From Melbourne to Amsterdam.

Words by

Amy Campbell

We know firsthand that it’s pretty hard to get your foot into the door of the fashion industry, so we've launched FJ Careers. It's an all-new destination where you can browse job and internship opportunities in the Australian fashion industry. It also includes real stories and advice from people already working in the industry, just like this:

Fantasising about the future you is a seriously fun thing to do. Oh, the places you’ll go! And if you’re currently sitting in a monotonous lecture or facing your fifth hand-in this week, we bet it’s what’s pulling you through. 

What kind of haircut will I have? Will I have a real job? A significant other, or maybe a dog?

But for those of us flirting with a career in fashion, the where question is just as important as the who, what, why and how. To stay at home or head abroad? Paris, Copenhagen, Melbourne or New York?

We posed a few questions to two young Australian designers: one living and working on home soil, and the other, a hemisphere away. Meet Anna Pipkorn, the Melbourne-based Junior Designer at Forever New, and Emma van de Merwe, an Aussie expat in Amsterdam and Assistant to Dutch Couturier, Iris Van Herpen. 

Both Emma and Anna studied fashion in Australia, but one chose to go and the other opted to stay. Toying with the thought of home/away? To decide what lifestyle might better suit you, check out what these girls have to say:    

Hi girls! Can you tell us how you get to work in the morning? 

Anna: I either walk or catch a tram. My studio is very close to where I live, it makes the morning commute very easy!

Emma: I bike. In Amsterdam, everyone bikes!

What does your average workday involve?

Anna: Every day is different, but that’s what I love about my job. Usually I start the morning by going through emails, then I’ll spend time throughout the day briefing new styles, seeing fabric suppliers, researching new trends and what is happening in the market… and then there’s the meetings! A lot of my day is spent in meetings.

Emma: Cycling to work (rain, hail or shine!) directing interns, discussion and development of the new collection, sourcing new materials, planning travel and events… it never ends! 

How would you describe your studio/workspace?

Anna: I work in a communal studio with the other designers which is a lovely atmosphere to be in. Our office has huge glass walls that look out over the city and let in lots of natural light. 

Emma: Peaceful. It’s located on the water with views over the Amsterdam Port. 

Emma, what was the hardest thing about moving overseas in search of design work? 

Money. Sadly, money was the biggest obstacle as relocating countries in any instance isn’t cheap. Especially when you relocate to somewhere like London! And straight out of school, paid internships are rare to come by. You’ve got to do lots of unpaid hours to get your foot in the door. 

Anna, what sort of challenges do you think young designers face, working from a distant market like Australia? 

Thanks to the Internet and social media, the gap between Australia and the fashion capitals in the Northern Hemisphere is growing smaller. But because of the way the world spins, Australians will always be a season behind. As a designer, it simply means you’ve got to be proactive with keeping up. I’m always taking screen grabs on my phones, reading EDM’s from fashion sites overseas and scanning international trend forecasting sites… because I’m not surrounded by it, I’ve got to be sure to keep my finger on the pulse. 

Emma, did growing up and studying in Australia adequately prepare you for the international workforce? In what ways did you have to adapt?

In terms of education, I felt my course prepared me well. Studying in a city outside the major fashion capitals (London, Paris, Milan, New York) wasn’t a hindrance at all. If anything it taught me to work really hard because I knew opportunities weren’t just waiting locally. As for the industry, I had to adjust to the sheer size of it. Australia doesn’t have the big couture houses steeped in tradition like Europe does, or the abundance of manufacturers. Also, language was a big barrier. When dealing with suppliers from all over the world, you quickly learn that relying on English isn’t good enough!  

Anna, what made you choose to stay and establish yourself as a designer in Melbourne?

Studying in Melbourne and having the opportunity to intern at young, local labels gave me a real passion for the local industry. At the moment, I think Australia is a really exciting place to be. There are so many young, innovative designers coming out of Melbourne and Sydney and the design community here is very nurturing. It’s a great, niche environment to develop yourself and your skills post Uni.  

Emma, was it always your goal to move overseas in search of work? 

Yes! Since I was 13 or 14, I visited Europe for the first time and fell in love. As I grew older and my interest in fashion strengthened, the idea only made more sense. There are more opportunities and its more exciting and challenging to play in a big arena rather than in the backyard you're familiar with – at least this is how I feel.

Anna, have you considered moving overseas for work? 

Of course. Fashion is such a global industry. For me, to continue to grow and learn about different customers and markets, it’s really important that at some point in my career I work overseas. One day!

Emma, what do you miss most about home? 

The sunshine! There just isn’t enough of it over here. A year-’round tan has become a thing of the past. And my family and friends of course. It’s especially hard when monumental events like engagements and births happen and I’m on the other side of the world.  

What’s the most exciting thing about being a fashion designer in your city? 

Anna: I love that in Australia, there’s an emphasis on the individual designer. And there’s such a championing of young and upcoming talent. The fact more and more Aussie designers are showing overseas and being recognised in the global marketplace makes me really proud to be part of the Australian design scene.

Emma: I love that I can be producing some of the world’s most beautiful haute couture in one moment, and then sitting on the pier enjoying my packed lunch the next. Amsterdam is a mix of luxury and simple pleasures and I’m constantly pinching myself. 

Based on your experience, what advice would you give to someone deciding whether to stay or move abroad? 

Anna: This one is hard for me to answer, because although Forever New is based in Australia, it’s a global company. So I’m always thinking about an international audience. But I will always be an Australian designer at heart. Having the opportunity to undertake my training here has made me realise what a supportive, encouraging and unique environment we have. My advice would be don’t dismiss what’s on your doorstep.  

Emma: It’s cliché, but I would say follow your heart. If you like routine or you’re a bit of a homebody, Australia might be better for you. But if you’re adventurous and itching for travel and a challenge, I’d say go abroad. Sure, obstacles will arise, but the most important thing I have learnt is to be patient and not sweat the small stuff. I think it’s a very personal decision that should be made with lots of thought, not on a whim. But I couldn’t recommend making the move abroad more highly. It can be bloody tough at times, but the rewards and experiences surpass the challenges. 

Illustration by Twylamae who also knows how to draw a mean Seinfeld print like this one

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