After Graduate Fashion Week, our alumni go on to some amazing companies, and so we've been chatting with them to find out how to make the most out of GFW17, how to enter a seemingly intimidating industry and why you should never stop learning.
We spoke with Rachael Eustace, now a menswear designer at H&M in Stockholm, who showed her graduate collection in 2015.
Hiya Rachael, thanks for taking the time to chat with us! It sounds as if you’ve been very busy since graduating, what have you been up to?
Yeah life's been pretty busy since graduation! Like most, I immediately started the dreaded job hunt and during that time I did some personal projects on the side that were a spin off from my graduate collection. I ended up designing a small commercial capsule collection and managed to secure funding to help me get the project off the ground. However shortly after I heard from H&M and very quickly the project was put on hold and I prepared to move my life to Stockholm, where the head office is.
How did you find your university experience in Edinburgh?
Uni was mental, but I loved it. I mean, I’ve never cried, laughed, questioned myself more or learnt more than I did in that one studio. You spend a ridiculous amount of time in the studio that it becomes your second home and your classmates become like family. You pull each other through all the stresses and get to be part of everyone’s own unique journey. It was an amazing time that I'll always look back on fondly- and am still baffled at how we survived on so little sleep and a diet of red bulls and meal deals!
What appealed to you about fashion as a career path? Why menswear?
Fashion always interested me, but menswear I kind of fell into. I was doing an internship at Thom Browne in NYC and accidentally got put in with the men’s team. But after a week of being there I realised I loved it, something clicked, and I asked not to be moved to women’s. When I started back at uni after the summer I started teaching myself menswear and was determined to graduate with a unisex collection.
Do you have a source of inspiration that you constantly return to?
Yeah there are definitely common themes that I always gravitate back to. Water, strangely is one of them- as is photography and personal writing. I like to work things out in my head through my art- so everything I produce can be linked back to a certain time in my life. It’s how I heal and how I see the world, so what I look at for inspiration changes as erratically and naturally as I do. I go with the attitude that if it feels right don’t over question it. Your gut, I’ve learned- tends to be more than often right.
You now work in Stockholm, as a menswear design assistant for H&M. How do you find it? Is there anything about working within such a large company that developed your creative processes?
Yeah I love it! They are an amazing company to work for and Swedish life in general is very different to that of a young designer working in say London or NY. They value a work life balance and work on a basis of trust- I feel very lucky to develop within such a brand. Designing at uni compared to within a global company is completely different. Naturally I’ve learned a lot about the business side of fashion and what it is to design commercially for a specific customer. In this way it can be more challenging and `creative´ at times than when you were at uni and were only producing for yourself.
Lots of people seem to think that the fashion industry is changing dramatically, what with the rise of influencers and buy it now collections, the deconstruction of seasons, Fashion Revolution week and the developing relationship between fashion and politics. Do you think graduate fashion has contributed to this?
GFW gives a stage to young designers- to voice their opinions through their work, which in return starts a conversation. This visual conversation, is then broadcasted to the world- so yes GFW definitely sets a groundwork for changing attitudes within the industry. With so many young talented designers showing year after year it is only going to continue to contribute to the constant evolution of fashion and our ideas and changing attitudes towards it.
How did GFW help your career?
After graduation, where you have been stuck in a studio without much interaction with the outside world, GFW marks the start of the next chapter in your career- it opens the doors to industry. It provided me with so many opportunities and gave me a taste of what it was to feel part of a community made up of many other young passionate designers. It gave me the confidence to believe I had a part to play in it all.
What advice would you give to a student or recent graduate that isn’t sure what to do next?
People will always give you advice and tell you what you should be doing- but at the end of the day all you have to do is what feels right to you! And not get too hung up on making sure you do the all the right things at the right time. Life has a funny way of reminding you that often your timing isn’t the right timing, and you need to at times, trust there’s a bigger picture at play. We understandably get panicked- especially when you know next year’s graduates will only increase the numbers of people needing design jobs…but honestly I’d say as long as you love what you do, have a desire to do it and are willing to put in the graft, you’ll get there. It’s not about going from A to B, sometimes you kinda need to go via C,D etc...before you get to where you want.
How would you recommend making the most out of Graduate Fashion Week?
I would encourage them to meet up with people you’ve met inside of GFW, and start working relationships. Me and my classmates would go for drinks with individuals we had met at our stand and get their business cards- you never know who you might run into in the future and it’s so important to let people teach you (especially if they have been in the field for years). You can learn something from everyone you meet there. Don’t ever let yourself believe you know it all and have nothing else to learn- humble yourself around such folk and make yourself like a sponge- soak it all in. Go see other graduates work and make it help you understand your own work more.
Do you have any exciting plans for the future?
I have now been in Stockholm for just over a year and I plan to stay here as long as I’m happy, although I don’t see myself laying down roots in Sweden. I’m a Glaswegian at heart and would love to (although I’m certain they’ll be stops in-between) eventually end up back in the motherland. I’d love to be part of everything that’s happening at home and put back into Scotland everything I’ve learnt whilst working abroad. Scotland is an incredible place with incredible people, I’d like my future work to somehow be based from there.
Graduate Fashion Week is an event that has workshops, talks and exhibitions, as well as 22 catwalk shows! Rachael is a comforting reminder that whilst the industry might seem big and scary from the perspective of a recent graduate, there isn't one correct way to get to where you want to be. As Rachael honestly explains "I’d want to remind [graduates] that none of us have a clue at most times, and that you should take comfort from that!".
Imagery of Rachael's Graduate collection, shown at Graduate Fashion Week 2015.
Interview by Annabel Waterhouse-Biggins