The Importance of Internships & Apprenticeships with Alice Turner

As part of the blog, podcast and support channels here at Fashion Podcast, I will be interviewing a selection of industry professionals about their roles, with the vision to support students in their early career choices as well as supporting graduates into their first or future job roles. I hope that you all find them insightful! These blog posts are scripted from the Podcast episodes from ‘The Fashion Toolbox Podcast’ available on all Podcast listening platforms, including Spotify, Apple Podcasts and Google Podcasts.

This week I am joined by Alice Turner, Alice is a Design Team Leader responsible for the print methods & processes at a renowned print and embroidered merchandise company. She has a passion for textile print and embroidery as well as a keen creative eye for detail.

Alice completed a variety of internships through her placement year at University which gave her a fantastic insight into the industry and the skills required to succeed. She is joining me to talk about all of the skills learnt in these internships and to fly the flag for the importance of industry placements and apprenticeships.

Fashion Toolbox 00:05

Can you tell me about how you came to working in the Fashion industry?

Alice 00:09

So, and it really all started at secondary school, when I did my Textiles class, so when I was about 11, and I just absolutely fell in love with it. You know, just everything. I have never done Textiles like that before. But the main thing was that I did not know what kind of job you could get with Textiles; I did not understand where it would lead to. I found all other career advice at school only showed a Fashion Designer and I knew that I did not want to do that. I just really wanted to be involved in the fabrics and the textiles and the making things aspect. And it was just this 'Fashion Designer' word I did not connect with because I was not necessarily interested in the clothes, it was more of what they were made out of and how they were decorated and that side of it.

So, I did Textiles at GCSE as well and I just had the most amazing teacher ever. She showed me her own personal projects that she worked on at home and let me use her fancy embroidery machine, you know that were not the school's machines. So, I was really grateful for that because it made me feel quite special, like she could see something in me, and the passion just grew from that. It just made me so much more interested in the class and I think she was the only teacher that I wanted to impress and the only class I wanted to stand out in in school. That teacher, I have actually seen her a few times since I have finished school and we have gone for coffee and stuff and she came to see my degree show at University. I keep in contact with her, so she knows what an inspiration she was to me.

Then at A level my school did not actually do Textiles, so I had to do Product Design, which was a bit, it is just what I had to do I suppose. I ended up making something out of steel, I think in my final projects, which was I was like, "What am I doing?!" but I found some night classes at a nearby college and because I was still in education, they were free. So, I did two Textile night courses while I was doing my A levels, and they were amazing. It was a group, I think they were retired women in the group because it was a class you could pay for, and I just had the most fun with them. We just chatted about textiles and I did a lot of printing and embroidery and making things and it was just a really nice gathering situation to be in and of course it let me continue with Textiles in that way when I couldn't at school.

So then, when I finished school, I went on to study Textiles with Surface Pattern Design at Huddersfield University. I just loved that; I did a sandwich degree with a placement year. And then when I finished, I went straight to working in the clothing company that I am at now once I graduated, and I have been there almost three years now.

Fashion Toolbox 03:18

Great. So you've been on quite a journey and I think it is really good that you had that opportunity at school so young to do Textiles, that's an opportunity that I didn't get, and I was a little bit like you in that I was kind of pushed down that Product Design route and hearing a lot about Fashion Design and that being like, the only role that you can get into, all the glitz and glam and it is just is really shameful that is the only role that is highlighted as being I don't know successful, I guess

Alice 04:00

Yeah, it is like that is the only one they could see value in. It is probably the schools that have not done the research into all the different fields for it as well. But it is bad because it just does not help you at all.

Fashion Toolbox 04:13

I would completely agree with that. It is, it is a lack of knowledge, really. I think that there should be more skill in terms of career advice so that people can actually guide you in the specific areas no matter what it is, even if it's not Fashion, you know, there's lots of specialised areas. And it is absolutely great to hear about your tutor that was so supportive, fantastic to know that there's people out there like that, that will support you in the industry.

Alice 04:43

Yeah, she was amazing. I can even remember we made waistcoats, and it is just simple stuff like that. She had two different patterns. And one was easier, and one was more difficult, the majority of the class went for the easy one as you would, but she was like, "Why don't you try the more complex one?" I think in the end, I did not actually hand that project in on time because it had taken me so long, I ended up doing it over like a half term break. So, I was disappointed because I do not think I got the grade for it. You know, it was not a massive project, but it mattered. And she said, "Oh, do not worry about it at all, but like what you've made is amazing. And you have spent that extra time on it." So even that was really good.

Fashion Toolbox 05:29

So, what role did you actually want to do when you first started out on your education journey?

Alice 05:35

Yeah, so like I said, at school, I just did not know what the job was at all. I just knew 'textiles, textiles'. So then at University that really helped me because the course that I was on, you had to do four disciplines in first year so it was print, knit, weave and embroidery and then you could specialise in one so I specialised in embroidery. I really want it to be an embroidery designer after that, and couture companies and Fashion houses really appealed to me, but I just did not know how you would get into it. I had this dream in my head of being in Paris working at an atelier, I loved that idea, but I just did not know if that will be possible.

One thing that really stood out to me at university was in a lecture, they once told us that we would obviously pick this course because we were not interested in making loads of money. And I didn't really agree with that, because I knew I wanted to be successful and make something of myself and I think they really focused on it being like an 'arty' course almost, and us as solo designer/maker, selling our stuff at craft fairs. And I did not want that I wanted to go out there in the big world and work at a really good company. I just wanted a good job really.

Fashion Toolbox 06:58

Yeah, I think they tend to do that to a lot of us in the art sector, and just, I don't know, dismiss it as being a successful role and it, absolutely, it can be, you can be successful. And you can probably make good money as well, in both Fashion and Textiles. There are so many roles out there, so many opportunities and like you said, when working for the big Fashion houses and maybe starting up your own business, there are many opportunities.

Alice 07:29

Yeah, definitely.

Fashion Toolbox 07:31

You have undertaken quite a few internships in London. Could you tell me about why you chose to do them and how you came across them as well?

Alice 07:40

I did the sandwich degree at University and that was something I knew I always wanted to look for in my course that I found because I thought with a practical course like that you needed real life experience and to make contacts, and also because the cost is very 'book based' kind of thing, you need that extra part of it. So I knew that I wanted that extra experience and just to see what it entailed in the industry what was out there, and to get stuck into it and get away from education for a while, because I just come straight from school and I had never had a full time job before, I had worked at cafes part time and stuff. So, I had never had any experience of work, Fashion work, Textile work, and I wanted to build my CV up while still being in that security of university.

I found most of my placements through the university placement system, which was good at Huddersfield. And then one of them was through a family friend who worked in the industry, so I was quite lucky there. And I returned to a company that I had started my placement year with to do another three months at the end of my year to do another London Fashion Week with them. So that was good that they brought me back there, because I think I worked at four companies in the end over the year, and I chose to do that because I know you could find ones that lasted for the full year, I did look and I thought, I wanted to see what was out there because I still wasn't 100% sure of what I wanted to do. So, I did take that risk, I suppose of finding shorter ones that were three months, six weeks, just to, experience more companies. And I found them all a real eye opener, and especially doing two London Fashion Weeks, the late nights for the build up to those and the work it entailed, it was crazy. And that really made me see that I did not want to work for a company that did London Fashion Week. It was exhausting! But yeah, they were great. They were really great.

Fashion Toolbox 09:58

I think it is really good that you chose to get that variety. And I would say that that is definitely a good way to go. I did not do that, sometimes I wish that I did. But I did a solid year placement. But, I mean, that was still just excellent. The knowledge that you learn on the industry placements is just fantastic. You know, you cannot get that from education. It is just so different, the skillset that you learn and everything.

Alice 10:28

It is. It is so important.

Fashion Toolbox 10:31

So, on that topic, how important are internships in industry?

Alice 10:37

Massively important. I think some companies I worked for, they actually seemed to rely on the interns to run smoothly and manage to get all the work out. So, from that point of view, the company's value you I suppose, as much as you value being there because they do need you. And unfortunately, that does come with disadvantages in that I only got paid expenses at most of the internships that I was at. So, I think that did come with me doing the shorter placements, whereas if I found a year somewhere, especially at a reputable company, I would have been paid. But I chose that other route. I do not think it is very fair to just get paid expenses, but it seems to be the way it is, and I would like to see a change in that really. But I think because I was still in the university environment, it was fine because I was getting a bit of a grant from university but there were people doing expense interns that were graduates which I mean, I think you're not allowed to do that? I think is it illegal?

Fashion Toolbox 11:43

I think it is, I think something came in not so long back that made it illegal, but I think when I was at university, it wasn't it's definitely not that long since at that happened.

Alice 11:55

Yeah. So, it is crazy, really. But I thought it was a really good step into companies though and a way to build up contacts and your CV and to meet these people and get an insight into other businesses. And also, how to meet people and communicate and see what is going on in the world. It is not necessarily the people that are working in the company, it could be the other interns that you are working with and chatting to them because you are at the same stage of education. And when you finish you need to gather the contacts in the industry that you have made through that same experience. And, you know, you could even end up working with them, you could set up a business with them. It is, you know, anything really,

Fashion Toolbox 12:41

Yeah, I agree with you that placements should be paid, it is not fair. And like you said to most companies, placements are absolutely invaluable, and they keep things ticking over, they do it year on year and in terms of the opportunity for networking, internships are priceless. Building your contacts is so important in the industry and for your career.

What would you say are the most valuable things that you learned on your internships?

