For every fashion student, graduation year and the run-up to presenting final collection is always stressful, but for the Class of 2020, the last few weeks have been mind-blowingly difficult, as they face all of these challenge alongside the Covid-19 crisis.
ELEANOR CHAPMAN & HANNAH CREAK are final year B.A fashion design students at Kingston University, here they recap on the events of the last couple of weeks…
How have things changed for you and your fellow students in the last few weeks? I was at your uni to give a Portfolio Presentation workshop on 12th March – that seems like a lifetime ago!
That presentation does seem like a lifetime ago! Everything happened so quickly after then, each day something new was being announced. We had to adapt very quickly to what was happening and get ourselves ready for the situation we’re in now. We’ve gone from spending all of our time at uni aside for sleeping, to being in lockdown at home. Things were all organized for the end of the year: we had a show set up, industry days scheduled, a date for our graduation,… Now none of that will be happening on the original dates or at all. We might even have a digital graduation ceremony.
HANNAH: I can’t believe how much things have changed in such a short period of time. All my 3D design work has come to a halt and online teaching has started. However, I’m in such a mess right now, mentally that I’m really struggling to carry on with work. I think we all need time to adjust.
When was your last day at uni and what was it like? I can imagine it may have been quite emotional for everyone…
My last day at uni was on the 18th of March. Our workshops had been closed the day before and all face to face teaching had been cancelled.
I was just going in to collect any last bits that I might need, I had already taken most of my stuff home at the weekend knowing that the university would be closing any time soon. My main tutor, my pattern cutting tutor and all the technicians were still there. They were all fully healthy so they wanted to come in to help as much as they could whilst they were still allowed to. Even though we weren’t allowed into the workshops, the technicians were, so they continued working on students’ garments as long as they could.
It made us feel really supported despite what was happening; they all care so much and are so invested in everyone’s work. But the day was still really overwhelming, the studios were really empty and eerie and rumors were starting to circulate about a lockdown being announced that evening (although they turned out to be false). It all felt very strange and very abrupt, none of us knew what was going to happen or whether we’d ever be going back.
HANNAH: The last day of uni was Tuesday the 17th March, for me.
I don’t think anyone really realised it was going to be goodbye for such a long time. I didn’t say ‘bye to anyone properly at all and I think that’s something that upsets me the most. I feel robbed of the last few precious months I had at university with my friends and teachers. There was a real sense of fear as we packed up our collections, however my tutor, bless him, was still trying to do tutorials. I never saw this coming; I suppose I was too much in my uni bubble.
Are you now continuing your studies from home? Tell us about what that’s been like so far – what are the biggest challenges?
ELEANOR: Yes, I’m continuing everything from my bedroom in my shared flat in Kingston. A lot of people went home to their parents, but I have a better work set up here and my parents don’t have the space.
Luckily, I have an industrial sewing machine in my room (which I panic bought when the university announced the closure of the workshops, and I’m so glad I did). But space is limited and it slows me down massively. Trying to cut out fabric on the small amount of clear space on my floor is a lot more time consuming than it should be.
I think the hardest part of doing it all from home is there’s no separation between my workspace and where I can rest. My flat doesn’t even have a living room and our kitchen is tiny, which means I use my bedroom to work, to eat and to relax. Going into uni was nice in the way that I could switch on to work mode there and work really intensely, then come home and take my mind away from it all for a second. Now, I find it quite hard to take myself away from my work and I don’t have space to decompress.
HANNAH: I moved home (to Nottingham) after hearing (the then fake news) that London was going to go on lock down. I know it’s so ridiculous I literally just packed my collection and set off. Wishing I had brought more of my clothes now, and spent some time saying goodbye to my Kingston friends.
Honestly, I’ve really really struggled adjusting. For the first week I cried every day to the point I was physically exhausted. I’ve been working so ridiculously hard for so long leading up to my final collection and it’s such an anti-climax to be told to make 1 look from home with online teaching. I feel robbed. And I’ve been mourning my life in Kingston. I don’t know If I will be able to live at my uni house again before the contract runs out. And not only am I thinking about this but there’s a virus out there killing people! Its terrifying.
How are you keeping in contact with your fellow students, and also with uni lecturers and staff? Do you have access to calls with staff / online studies / video calls etc?
