James Long graduated from the University of Northampton with a Foundation course in Art and Design. He was then accepted onto an MA course in Menswear and Accessories at The Royal College of Art in London. Now a successful fashion designer, specialising in menswear and accessories, James has recently launched a new range of Men’s jumpers in Topman and was the talk of this year’s London Fashion Week.
I suppose it was when I was around 18 and had just finished my A-Levels when I decided I wanted to work in fashion. I then started my course at Nene College in Art and Design and it was there that I realised that fashion was something a person could make a career out of.
When I was 14, my sister and I used to catch the train to London and we used to walk around Camden and look at all of the amazing clothes on display and all of the different people. It was here that cemented my love of clothes and it also confirmed to me that London was definitely the place I wanted to eventually live.
After graduating from The Royal College of Art, I was very lucky in that a lot of high profile magazines came to look at my collections. The magazine Dazed and Confused profiled me as a designer to watch and I was given various other press opportunities which enabled me to apply for The Fashion East MAN show, an award set up by Topman that awards the designer a bursary and a slot on The London Fashion Week catwalk. Things were happening really quickly for me. It helps to know the right people who can help you and the right people who can forward what you do and also to expose your work as much as possible.
The course I studied at the University was quite amazing and so experimental. My friend Rosie and I used to visit the local leather factories and they were very happy to let us have some of the off cuts which we would then use in various experimental ways. My lecturer at the time, Clive Ramsdale, was such a strong and encouraging teacher and really opened my eyes to all of the different disciplines in the arts.
In terms of the qualities needed to be successful in the fashion industry, you definitely need to be able to work with people and not get too stressed out. If you are the head of a design team you have to be able to keep the team together and be very amiable. It is important to listen well to people who advise you as there will always be other people in the industry who are technically more knowledgeable than you are. However, at the same time as taking advice from others, you must stay true to your own vision. Having a strong business mind is also very important because if you are managing staff and ordering fabrics there are a lot of sums of money involved. Finally, you must have a lot of drive as there are a lot of designers out there who want the same thing as you but the key to competing with those guys is to have a unique selling point that makes you different from everyone else.
I don’t think there is any definitive way of breaking into the industry. I took the education route which I really enjoyed. I think you just have to really want to do it and know the answers to your design solutions. Always be aware of everything you can possibly be aware of, keep your eyes open and always research and inform your ideas. If you really want something, people will always see that in your work. In the past I have spoken to students, and when they are telling me about their collection you can sometimes see that they don’t believe in themselves which tends to lose your interest. On the other hand, a student can be trying something wild that is not necessarily to my taste but you can see that they truly believe in it so it sparks your interest.