Kathleen Fasanella, who runs the interesting blog Fashion Incubator, observes that the tv program “Project Runway” has led many people to pursue careers as designers–and that this is not the first time that such a phenomenon has occurred:
I’m troubled by the consequences of the fashion school bubble -350 designers at NY Fashion Week being but one sign of it- the blame for which we mostly attribute to Project Runway. A similar thing happened with the TV show LA Law, law schools were inundated with applicants and our legal system is burgeoning with excessive lawsuits as the logical consequence of lawyers needing to make their student loan payments. Simplistically speaking, these are trend careers.
Indeed, for young people who are making career choices there is a shortage of solid information about what various careers are really like and what they require in the way of preparation. Television tends to focus on a few specific fields–lawyers, doctors, nurses, cops, criminals–with occasional excursions into other areas like fashion design–but rarely provides any realistic sense of what day-to-day life in these jobs ight be like. This is understandable–screenwriter Robert Avrech oberved that movies are like real life, except that the boring parts are deleted–but means that these shows aren’t exactly reliable guides to career choice. High school guidance counselors rarely have any broad exposure to the world of actual work. College professors, even with the best will in the world, will tend to sell and perhaps oversell their own fields to talented students. Parents may or may not be useful sources of career information, depending on their own backgrounds and current situations; many will also have strong prejudices for or against certain fields.
Kathleen also observes that in her industry there is a real gap between the numbers of people who want to design the product and the numbers of people who want to have something to do with turning it into physical reality:
Let me lay it for you. In order for a person to have a full time job as a designer -meaning an employee, not someone who also has entrepreneurial duties- there needs to be a given number of personnel to support that position. Based on my experience, you only need one designer for every 75-150 stitchers. Anything less than that, the designer has cross duties he or she is not happy about. However, we have a crisis in the industry in that we can’t find enough stitchers to fill demand -at least domestically. The short answer is, if we can’t get people in front of machines, we can’t hire any more designers.
In another post, Kathleen writes:
The M word -judging from what you read in many forums on the web- is a really naughty word and maybe even NSFW. Yes, that word is manufacturing. I hate to break the news but if you make stuff and sell it, no matter how large or how small you are, you are a manufacturer -legally!- no matter how much you dislike it. I don’t mean this unkindly but it’s hypocritical to complain you can’t buy made in the USA products anymore because who would want to do it when everyone decries manufacturing as an awful horrible thing? I once stood next to a woman in a store who complained nothing was made in the USA and when I said I worked in US manufacturing, she sneered at me and said “sweatshop”.
I don’t think there’s any question that there’s a cultural prejudice against manufacturing in the U.S. today– although it may now be weakening somewhat as a result of the economic crisis–and that this has had a malign effect on the industry and on the economy as a whole. See my post faux manufacturing nostalgia for more on this.