ELEANOR: I live with one of my course mates so it’s been nice having someone around that I can still see face to face who’s in the same situation as me. We’ve facetimed a few of our other friends to see how everyone is getting on. I think it’s important to support each other right now and still be able to take our minds off things by having random conversations.
Our tutors and pattern cutting have made themselves available online by email and videocalls in normal timed tutorial slots. The technicians have also handed out their contact details so everyone can ask them if their having any construction queries.
HANNAH: The fashion students have a Facebook group which everyone has been keeping in contact through. There’s also a lot of WhatsApp chats and I’ve been face timing friends a lot.
Have you been told yet as to whether you’ll still have to create a full final collection, or will allowances be made to produce a reduced amount of work/garments?
ELEANOR: Our submission requirements are in discussion. The university sent out revised briefs to us the other day which asked for a purely 2D body of work. However, it got such a negative reaction that they are re-reviewing this. They’re in a hard position where they don’t want to say we have to produce a collection incase people don’t have the means, so they’re toying with the idea that the only requirement is to have the toiled looks which were made for toile review but that you can continue making 6 fully finished looks if you are able to.
Personally, I’m going ahead with the making of my collection regardless. It was the part I’ve been waiting for and it’s what keeps me excited. My whole concept was centered around creating smaller garments to create modular and adaptable looks so it’s actually quite suited to being made with not much space.
HANNAH: I think its one look now that we have to make. It just seems like such a cop out, though. People have spent thousands to get fabric for their final collections and now we only have to make one look. What a waste of money!! Not to count the £9000 a year we have been paying leading up to this. Fashion has completely sponged up all the money I have ever made, not to mention the amount my parents have contributed and now there’s no show and no collection. I’m gutted.
How about your final year runway show? I guess it won’t be going ahead?
ELEANOR: The press show has been cancelled and the internal show which is organized and fundraised 100% by the students has been postponed indefinitely. It was my flatmate (also in my year) and I who had drafted the initial idea/set up for our internal show and we had worked extremely hard afterwards with other students to continue with the organizing and funding of it. Seeing that it wouldn’t go on as planned was disheartening.
We are hoping to still be able to do something. The internal show was never about press or industry for us, it was always meant to be a celebration for our year and to show our friends and family what we have achieved. When it is safe and appropriate for it to happen, we will all be more than due a celebration and will do our best to show of the amazing work being produced from people’s homes. If anything, it could be better than before!
HANNAH: I’m sure we will figure something out among ourselves when all this is over to do some sort of fashion show. I really hope so anyway. I don’t want our year to be forgotten in all this.
What is the mental and emotional impact of all of this? Final year is stressful enough without a pandemic going on! How are you keeping motivated?
ELEANOR; We were getting to the last few weeks before hand in, so things were going really quickly and most of us were working 7 days a week. It’s such an intensive process, that’s at the same time extremely fulfilling, but anything that breaks it was always going to be really disruptive. I found everything very hard to cope with at the beginning, if I’m honest.
But last week especially, I felt completely destabilized and so overwhelmed with stress. I cried a fair amount, mainly because I didn’t know what I was feeling or how to deal with it, I felt extremely out of control of everything that I had been working towards. I also felt really selfish for being so upset about fashion when other people were losing a lot more than me (business, family members, etc) which then in turn made me feel even worse.
I’m feeling a lot better now and I think I needed that moment to just get my head around it. I’ve been so excited by the work I’ve been doing this year and I enjoy working so I try to think of it that way to keep myself going.
HANNAH: I’m on a constant rollercoaster of emotions. I go from completely wiped out with no motivation, to really excited about the possibilities change can create.
As uni is closed, what are you all doing about the lack of technical facilities, workshops, etc?
ELEANOR: For now, I’m mainly focusing on the pieces that I do have the resources to make and, when it comes to it, I’ll just have to rethink how I approach the one’s that I don’t. I’ve accepted that it’s not all going to turn out the same as before and that I have to let go of some ideas and be more flexible with what I can do.
HANNAH: Luckily my family home had a spare room which I’ve turned into a studio. I’m going to really struggle to make things professionally without the support of the technicians and facilities. Even pattern cutting on the floor has already done my back in and I have no over locker or iron. Not to mention the lack of models in my house to do fittings on. My dad has already offered himself up but I’m afraid he doesn’t reach the model requirements.
But hopefully these challenges will make something beautiful happen. I’m just going to make do with what I’ve got and be grateful for my health and situation because people are going through a lot worse.