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Getting started in the fashion industry

Una Rodden Collection
Rebecca Kincade on February 11, 2014 - 8:21 am in Advice, Featured Advice

Cathy Martin, director of Belfast’s FASHIONWEEK and former marketing manager for the Irish Linen and textiles industries globally, knows a thing or two about local design and fashion and textiles talent. NI Business Now asked her to give some top tips on getting started – or getting ahead – in the industry. 

Over the last few years the fashion and creative industries in Northern Ireland have boomed and Belfast in particular has become an important regional centre for talent, as we retain home-grown designers who once might have emigrated to the fashion capitals of the world.

Cathy Martin

Cathy Martin

We’re very lucky here in that we have some fabulous fashion design talent. Now established designers like Una Rodden, Lizzie Agnew, Ruedi Maguire, David Henderson, Lisa McCabe, Rachel McKnight, Julia Sokele, Larissa Watson and Gráinne Maher, to name but a few, overwhelm us each and every season with their latest collections at FASHIONWEEK, but we weren’t always home to such a wide range of talent and I for one am thankful for it. Most of these designers started off in the University of Ulster or at Belfast Met, while others, like Una Rodden, attended the prestigious design college in Limerick.

Fashion courses

If you’re interested in a career in fashion, there are two main fashion courses on offer here. The first, at Belfast Metropolitan College, which offers a BSC (Hons) Fashion Management Course as well as other related and part time courses; and the second, at the University of Ulster, which offers BA Hons Textile Art Design and Fashion. The UU courses in particular cover a broad range of options in fashion and offer industrial work placements, practical workshops and theory classes backed up by talks from visiting practitioners in a variety of relevant fields, visits to locally based enterprises in the fashion design, production, sourcing and retail sectors as well as practice-based study in textiles and fashion within the areas of print, knit, weave embroidery, professional practice, research and writing. If you don’t fancy a move to Belfast, then most regional colleges across Northern Ireland offer courses in fashion design or fashion management.

A big part of the wider fashion industry of course, is the retail sector, a major employer in Northern Ireland, and it too has a wealth of talent in visual merchandising and styling as well as offering our consumer a fantastic choice. I’d always recommend that any aspiring designers, stylists or retail managers get some fashion retail experience early on, to gain an insight into how the end user wears and buys clothes, as well as learn the basics behind how a store is laid out and how it buys in collections and manages stock.

It’s also important to get internships or other experience across as wide a range of industry employers as possible – so everything from a fashion PR company, to shadowing a fashion stylist or working at a fashion magazine or TV show. It all builds experience, confidence and that all important contacts book. My advice here is to be keen and to work as hard as possible with a positive attitude and loads of enthusiasm. There’s nothing worse, for an employer, than seeing or hearing about an intern who has an attitude or isn’t keen to help at all levels.


At FASHIONWEEK we’re celebrating a remarkable milestone with 2014 marking the event’s tenth year. Taking place in March across various venues in Belfast, we offer some fantastic opportunities for up-and-coming designers, visual merchandisers, stylists, makeup artists who can come and work or volunteer behind the scenes at our events.

Over the years I’ve seen some of those who started out with me do so well in their own respective fields – like makeup artist Paddy McGurgan – go on to become European make up champion; while former interns and volunteers have gone on to work for Valentino in Paris and big retail stores in the USA. Even designers starting out in Belfast have gone on to bigger and better things afterwards – I’m thinking of JW Anderson who showed a collection at Belfast FASHIONWEEK in 2006, our second year. The list is endless but the key to all of these people’s success is hard work, networking and experience – and that’s the biggest piece of advice I can give to anyone.

To find out more about Belfast FASHIONWEEK visit: http://www.belfastfashionweek.com/


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