Lucy Qian could see the power of fashion from a young age. Playing with her Barbie doll, she was fascinated by its outfits – and how each can seemingly reinvent the wearer. The intrigue lingered well into her high school career in the UK, where her school’s textile class helped solidify her life’s calling. The student took this revelation to her teacher who stated that if she could turn the clock, she would have pursued an education at Norwich University of the Arts (NUA).
Compelled, Qian attended a graduation show and open day at NUA. Both visits helped her determine her next academic step as well. “It matched every aspect on my checklist in terms of spaces, equipment, and support,” she says. When the time came, she enrolled in the University’s BA (Hons) Fashion degree without hesitation.
The programme was conceptualised for budding designers — like Qian — who are keen on exploring concept development, pattern cutting, and professional garment construction while developing technical skills and couture levels of craftsmanship.
Today, the first-year student can proudly say she made the right decision. Immersed and engaged, she illustrates with finesse, sews with great attention to detail and styles with flare. None of it would have been possible without countless opportunities to learn from the industry’s finest. NUA only employs the best — while seasoned, they are still as welcoming as can be.
Qian is eternally grateful to her tutor — who has designed and led teams at luxury brands including Paul & Joe, Timothy Everest, Kent & Curwen and LVMH — for always being up for a one-to-one chat. Meanwhile, her technician Romilly Quay tirelessly repeats technical processes till the class achieves full comprehension.
Their guidance is especially crucial in , designed to emulate those used by professionals. “We have industrial sewing machines and irons which are great to use,” Qian explains. “Each of us is given a material pack with tools and fabrics too, which we store in big boxes that have our names printed on them. There is a lot of table space for us to spread out and we can access the studio until 9:00 p.m. which allows us to manage our time and perfect our designs whenever we want to.”
Qian and her peers are welcome to use facilities in NUA as well. For example, she regularly attends to practise woodwork, 3D printing and laser-cutting. Textile classes bring the student back to her roots too while she learns to work with .
Access to such facilities makes executing excellent projects easier. Qian has put her knowledge into practice by constructing designs with specific materials after extensively studying the ins and outs of everyday garments like shirts; exploring the history of textiles to take a stab at making her own fabric; participating in a design challenge organised by the Costume and Textile Association; and finetuning her drawing skills alongside notable fashion illustrator Stephen Worth.
With the hands-on knowledge she’s gained, she’s now confident to produce and display her pieces off campus. “Recently, we had a collaboration project across the years and courses with Miss Dee Licious, who is a drag queen,” she explains. “I worked with textile students to make her an outfit which has drastically promoted my skills to other queens in Norwich. I’ve been getting more and more commissions ever since!”
While new opportunities arise for her every day, Qian knows excelling in the field of fashion means being a lifelong learner. Hence, her motivation to never skip a class or tune out in the presence of NUA’s experts. “I learn something new from every session,” she says.
The has been a great teacher as well. Here, the student has broadened her horizons and acquired a strong sense of self. Surrounded by writers, artists, designers, musicians, and performers — both on and off-campus — the budding designer has never felt more at home. The first time she attended a drag show to see her garments worn proudly on stage, she felt an overwhelming sense of appreciation for the city’s commitment to diversity and inclusion.
Hence, her decision to stay put in the UK — there’s too much to leave behind. “I’ve met great people, such as very helpful and friendly teachers as well as supportive and encouraging friends,” she says. “I’ve had many opportunities to experience working with amazing people too. I am really enjoying my life here.”
Chances are, she will continue thriving in the UK long after graduating thanks to its booming creative arts sector — which contributed 115.9 billion pounds to the economy in 2019, and shows no signs of slowing down.
Plus, with the NUA qualification Qian will soon earn, her employability should be the least of her concerns. NUA is ranked a top-two UK creative arts university (2023 Complete University Guide) and awarded Best University for Teaching Quality based on authentic student reviews (Student Crowd).