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Aly Tobin graduated from Cordwainers College in 2016. Since then, she has been working at Stella McCartney as the Assistant Footwear Designer.
You studied Footwear. How did you find the course?
I loved studying Footwear Design at Cordwainers. The staff are so helpful and kind and could help with any problems that we encountered. A lot of the alumni, including myself, still keep in contact with the staff because they are all so friendly and we built strong relationships with each other over the three years that we all hope to continue in our professional careers. Golden Lane has its own charm because it has all of the specialist footwear and accessories machinery and is a very technical college. Going into uni felt like we were going to a home workshop so it was always a very enjoyable learning experience and it was great how hands-on the course was. I feel that my knowledge of footwear is very disciplined due to having pattern cutting and making classes, and being required to make all of our shoes by hand in the studio.
How did the course prepare you for industry?
During our second year, we had industry briefs and worked in collaboration with these companies to gain first-hand experience of what it would be like working for a company. Students also had the privilege of winning internships at these companies for the work produced. LCF has a very helpful Careers department that helped students with their portfolios and CV’s to improve our chances of placements. We still have the opportunity to use these facilities as Alumni if we need extra CV help upon graduating. Before our final year we had the option to undertake a placement year. One of my friends went to Saks Fifth Avenue in New York after she won the industry project, and another friend moved to Amsterdam for 6 months for winning the Tommy Hilfiger placement. Doing a placement year was one of the best decisions I’ve made. I moved to New York for the year and did a production internship within handbags at The Row and footwear design at Paul Andrew. Working for a year before doing my final collection opened my eyes to the dedication it takes to start your own company and the discipline that it takes to succeed, and this really motivated me during my final year.
What does a typical day look like for you?
A typical day at the office would involve researching and rendering. The industry moves so fast that we always have to stay on top of research – whether that’s new trends, getting inspired by vintage pieces, or doing research into new materials. I’m a Green Leader at Stella McCartney which means that I have more involvement with the sustainability and ethics team where we have meetings to discuss opportunities to be more educated and to get involved in different projects to help the environment and its people. I love knowing that I am making a more positive impact in the fashion industry, because I know how detrimental this particular industry can be for the world.
Can you sum up the opportunities LCF presents?
LCF is great for giving students lots of opportunities. There are lots of competitions that open up so many possibilities and networks, bursaries to help students in different financial situations and can be specific to courses, mentorship programmes, talks hosted by influential industry professionals etc. As alumni we are still considered for different programmes and events. During my final year I was the recipient of the Fashion Matters Bursary, and was invited to the university’s annual gala as a guest of Adidas after graduating. I feel very privileged to be remembered and considered after finishing my degree and to be kept in the loop for different events and programmes that I am eligible for. LCF is great at opening doors for its students and graduates and tries to help with exposure and opportunities as often as possible.
As a finalist of the Jimmy Choo scholarship and the Kering Award for sustainable fashion (and others!), what advice would you give to students to get the best out of their time at LCF?
The best advice I could give to students is to apply for everything they possibly can. There are so many opportunities for bursaries, scholarships, and competitions. I honestly didn’t put myself forward for anything in my first two years because I didn’t think that I was a strong candidate, but during my final year I realized that I was blocking myself from so many great opportunities by not putting myself out there. In my final year I applied for every competition and bursary that I was eligible for and ended up being a finalist for numerous competitions and the recipient of a bursary which I never would’ve believed to be possible. I really regret not doing this sooner as I don’t know what may have come from doing this earlier in my career!
Where do you get most of your inspiration from?
Fashion is a representation of society and its time, and I try to see design as a holistic process where you think of every aspect of each component’s lifecycle to minimise the impact and stay relevant to what is currently needed in the world. I find the natural world fascinating, and I find this very inspirational for my designs and my processes. I think about how I can make a smaller impact by considering each product as a whole, and from there designing with a strategic and environmental mindset.