms. Jeung. She displayed less concern about practicality and money, and more on personal fulfillment and happiness. It was an interesting look into the different thought processes and goals set in life.
“If that [getting a degree in fashion] is what she wants to do, I think she should do it. But I feel like even if she doesn’t get a degree, she’ll probably still succeed in it if she’s determined enough… Many people in fashion don’t have a degree,” says Tanisha Damle.
However, she agreed that the degree could cause issues as well. This was a reminder that even in creative fields, concerns like employment and money played giant roles.
“If she loses interest in [fashion design] after she gets the degree, now she only has a degree in that. She can’t go into anything else unless she goes back to school and learns again. If it’s not making her enough money to survive, that could be a struggle,” says Tanisha Damle.
Tanisha had personal experience with Amy’s creations, having received one as a gift. Her experience was last March, over a year back.
“She made me something for my birthday. She made a shirt that was an off-the-shoulder top. It was really nice. I really liked it, it’s my style. I would buy something like that in a store,” says Tanisha Damle.
Tanisha was also the only one to mention the role of social media in Amy’s fashion. Pulling out her phone, she held out the screen, which bore Amy’s Instagram profile with the handle “_amyyzhang_.”
“She posts pictures of her making stuff on Instagram. She posts stuff on her story sometimes. [The Instagram] is just her name, two underscores… I think I remember seeing a green dress at one point,” says Tanisha Damle.
Amy is not an easily knocked down figure. Her fashion is a part of her life, from the benefits to the struggles.
“Honestly, it’s really fun…I’m really passionate about it. Clothing plays such a fundamental role in my identity and who I am. I feel like I’d be lost without it almost. I’d feel trapped if I didn’t have a way to express myself,” says Zhang.
Amy’s 7-year old brother Aiden, had a much less positive view than anyone else interviewed. He brought a child’s perspective, without practicality and focused on self. Yet, even through this lens, Amy’s struggles could be seen.
“She uses her dumb (sewing) machine. When she finishes, she and mom argue and then it’s all horrible. … On the beneficial side, I got this weird cloth that’s pretty POG (Pro Online Gamer, Cool)… She probably won’t be famous.” When asked about what will happen if Amy goes into the fashion field, he stated, “The benefit is that there’ll be peace and quiet.”
Audios of the interview: