We had the opportunity to catch up with former GFW graduate, Hayley Donovan. She’s the creative design coordinator at Selfridges, and shares with us her journey to finding the right job and how her placement year helped develop her skills. This experience helped Hayley understand how to run a business and work in fast-paced environment. She shares with us a few amazing pieces of advice for current undergraduate students. 

Which University did you attend, and what is the most valuable lesson you learnt there?

I attended University of Brighton, graduating in 2014. The most valuable lesson I learnt happened during third year when we took the year out to work in the industry. I worked at Temperley London and learnt key skills about how to work in a fast-paced environment, what it takes to run a business and all the details that go into it. I learnt how to develop myself, stand up for myself and hold my own boundaries whilst driving myself forward and learning my strengths.

Graduate Fashion Week provides a platform for emerging fashion graduates to showcase their work regardless of the specific discipline. Which are of the industry have you chosen to pursue, and what informed this choice?

After graduating with a degree in Fashion Design, I chose to pursue a career in set design and production within retail. I knew that I always loved watching fashion shows, that I always adored going to the theatres, and as I developed, I realised it was the scene, the environment, the ambience that had been created that posed as a silent and beautiful backdrop, setting the scene that really captured my imagination. Working in the retail sphere allows me to stay true to my foundation in fashion and the art of dress, but to express myself in the limitless medium of space and set.



Photography by Andrew Meredith

Photography by Andrew Meredith

Tell us a bit more about your career journey since showing at Graduate Fashion Week.

Since GFW 2014 I was unemployed and searching for a fashion design role in London. I had spreadsheets of applications, reels of cover letters, dozens of interviews but felt as if I were being pigeon holed. After creating a collection using a plethora of materials and in multitudes of garments, I felt trapped interviewing for the role of Jersey Designer, T-Shirt Designer, Denim Designer. I wanted to own an aesthetic in whole. Finally, I secured a job at Selfridges, Oxford Street as Creative Direction Studio Assistant. I worked hard and I got great exposure around the business through my dedication and drive. After 2 years I received a promotion into working on the Visual Projects team, my first project was to design and install a sculptural installation that hung in the central atrium of Oxford Street for 8 weeks. It was a dream.

How have you found life in the industry?

Working in the industry is an artful balance. I am mindful to keep myself creatively engaged outside of work in order to keep my workplace creativity fresh and exciting. There is far too much churning out of ideas, repeating Pinterest moodboards and it is important to keep challenging yourself and your industry, never let yourself be mundane or repetitive.

Do you explore any political, social or historical notions through your work? If so, what messages do you hope to convey?

Due to the nature of my workplace, we are unable to have a political or social tone of voice. However, through my work I always intend to deliver a project within a sustainable and responsible manner. Whether this is done through sourcing sustainable materials or disposing of an installation in the most eco-friendly way, I try to embed my personal values into my work.

Where are you hoping to be in five years time?

In five years time I hope to be working freelance across a wide range of projects in set design.

The industry is undergoing a huge change, with sustainability, diversity and responsibility becoming huge themes. Do you have any opinions on these movements?

The industry is undergoing a seismic shift and it is palpable. The high street is suffering, archaic hierarchy systems have been in place in workplaces for too long and there needs to be a shake-up in order to survive. The world is changing and to implement this change we need to be radical - we need to encourage conscious consumption, we need to be thought leaders and role models.

Lastly, to any students that are reading this in admiration of your career - what advice would you give to students hoping to showcase this year?

Value yourself, have fun and do what you love.