Alice 13:15

So, because I worked at four different companies, and I thought it was, you know, even more of a great thing because I got to see and do a lot more. Because of me specialising in embroidery, I did do embellishment internships, that is what I was looking for, but I got a lot more into the Fashion side of it. So, I ended up doing a lot of pattern drafting and toiling and being involved in fitting sessions. And that was great to me. I got to make toiles something I had never done before and even make patterns for outfits and then especially seeing them being worn on London Fashion Week and the embroideries that I had done, it was just amazing to me to have those images up there on the internet that I could say, I helped to make this. That was amazing. Alongside going out sourcing things around London going to the trimming shops, seeing what was out there, hours and hours I would spend trying to find zips and things like that. It was tiring, but it was good, and it was exciting. You felt like you were part of something being in London as well.

I went to factories and liaised with them, like taking them the fabrics like leather to make trousers and just things I never thought I would do really. It was just amazing because I got to see all of this and it was design as well, I was involved with tech packs for when it went into bigger production and overseas for the garments. So, I was involved in a lot and I made really good friends while I was doing the placement as well. So that is another valuable thing.

Fashion Toolbox 15:07

It sounds like you had a really good insight in the placements that you had there how have these skills helped you in your career so far?

Alice 15:15

My confidence definitely grew so much from it and I felt that going back into final year. I thought in second year at university that I kind of got a bit lost with the projects I was on and I kind of lost interest I suppose in the course because I just wasn't sure what I was doing.

So, that year out really focused my mind and made me see where I wanted to go and what I wanted to do. I went back in and knew what I wanted to do for my final major project and I had planned that in that placement year because I'd been working on a menswear collection and doing embroidery for a Designer Fashion company, you know on the pockets and cuffs and I went back to university knowing that I wanted to do embellishment, and menswear and enhancing things. So, it just really focused me. And I was confident. I went back and did a talk in front of first years about my placement year, which is something I never thought I would do in front of like, 40 first years, about my placement year, and I was like, I can't believe I'm doing this because before I would be terrified about anything like that. But I just felt like I had something that I wanted to share with people, and I want them to feel inspired and feel like they can do whatever they want to do, really. I still use things I learned in that year in my job now, as inspiration for directions we can go down. So yeah, I bring it in now like things that I saw things that I did that I was involved in. So, it was really useful.

And another thing that I think it really taught me was what I did not want to do and what kind of business I did not want to work for or be involved with and also, where I even wanted to look for a job when I finished university, it helped me with all of that.

Fashion Toolbox 17:12

Yeah, I absolutely agree with the focus part because I was exactly the same. I think I had totally lost direction in second year as well, did not really know what I wanted to do. And that placement just it really, I guess, because you have got to keep up with the speed of industry as well. You suddenly realise that university is not actually that bad. And you are planning and organisation just becomes spot on and it focuses your mind. You can decide what you want to do. I was exactly the same, I went back into final year, I had already planned like most of my collection, I had done mood boards and everything. So, it does prepare you well, I completely agree.

Alice 17:56

Yeah, because even my dissertation I was able to put a lot of what I had learnt in my placement year into that to hand in. So, I used that as my experience. And, the interviews and that side of it, the research was from my placement year so it was firsthand experience, what I had seen and I didn't necessarily have to go out and find something that I didn't know about. So, it was amazing.

Fashion Toolbox 18:24

What was the most useful thing that you learned at university?

Alice 18:28

How to be creative, I had a very Art led course and we were pushed to be experimental with everything that we did. So, we would just go crazy I remember doing a knit sample and I knitted necklaces into my piece, which, you just wouldn't necessarily do that in a commercial industry, but it just lets you push those boundaries and just do whatever you wanted, really.

And something else that stands out to me and final year was confidence boosting workshops they did with us. So, like the elevator pitch that we had to do and put in the room of everyone else on the course and if you met your dream employer in a lift, what would you say to them? And how would you sell yourself? So that was great. And the tutor again there, she was amazing and just really pushed us to say these things and was fully behind us because she knew us, and she knew what our potential was. And she wanted us to see that ourselves. And I think that, again, helped me so much from going for job interviews after university, just to know that I could do it and that I had these skills behind me and that I shouldn't necessarily be afraid of what I wanted.

Fashion Toolbox 19:42

Yeah, I was just going to say that about boundaries before you actually said it definitely shows you how far you can push things. I mean, in industry, you are probably a little bit more restricted, but at least at university and get to try that and it is kind of sets it for you, for the future, I suppose.

So how did you get into our current field of work?

Alice 20:07

When I finished university I spent the summer frantically searching for jobs like mad and knew that I want me to stay up north, I loved London and that is somewhere that I always thought that I was going to go but I think coming back for final year, I just fell in love with the North again and how nice everyone is and even the potential. Because in London, I could just see it was so crowded and everyone was searching for the same thing. But up here, I just thought there might be more room for me and there is a lot in Huddersfield especially, there are a lot of Textile companies, it is still a big industry up here for things like that. So, I just thought I will see what I can find. And if not, I can look elsewhere. But I found the company that I work at now and thought they looked really interesting.