Reflection of a 2020 fashion design graduate almost a year after the first lockdown

I’m not going to sugarcoat it, 2020 was a pretty shitty year and in 2021 we are still trying to move forward with our lives but somehow end up stuck time and time again. I’m Inês, a fashion design graduate, class of 2020, and this is the rollercoaster of my journey. Spoiler alert, there will be some bumps on the way!

My journey started in 2017 when I moved from my home country Portugal to the UK to fulfill the dream of studying Fashion Design. I was on top of the world, I loved the course, I had excellent tutors and my classmates were great, some turning into my best friends. I could truly say that I was the happiest ever! Every year I looked forward to the 3rd year fashion show, that I would help run backstage, daydreaming about my turn! Well, little did I know that life had other plans…

My 2020 started on a high, traveling with friends. But everything came crashing down when in mid-February I had to rush from England to Portugal following the news that my great-grandma had passed. If that wasn’t heart-breaking enough in that same week my aunt passed as well. I was broken, feeling useless because there was nothing I could do to take away that pain from my loved ones. The following days were a blur, I don’t even remember the trip back to England, I was on autopilot mode.

That was the beginning of the downfall of my 2020. Back at university I immersed myself in my assignments, hello not dealing with your emotions. With a final collection to create for May I had no time to lose.  

I heard about COVID back in December, as it was already a concern in China, but being as naive as a 20-year-old could be I didn’t think much of it, I mean a strange virus that could take the world by storm c’mon this is not a movie! In late February, news broke that COVID was already in Europe and spreading fast, having already a couple of hundred cases in England. I remember anxiously waiting for the updates on what was going to happen, having my tutors reassure us that all would be fine and that we would remain open and working as always. A week later we were sent home. University was closed and England announced a national lockdown. 

The next couple of weeks were a mess. Online classes, planning how to make our collections at home, and no real guidance to what was coming next. Still, I kept working, honestly being busy kept me sane. With the fashion show, London graduate fashion week, and the university’s art exhibition in mind I had a lot of events to work towards, fuelled by the excitement of graduating and having all my friends and family cheering me up!  

But one by one all these events were canceled or postponed. That was really when my mental health took a toll on me, crying on the couch feeling hopeless because all that I worked so hard for the last three years was being taken away from me. And so I finished my degree in June from inside my four walls. With no fashion show, fashion weeks, or even graduation, honestly it keeps being postponed. I might officially graduate in 2025 at this point, the best years of my life had ended in the most disheartening way possible. All the high hopes I had for this final year came crashing down at record speed and I was left shattered.

The next couple of months were spent in denial, living inside my perfect bubble, locking all my feelings away. In September I was feeling ready to move on with my life and find a job and so the application process began. Reworking my cv, tailoring my cover letter and portfolio I started confidently applying away to all I could find in the fashion industry. But with rejection after rejection, I lost all my confidence. Soon came another lockdown and even though job listings kept showing, all applications were answered with “due to the current situation we are not taking any new staff right now”.  It’s like I took two steps forward and three back. With my plans to move to London on hold, because of traveling restrictions, my anxiety got worse and I felt lost and discouraged about the future.

I am now writing this from my home in Portugal where I have been “stranded” since the beginning of the year, after coming to visit in New Year’s. I took some time off from my job application, to take care of my well-being and invest in myself, learned new skills, and did things that made me happy, like being creative. That was harder for me than doing my degree, I have a very hard time taking time off, my close ones can strongly attest to that!

I just want you to know that it is okay to put your well-being first. Take this time as an opportunity to do things that make you feel good, whether it is learning a new language or skill, volunteering, or starting your small business. I know it’s easy to feel like you are behind as if somehow everyone else has it together but you. So I wanted to write this post to let you know you are not alone. We should all be proud to have graduated in such strange times. We are still so young; we are not meant to have our whole life planned out. As scary as the unknown maybe it’s also exciting because there is a whole world of possibilities out there! 

Remember that this won’t last forever and that sooner or later we will all be exactly where we are supposed to be, so good luck everyone!

You can follow Inês on Instagram @inescmourao

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