‘It was amazingly cool that I was going to live abroad’
The emigration experience doesn’t have to be a miserable one, and comparisons with history are wide of the mark, says Louise Stuart Trainor in London.
The emigration experience doesn’t have to be a miserable one, and comparisons with history are wide of the mark, says Louise Stuart Trainor in London
I WAS SURPRISED when I first heard about the Generation Emigration series in The Irish Times , because Irish people have always emigrated, regardless of the economic circumstances. Ireland is small, and opportunities in certain industries will always be limited due to its geographic location and population size.
I knew from the very beginning of my degree in fashion design that I would probably have to emigrate, because the industry is so small in Ireland. After my graduation, I spent a year travelling and a year working in the Dell factory in Limerick to save some money, before I left Ireland for an internship with Gaspard Yurkievich, a fashion designer in Paris. It was 2006 then, the middle of the boom.
I worked for seven months for that company without pay. It was a really exciting introduction to the fashion industry, working in one of the most fashion-forward cities in the world, and participating in Paris fashion week from the inside.
When that internship came to an end, it took a while to find paid employment. I worked for free for a website and then for another designer, but I wasn’t happy in the job.
I did some freelance work, taking photos of window displays and street fashion in Paris but the work was irregular and it wasn’t enough money to survive on. There were many times when I felt like giving up and going home, but I knew I had to keep at it.
Unpaid work is something that is expected in this business. Now, people are complaining about the widespread exploitation of young people through unpaid internships, and while I don’t agree with the practice, graduates in professions like mine have always been expected to do it.
I eventually landed a job as a copywriter in a trend forecasting agency. It was a shift away from what I thought I wanted to do, but it was a good job, and still in the fashion industry.
Trend forecasting is a very specialised and relatively new industry that doesn’t exist in Ireland. The company I work for, Stylesight.com, is an online subscription-based service offering insight into colours, fabrics, silhouettes and styling for the coming seasons in fashion design and consumer goods. There’s no way I would have had this opportunity if I had stayed in Ireland.
Last year, the company decided to move its offices to London. After four years in Paris, I was ready to move on, so the relocation was a great opportunity for me to start again in a new place without having to organise everything myself.
I now work with a 30-strong team of 13 different nationalities. I live with a German and a Norwegian and I have friends from all over the world. I feel privileged to be afforded the opportunity to explore different cultures and to meet lots of different people at a time when it is acceptable, even desirable to be Irish.
In the past few weeks, I have been to a Premier League football match and a West End musical after work. There is so much to do here in London, and the Olympics are only a few months away, which will be really exciting.
As an emigrant, I have the best of both worlds. I can come home quite frequently while still maintaining a very vibrant life in London. I miss my friends and family, and the Irish countryside, and I would like to go back to live there eventually, but for the moment it wouldn’t make sense, career-wise.
Over the past few decades, many Irish people have gone abroad for a short time and come back, but now there seems to be this mass panic that emigration is more definite and you won’t be able to come back if you leave. I think it is hysteria; things are not the same as they were in the 1950s, and switching careers and working in several different countries is now more commonplace. Flights are cheap, and people can keep in closer contact with home through Skype and the internet.
My younger brother is 23, and a lot of his friends are in Australia. I wasn’t much older when I emigrated, and everybody thought it was amazingly cool that I was going to live abroad. His friends are young, they don’t have mortgages or kids, and they are looking at the move as an adventure. Instead of affording them the same excitement I had, people are viewing their circumstances as tragic examples of the economic fallout. Suddenly, we have forgotten about the positive aspects of emigration.
Families who don’t want to leave but feel forced to because they can’t find work in Ireland are in a completely different situation, and I feel for them. But for young people like us, who just want to see what is out there, there’s much to gain.
– In conversation with Ciara Kenny
Louise Stuart Trainor blogs about ethical fashion at somethingsticks.wordpress.com