Eva from Norway, fashion product developer
Eva Heistø Kittelsen
Studied: BA (Hons) Fashion and Textile Design with Enterprise at the University of Portsmouth
Now: Assistant Product Developer for Norwegian fashion brands BikBok and WOW
Ever wondered what life is like for a busy design graduate? Is it really as glamorous as it sounds?
Eva, from Norway, landed a trainee role straight after graduating from her UK course. A year later, she’s working in design and research for a global fashion brand AND receiving investment to build her own enterprise. She gives us an insight into her working life, her UK studies – and her top piece of advice for aspiring students…
What attracted you to studying in the UK?
'The main reason I went to study in the UK was actually that I married a man whose mother tongue is Spanish and mine is Norwegian, but we both speak English – so by moving to England, we both had the opportunity to continue working or studying without having to learn a new language first! I also knew there are a lot more art courses available than in Norway, so it was exciting to go to England.'
How did the teaching style in the UK compare to Norway?
'I hadn’t done any professional studies at a university level before, so it’s hard to compare. I did go to uni for one year in Norway and it was very different. In Norway you have more individual responsibility for your own learning and are not followed up as much as we were in the UK.
'I also felt that students were much more involved in “student life” in the UK – there was a lot more emphasis on student societies, sports clubs, etc. It’s a more involving experience than what I experienced in Norway.'
Above and below right: Examples of Eva's university coursework (All images ©Eva Heistø Kittelsen)
Did you do any work experience, internships or part-time jobs while you were a student?
'My teachers always encouraged us to seek out work experience opportunities, and I had a few. I did a collaboration with the New Theatre Royal (a Victorian theatre in Portsmouth), where I designed and made a costume for their production of Treasure Island. I also designed costumes for a group of drama students who had started a theatre production group, for a piece sponsored by Portsmouth City Council.
'I also screenprinted some materials for a Portsmouth graduate, Sunny Williams, whose label “House of Sunny” is now sold in shops like Topshop and ASOS. Then in my final year, I did an internship with London-based designer Charlotte Taylor, working in her studio and pop-up shop. I met her during one of our units where our tutors brought in someone from the industry to give us a brief and critique our work.'
Tell us about your career – what are you doing now, and what is it like?
'I am currently working as an assistant product developer for the brands BikBok and WOW (www.bikbok.com, www.wowandme.com). I started as a trainee at WOW in August 2013, the same year that I graduated, and did everything from communicating with suppliers and factories to creating moodboards and colour palettes, creating prints, typing up orders, archiving, etc. Today I work mostly for BikBok (they have a joint head office) and I mostly work with developing jackets.
'On a daily basis I answer e-mails with queries from factories, approve garment samples, fabric samples and colour samples. I send in tech packs with the measurements we want, grade measurements, do fittings of the clothes and send feedback to the factories. I research upcoming trends, type up official orders, organise photosamples of jackets for the web shop and photo shoots.
'I am also working on trend prediction for WOW and make quarterly “trend bibles” together with a colleague, to give the other buyers a guideline for each upcoming season. This “trend bible” contains moodboards, “look boards”, fabric and print inspiration, colour palettes, directions for details and trims, and so forth.
'In addition I am always trying to do some work independently, and have registered a one-person enterprise that I aim to work more with when I have gained some more work experience. In 2014 I was given a government grant of about £9,000 to help buy supplies etc., so I am slowly building a foundation for more independent creative work further down the road.'
Eva and her son on her graduation day, wearing a dress she made herself (Photo ©Eva Heistø Kittelsen)
How did you get the job?
'I found the job online and sent in my CV and cover letter, together with recommendations from my tutors and from my placement with Charlotte Taylor.
'After my first interview I had to prepare for the second by creating boards presenting the target customer for their brand, as well as a moodboard and some product ideas for the next couple of seasons. I did my research and managed to capture the customer and the brand, and they gave me the job!
'After a year as a trainee they gave me a permanent position in the company.'
How do you keep finding inspiration?
Want to work in fashion or textile design?
