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What Does It Take To Be a Fashion Designer?



Part of being the best you can be is focusing on what it takes to get there. We’re continuing the “What does it take…?” column, which looks at this aspect of being the best. This month, we’re chatting with young fashion designer Emily Tonkin.


How do you become a fashion designer?

I don’t think there is any set way to become a fashion designer. There are obviously tools you need to be successful, which you can gain from studying at one of the great design schools around the world. Despite the obvious skills you need (like pattern making, fabric knowledge, sourcing, etc.), being able to take criticism, work hard, use your initiative, take instruction and learn from your co-workers will give you a strong foundation to get you moving up the industry ladder. Also, say yes to everything, smile, and be genuine.


What is the best thing about being a fashion designer?

Watching the whole process of a product. Knowing that it started with just an idea/sketch, and then seeing someone wearing it (knowing they chose your product over any other). It’s a pretty awesome feeling, and I can’t see it ever getting old.


And the worst?

I absolutely LOVE my job, I feel so grateful to be in the position I am in, there’s nothing I ever really complain about. But I guess if I have to choose something, it would be when work interferes with my personal life. Deadlines are deadlines in this industry, so it’s inevitable I’ll work longer hours to get things done the way I want them to be, which can play havoc with a single girl’s dating plans.


It seems like a very glamorous industry. What’s your average day like?

That always makes me laugh when people say that to me. I used to think that too, but I don’t feel very glamorous day to day. What’s great is, I don’t really have an ‘average’ day, but they do always start with coffee. Ha! Seriously it all depends on where we are with a season or in production, then my day will plan out accordingly: Reviewing sales, contacting suppliers and clients, researching, sourcing, managing logistics, signing off artwork for the website.


How does that compare to a day on a show like Project Runway?

Oh, I wish I had time to watch that show! For someone who is known for watching a lot of reality shows in her spare time, I have embarrassingly never seen Project Runway, so I don’t know. My days are probably way less entertaining – plus I don’t get to have Tim Gunn or Heidi Klum walk into my studio to watch me work, so I’d take a guess and say not so similar.



If you could work for any fashion house in the world, whom would you work for, and why?

Donna Karan. I have been a fan of her and her work since I can remember. Everything she does is a matter of heart, body and soul, and every cell in my body resonates with that. I love the concept of Donna Karen, designing around the Seven Easy Pieces, and rolling with the pace of New York. It’s not about the clothes; it’s about the lifestyle, and how they can dress accordingly.


Why do you think women’s fashion is so dominated by male designers?

I wish I had a good answer for this question, but I don’t really know, it’s not something I spend a lot of my time thinking about. However, I don’t believe it has anything to do with men being more creative or having a better understanding of what a woman wants than women do. Instead, sadly, I think it may have something to do with men vs. women agenda. Even though women have come so far over the years, men still dominate in the workplace, and I guess women’s fashion is no exception.


Which living person do you most admire and why?

This is embarrassing, but my dad. I am 100 per cent his biggest fan! Yes, he has a lot of flaws, but I know no one else who has a heart like his. He is able to find a positive in everything and has a great sense of humor, no matter what the situation. He also has shown me that if you work hard, stay true to yourself, and believe in your dreams, things will happen. He is living proof of it, and I feel so incredibly blessed to have a dad like him in my life.


What’s your proudest moment been?

Graduating from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising in Los Angeles in 2010. Before I attended the school, I had completely lost who I was as a person, and the school brought me back to life. It brought out talents I didn’t think I possessed and prepared me for the fashion industry. I am so grateful to have been able to go to that school, learn from some of the best industry professionals, and meet lifelong friends. I would not be where I am today without the education from FIDM.


What did you want to be when you were little?

A singer, dancer, and actress. It was what I did my entire childhood, then at a professional level until I was 20 years old. I thought that was what I was going to continue doing the rest of my life.


When last did you see the sunrise?

I am an early riser generally, so in the winter I see it most days, but the last time I saw the sunrise was on the 4 July 2014. I was flying to NYC and had to leave for the airport at 5am so I saw it rise on the drive to Heathrow.


How do you relax?

Yoga and meditation.


What do you want to be remembered for?

If I have any input in helping people live out their dreams, trust their instincts, and work towards any form of change, whether it be personal or global, I would be elated. However, I’ll more than likely be remembered for my loud laugh and my ability to relate any situation to an episode of Friends or Sex and the City.


Which garment do you most wish that you came up with?

Great question! I mean there are the obvious shape creations by Christian Dior, Chanel and Yves Saint Laurent, but I guess I’d choose a garment that really helped build a brand, giving them the publicity that enabled them to go forward with other lines to make them the designer/brand a success. For example, Diane Von Furstenberg’s wrap dress or Pamela Skaist-Levy and Gela Nash-Taylor’s Juicy sweatpants.

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