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Anna and I both had a great nights sleep, that’s what comes from 30,000 step days and lots of fresh air! We had breakfast at the Premier Inn, which was excellent as expected, but very busy, and predictably I ate much too much.  We then decided to walk to Oxford Circus where we had our first appointment of the day at the London College of Fashion, part of the University Of The Arts.  The weather was perfect and walking through the business district there was almost no signs of life, which was quite creepy.  We made good progress and after an hours walk arrived about 15 minutes early.

The Oxford Circus site of the LCF is quite small, it’s mostly an administrative centre, houses the library, a nice cafe and halls used for visiting lecturers and fashion shows.  it was nice enough, but a little shabby,  I got the impression that they almost cultivated the shabby look, the building taking a supporting role to the art that goes on there.  We attended two talks, the first introduced the courses and the second went through admissions.  The course leaders were all quite endearing, friendly, mostly grounded, very experienced and passionate, they did a great job of selling the place in a low key way.  They explained that the ethos of the LCF was ‘sustainable fashion with a purpose’ rather than ‘fashion for landfill’ although many of the examples that they showed off looked fit only for dump to me and I had a little trouble controlling my laughter at times. 

The second of the sessions provided guidance on admissions and it was very similar to talks at Cambridge.  LCF and I guess the whole of UAL knows that it’s an elite establishment, they are looking for the very best and they want to see much more in students than good exam results, they want to see real flair, passion and maturity too.  The UAL seemed to leverage it’s status within the fashion industry to good effect, getting free material for the students, lots of external speakers, high quality placements and collaborative projects with leaders in the industry.   I liked the feel of the place a lot and it was nice to see the students and staff mostly dressing very comfortably, it seems that every day Anna won’t need to be competing with her peers in how fashionably she dresses!  Most of the staff for example seemed to be wearing training shoes and there were no heels in evidence anywhere.

After another M&S lunch we then took the tube to the Curtain Road building where all of the real work gets done,  it’s a short journey by tube and about 50 minutes walk from the centre of London.  Apparently it’s a really sought after residential area, but we saw no evidence to support that view, it looked like any other slightly run down town centre I’ve visited.  Curtain Road itself is an old industrial building that’s crammed full of sewing machines and cutting tables.  It’s nothing special and if it wasn’t for the creative vibe it could easily be a sweat shop.  I liked the feel of it though, but it was quite cramped and hot.  I can imagine that Anna will be thankful she has her own sewing machine and overlocker if she decides to go there.

Once we finished the tour we went on our own exploration of the local area, looking at a half dozen estate agents along the way.  A good budget for accommodation is likely to be £6000/year for accommodation, assuming 4 people sharing a two bedroomed apartment, quite expensive but just affordable if they all get part-time jobs, which seemed to be expected by the LCF speakers.

Anna and I got some good advice about personal statements and discussed them a lot.  I wrote her an example of how I would approach hers based on this advice, in a very ‘story telling’ style:

When I was 14 I begged my parents, and bribed my sister, to let me have the biggest bedroom in the house, I was going to need the space.  I pushed the bed into the corner and cleared my desk of schoolwork, the large wooden floor became my cutting room, the desk was soon overflowing with sewing machines and materials and my picture rails were covered with my latest design ideas.  I’d discovered the joy of designing and making clothes rather than just scouring the charity shops for the latest vintage bargains.   My ambitions soon outstripped my pocket money budget though so I started selling simple two pieces over the internet to my Instagram followers and I soon had an overlocker squeezed onto my desk.  A couple of years later and I had a thriving little business having sold hundreds of outfits and dozens of designs.  Every inch of space was full of textiles and I had to design and make my own raised bed with built in textile storage underneath to cope.

Even though I was immersed in the academic world of design at school, it was at home that I was really able to express my creative freedom and explore product design and marketing.  For my 16th birthday I purchased my own brand – Red Acorn Fashion – created an internet shop and started to experiment with bespoke Lingerie. After dozens of trials and co-creating new ideas with my customers I had a thriving business that allowed me to invest in a new high end sewing machine, bulk buy materials and have enough creative confidence to do lots of social marketing experiments, using social media to promote my designs, customer stories to provide inspiration and customer feedback to drive the direction.  I particularly love the creative feedback loop that comes from co-creating new my customers and from creating designs with a purpose, seeing customers posting photo’s of themselves wearing my own designs is thrilling!

I understand my limits though, there’s only so much I can learn on my own and at school so I started to volunteer at a professional seamstresses, to get exposure to technical skills that were way beyond those available at school and I learned a lot about customer service too!  To work with an international crowd of lifetime seamstresses is humbling and inspiring.  Even though I love my little business, my little enthusiastic global customer base and my sleepy home town, I’m reaching the limits of what I can achieve here.  I’m champing at the bit to get exposure to the broader industry, to the inspiration, contacts and facilities that only institutions like UAL can provide and the opportunities to work in the heart of industry and to take myself to the next level.

This isn’t meant to be a real personal statement, just an example that Anna needs to make her own.

After doing the tour of the area we caught the tube back to Kings Cross and walked to the British Library (photo above) where we enjoyed an relaxing hour in the cafe, sitting next to the huge climate controlled stacks of rare books, the library is such an oasis of tranquillity in a busy London, it’s free to enter and better than the Euston first class lounge for waiting.

The train back was also very slow, but uneventful, I spent most of the time reading and watching TV with Anna asleep on my shoulder.  Thom met us and ferried us home and after putting all of the clocks back an hour Debbie and I started a new TV series – Sleepy Hollow – which we both really enjoyed.  Finding new top quality TV shows can be tricky and after watching such classics as SGU and SGA the standard is pretty high.

For the last couple of days I’ve been in a mild flare, it’s made all the walking pretty uncomfortable, but my arms and shoulders have been worse.  Still there’s been plenty to distract me and the exercise reduces the pain and I’d definitely rather be here with Anna than feeling sorry for myself at home, at least I’ve been sleeping well.

Steve Richards

I'm retired from work as a business and IT strategist. now I'm travelling, hiking, cycling, swimming, reading, gardening, learning, writing this blog and generally enjoying good times with friends and family

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