In Conversation with FMR Mentees
Written by Daniel Montesinos-Donaghy
Our flagship industry mentorship and paid internship programme, Fashioning Emerging Professionals, has been successfully introducing young people to the fashion workplace. Oré Ajala and Olivia Patrick were two of our earliest mentees, undergoing paid internships at Dunhill and Fred Perry. We were happy to talk to them about their experiences, fashion history and the impact the internships had on their degrees at the historic Central Saint Martins (CSM) fashion school.
Do you remember when you started thinking about fashion?
Olivia: When I was in foundation at CSM, I didn’t actually think of going into fashion. But I had a really good tutor who really saw the fashion in what I was doing, and she said I would really suit it. I never thought about it, because I only really knew about fine art, but my tutor really encouraged me into trying something new.
Oré: 2016 was the summer I finished GCSEs and moved on to A Levels. I was in a transitional period: knowing that I wanted to be a writer while – coming from a Nigerian household – keeping in mind my family who wanted me to go down the traditional route of being a lawyer. I knew that it wasn’t for me.
During that summer, I was lucky enough to meet my best friend, a photographer. She wanted to shoot [photograph] me and just having that experience with her and all of these different clothing options, trying stuff on — I thought; wow. I would love to immerse myself in this world fully. It was my first experience. Obviously, having to convince my father that I wanted to go on the fashion route was a whole other story. [laughs]
Olivia, you are the co-founder of punk collective Sour Apple. Oré, you’ve been working as a model. Do you see these creative passions integrating with careers in fashion or would you prefer to keep them separate?
Olivia: My collective is all in the same class, we’re all in fashion communication and promotion. We all technically have a fashion background. So it always finds a way to come in — when we create music events, we integrate photography and fashion and styling into our promotion.
Oré: It’s funny because I’ve had one tutor who completely hated modelling and didn’t want me to do it whatsoever. I had another tutor that said that it’s actually important because in those spaces I’m surrounded by photographers and stylists, creative directors and art directors. Seeing people get to work and produce these pieces, it’s invaluable to me.
How did the two of you come across Fashion Minority Report?
Olivia: I saw a notice in my uni email and at the time had no experience working in fashion. I was in my first year and thought; I just really want to see what’s it’s like, if it’s really the path I want to actually go down. Because it was just first year it’s pretty experimental – did I actually really want to do this for the rest of my life? I applied, got in and it actually made me enjoy fashion more once I got the opportunity.
Oré: The tutor I mentioned before, they introduced me to FMR and the programme.
Had either of you faced challenges in finding work in fashion? Was it challenging trying to understand how to even enter the industry?
Olivia: Because it was my first year, I went in with virtually no knowledge of the industry and was just looking for the first opportunity. Luckily enough, that opportunity was for POC and minorities so I thought; this is a really massive opportunity, I have to take it while it’s there. There’s not a lot of things like this going on and I was lucky enough to get it.
Oré: Being in my second year of uni, I’d already had a mixed experience but still loved it. Before taking on the whole programme, I was a bit like; if I end up getting the internship will they undermine or underestimate me? Luckily enough, it wasn’t like that, it was completely amazing. Through the whole mentorship programme, having one-on-one sessions and having Daniel [Peters, FMR founder], everyone knew we were taking on this opportunity because a lot of us don’t have this. A lot of people struggle to get into these spaces, so the fact that we were given the opportunity to really speak for our issues, have this mentorship, gain more insight and more knowledge… it just made it 10 times easier.
“When I was doing the mentorship, I learned a lot. Why didn’t I realise they have a lot of history with many British subcultures? Even my parents said: “oh yeah, I remember Fred Perry back in the day!” I was like; oh my god, why did I just think it was a custom for old white men?!” – Olivia Patrick
Oré, can you tell us about your Dunhill experience?
Oré: Prior to starting, I was asked if I would like a mentor who was the same ethnicity, background or skin colour as me. I thought; let me just step out of my comfort zone – why not? I’m open to anyone because really and truly, knowledge is knowledge. If you can teach me something, I’m all for it. Luckily enough, my mentor Andrew [Holmes, Dunhill CFO] truly gave me a different perspective, his background taught me a lot about strategy and how to present myself. Going into Dunhill, he made me feel a bit at ease. But I kind of already knew that I might be walking into a space where there aren’t going to be that many people who look like me, and there wasn’t — other than maybe one other woman.
They really did make me feel welcomed and gave me so much responsibility. I felt really valued and that they trusted me. I had a great small team who worked with the communications and the PR team and later on, I was lucky enough to move to design. Obviously, that’s not my background, I’m a writer so it was a bit daunting. But I also love research, and it was the main part of working with the design team, I learnt all these new terms. I never felt as though I didn’t belong. There was no imposter syndrome. Not once did I feel like a burden.
Did you have any notions about entering this historic fashion house?
Oré: When I was applying for the internship, I honestly went back and forth between which brand I’d prefer. Dunhill is a heritage British brand, and I was just like: flip, this has nothing to do with my interests! A traditional tailoring brand was scary to me, I felt I would clash with the brand. But that’s just one perspective. A lot of the time in my work, I’m always comparing my Black identity with my African identity and my British identity. I wanted to explore that British side. It was the perfect space to do so, especially in hearing them talk about clothes and the history that comes behind them. Before my interview and on my first day there, I was literally shaking and getting in my head, but the reality was so great.