'Inspiration is everywhere. I don’t have to actively go and seek it, but I
have to actively make sure I am in a state where I’m receptive to creative influences. In a busy life it’s easy to not slow down enough to let my surroundings speak to me.
'When it comes to finding inspiration for work, it’s a bit trickier because it is a lot more commercial, and thus more specific. Finding inspiration at work involves a lot of internet browsing, staying up-to-date with fashion magazines, seeing what’s going on in the entertainment industry, taking days just walking around in the city, observing people and especially our target customer.
'I also travel to London with work for inspiration. My boss goes to Tokyo, New York and other places, and the design team travels all over the world for inspiration! Mostly to Tokyo, London, New York, L.A. and Paris, but also other places.
'To me, creativity is something we all have in one way or another, but we express it in many different ways. I think the most difficult thing about being creative is to be brave enough to let the creativity guide you, and to allow it to flow freely even if you don’t know exactly where it will take you.
'Creativity is to give up some of the control that we're more and more bound to as we grow up. It's letting go of some inhibitions and having the courage to express ourselves in a way that is natural to us, but may seem strange to others. I am a perfectionist, and that hinders my creativity as I am afraid to give up complete control – but when I do let go, and allow the work to guide me, I create my best work.
'Being creative is a synthesis between receiving information, interpreting it and then sending it back out in a new shape or form, and this is a continuous process.'
What advice would you give to students hoping to work in the creative industries?
'My best advice would be to be brave. We often don’t do things because we are scared, but a lot of the time there’s nothing to be scared of. Every time you’re scared of doing something, try to think about what you have to lose by doing it. A lot of the time that is very little, if anything at all, while you might have a lot to win!
'One example was when the graphics designer at WOW quit while I was a trainee and I decided to tell my boss I knew Photoshop and Illustrator well enough that I thought I could take over the print designs. That was scary, but really, what did I have to lose? She gave me a chance and I ended up doing most of the prints for WOW for the Autumn/Winter 2014 catalogue.'
Eva at a re-opening of one of the WOW stores (Photo ©Eva Heistø Kittelsen)
'I think a key is to believe in yourself and to stay true to yourself. It’s important to like what you do even if others don’t, and not to rely on praise to decide if your creativity is “good enough”. It’s still always important to listen to critique and hear what people have to say – that is the best way to learn and grow – but don’t let it be discouraging. Use it to move forwards.
'Also, if you want to work independently I strongly advise you to work in the industry for a few years first. It will be an eye-opener and an invaluable experience, and it could save you a lot of time and trouble later on.'
What’s your number one memory from your time as a student in the UK?
'One of the things that has stuck with me the most is actually from our first year, when we had to draw with our left hand (or right hand for those who were left-handed). Having to do that helped me let go of some of my perfectionism and open up more to my own creativity. I didn’t understand much of it then, but it’s something I keep thinking about when I’m trying to let go of my self-imposed restrictions.'
'Around the same time, my teacher was showing work to the class from our sketchbooks, and she showed everyone the page I disliked the MOST in my whole sketchbook. One of the drawings was done blindfolded, and the other was of buildings outside, done in ink, where we were supposed to look at the patterns and shapes instead of worrying about the perspective. I was ashamed of that page because the perspective was bad and the lines were crooked, but she liked it because I had captured the patterns and shapes.
'That was a big eye-opener for me, and together with the left-handed drawing might have been one of the most influential moments for me at university.'
What are your ambitions for the future?
'I have so many! And some of them are so big that I can’t do them all. I want to stay in my job for a few more years as I still have plenty to learn, and at the same time I want to keep practising my sewing, drawing and design skills on the side.
'I have ambitions of maybe one day doing an MA, I have ambitions of working as a seamstress (a job that’s low-key enough to have free time with my family, but still get to work with what I like), I have ambitions of starting my own fashion brand (and I have many ideas on what type of brand that would be…), and I have ambitions of just doing all the crazy art projects in my head to try to make an impact and express my ideas without having to worry about profit.
'No matter what I end up doing I will enjoy it, and maybe I can do more than one of these. I’ll stay open-minded and look for and grab opportunities when they arise, and keep evaluating the status quo to see if there’s something I want to change when it is time to move on.'