First Time Things: Traveling Solo and Studying at London College of Fashion

Sunday, 19th August 2018

I am currently sitting on a very uncomfortable chair at Stansted Airport, in London, in front of a skinny blonde lady who has just devoured one coke, a big Pret A Manger sandwich, a bag of potato chips and a huge snickers bar in less than 5 minutes. People’s eating habits – and really, just people in general – suddenly become incredibly interesting to watch, when you find yourself with nothing else to do for the next four hours and are saving your copy of Tina Brown’s The Vanity Fair Diaries to read during your flight back home.

A week ago, I flew to this airport feeling equally alarming amounts of fear and excitement. By the time I arrived here I was on autopilot, I was a woman on a mission, and didn’t feel or think too much about anything, except for which train I had to catch to get to Camden Town, where I would be staying for the next few days.

It was my first time traveling solo and I had come to London, a city I had never been to before. So yes, I was slightly scared. There was nothing particularly scary about this trip – I was a meticulous planner traveling to a relatively safe european country, and I could always count on wi-fi -, but being aware of the many unpredictable things that can (and will) happen in such situations, I had spent the previous days imagining possible problematic scenarios and the actions I would take if I ever got to face them. Because that’s the thing about traveling by yourself: you can’t really count on anyone else.

Less than 24 hours after arriving at Stansted, it was already monday morning and I was rushing up the stairs of the Oxford Circus Station. I suddenly faced the busy, chaotic street, desperate for a breath of fresh air after being underground for 20 minutes. I looked around to contemplate my surroundings for the first time, the robust look of the grey facades, and the London College of Fashion building, where I would be attending a short course in Fashion Buying and Merchandising, was suddenly in front of me. The place was really quiet because everyone was on vacation, and most people walking around were either professors or short course students like myself, which resulted in a very relaxed atmosphere. I entered an elevator full of giggly, clearly-on-vacation girls and I could feel their excitement about the first day of a class they knew wouldn’t take more than one or two weeks to complete.

When I got to classroom number 525, a smiley old man in a funny Paul Smith shirt greeted me as I entered and seated at a random table. I recognized my new teacher from the pictures I had seen of him online: he was a respected british fashion buyer who had worked with brands like ASOS, New Look and Liberty London, and luckily for me, looked much nicer in person.

The course started on Monday, 10am, and went on until the next Friday at 5pm. In a group of 18 students, only three or four people were from the UK; the rest of us had come from different places around the world, from Italy to China and Mexico. We also had completely different backgrounds – some of us were fashion designers, some worked in retail, there were people who had engineering degrees -, but everyone had some kind of interest in fashion buying and merchandising. During class we worked in groups, simulating conversations between buyers and suppliers, learning formulas and doing calculations, negotiating with each other about fictional companies and contracts. And every day, after 5pm, I would leave to explore different neighborhoods or have drinks with classmates.

By the end of the week, I had seen most of central London and learned a lot of new things, but there was something in particular I knew to be true: I really want to start a business eventually, and am now a step closer to being better prepared to do so. Ever since I left college, my main goal has been to learn as much as I possibly can about this industry in regards to its many different fields, and after attending this course I feel like I just unlocked a new level in the game.

The short period I spent exploring London also taught me that I am perfectly capable of traveling by myself, which can actually be quite enjoyable: there is nothing like going to a museum alone and spending the entire afternoon exploring a new exhibition, taking as long as you want observing every corner. I had gone to exhibitions alone in the past and as far as activities go there was nothing new about what I did in London, but this was the first time I spent more than two or three days completely by myself. Being alone so consistently was surprisingly easy, even comforting in a way – it was like everything I did was somehow elevated, more on focus because there were no distractions around. I felt closer to art in general as well – more interested, more eager to learn and discover and even to create -, I felt excited about seeing new things again.

As soon as I arrived in London, this trip turned into a much welcomed distraction from real life and an opportunity to be fully present and to think of nothing but my surroundings. I was always so alert and focused on what I was doing that I didn’t even got a chance to feel anxious about the future, or about what could possibly go wrong, which was a whole new experience in itself.

When someone travels alone for the first time, there is all this expectation of going through a period of self-discovery and introspection. But to be honest, this trip wasn’t particularly life changing (unless one considers all decisions to be life changing, and in that case it definitely was); it was fun, and interesting, and a lesson on how important it is to enjoy my own company. I learned so many important things while I was here, and even though I loved London just as much as my fourteen year old self knew I would, I am now ready to grab my bags and go home.

PS: It was virtually impossible to cover every aspect of the short course or my trip, but please use the comments section to ask your questions and I will make sure to answer all of them!