Olivia, did you have a similar case of butterflies at Fred Perry?
Olivia: It was really similar for me to be honest, because Fred Perry is such a British heritage brand, and I didn’t really know if it would be for me. I don’t wear Fred Perry and I didn’t know much about it at the beginning. But when I was doing the mentorship, I learned a lot. Why didn’t I realise they have a lot of history with many British subcultures? Even my parents said: “oh yeah, I remember Fred Perry back in the day!” I was like; oh my god, why did I just think it was a custom for old white men?! I was nervous, to begin with, but learning more made me feel more comfortable. I definitely had a voice and it was a really cool space to be in too.
No one day is really the same as the next, but what would your daily tasks be?
Olivia: For me, it was like a lot of organisational stuff and I didn’t mind learning that part, because I think it’s a good thing to learn as I’m not the most organised person. I learned a lot about spreadsheeting and how to organise them. Emails too, which are really important within fashion communications and my future in learning how to talk to clients and brands. I found it a big responsibility but I learned a lot from it.
Oré: Every morning, I had to do a global report. I was in charge of writing this PR report covering online and social coverage for the UK, Asia and America. It was cool, but very daunting because that email was going out to everyone in the company. If I made a typo or mistake – which they let me know people did in the past – everyone’s going to know. I’d handle last-minute requests from publicists or celebrities to send them our clothes. I’d have to run to the dry cleaners if they needed cleaning. Now and again, I did do a coffee run, but I appreciated that was me living out my Devil Wears Prada fantasy. It really taught me to look at all the details and be careful because I can be unorganised. Having to handle those emails and micro-analysing everything was a good lesson: you can never be too careful.
“A lot of people struggle to get into these spaces, so the fact that we were given the opportunity to really speak for our issues, have this mentorship, gain more insight and more knowledge… it just made it ten times easier.” – Oré Ajala
How did your internships give insight into what you were learning in class?
Olivia: Fred Perry let me watch a lot of e-commerce shoots, I learnt about how the cameraman set things up, about lighting and how they talk to their models. I thought that was really good for me because I’m doing Fashion Communication and Promotion at CSM. I’ve been in very casual shoots, so I got to really see how it was properly done and managed in a professional setting. I think that really helped me when it comes to me doing my work.
Oré: I think it helped me indirectly — obviously, PR is still communications in a way. I learned how to speak to others and about people’s different stories. Dunhill has this community platform where they reach out to people in the industry, they talk about their stories and how it relates to their clothes, so that did help. The design part of being in that space; hearing them use these terminologies; watching them make the clothes with their hands; the whole design process… Often when it comes to fashion journalism, we have to speak about the process of making clothes, so it was really insightful.
Are things changing, or is it still rare to find paid internships in fashion?
Olivia: Since I’ve left Fred Perry, I’m looking and can’t find any.
Oré: I’d say it has definitely improved. Even though I know there’s always room for more experiences, a part of me wants to focus on the specific parts that I’m really interested in for my work. And that’s hard. When it comes to me reaching out to a researcher or a gallery or something like that, I know those spaces often don’t pay. I would definitely say it’s improved, but I’ve been struggling to find a decent paid internship after doing Dunhill. They really made sure we were well looked after.
Having completed your internships, did they inform your time at Central Saint Martins and have they informed what you want to do with your career moving forward?
Olivia: Because I got to do a bit of everything at Fred Perry, after leaving I realised that I definitely want to explore a lot more of the creative side. It really helped me realise my love for music and events, because there’s a relationship with music at Fred Perry. It made me want to look for more jobs and go down that path of mixing music with art and fashion. I like finding a way to do both.
Oré: Being at CSM can get so lonely, I’ve been used to doing things by myself. At Dunhill, everyone collaborates within the company, but also extends themselves and collaborates with artists, musicians and all sorts of people. It reminded me that as much as I’m used to doing this by myself, I’m really only going to succeed when I work with others and have that community base.
Olivia: I agree, like a team.
What does Fashion Minority Report’s mission of Equity and Inclusion mean to you?
Olivia: I think it’s about giving a voice to minorities in the workspace and letting them be seen. I specifically asked for a woman as my mentor because I personally felt safer. I really learnt from her perspective about the industry, it made me think: oh my god, is it going to be harder for me as a brown woman? The opportunities being given by FMR are really cool, it was nice being in that space and hopefully, it will diversify more fashion brands. Hopefully, I do see more people like me in the future.
Oré: I think the conversation around representation and inclusivity blew up after the Black Lives Matter movement and every company was speaking about it. But we low-key realised that although they’re speaking about it, within their companies there was no form of Black or brown representation and nobody in higher positions who looked like us. Daniel calling that out and having a genuine authentic conversation without the bullshit was really refreshing. The conversation wasn’t needed just with people who look like me or Olivia – we had a genuine conversation with people of every ethnicity and the pressure wasn’t put on our shoulders alone. I appreciate that about FMR. Everyone seems real and genuine people who want change and to create more opportunities for everyone.
Thank you to Oré and Olivia for their insights on the start of their fashion careers. If you’re interested in joining the next generation of fashion professionals, keep an eye on our Hub’s Mentoring and Paid Internships page.