Fashion Design grad launches career with National Ballet School Internship

Emma Johnson, recent NBCCD Fashion Design grad, has never thought twice about going for what she wants. She got her high school co-op by cold calling a local seamstress, and more recently she obtained an internship at Canada’s National Ballet School using the same method.

“Making connections with people is so important. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous, but you’ve got to do that for yourself. No one is going to do it for you,” says Johnson.

NBCCD’s Fashion Design diploma program offers the option of a five-week practicum during its final spring semester. It puts the power in the hands of students to identify a target employer and secure unpaid work experience. Johnscon decided to call Canada’s National Ballet School in Toronto.

“I wanted to expand my wings,” said Johnson.

On a conference call with Studio Coordinator Joanne Venart quietly cheering her on, Johnson secured an internship at the prestigious school. Her inventive collection of circus-inspired costume garments showcased at the Annual NBCCD Fashion Show may have sealed the deal. These garments, all handmade and designed by Johnson, included a gold leotard, an ostrich feather bustle, and a big top tent dress. She said her passion for costuming stems from her interest in creating one-of-a-kind garments rather than executing production lines.

“Costuming is about creating a story. You are doing something new every day. I never want to stop learning about this trade. I want to know everything about it.”

During her internship, the ballet school held the Assembly International – a meeting of dancers from all over the world. She helped with the dressing and alterations of costumes for dancers from as far away as France, Germany, and Cuba.

Johnson said she learned to make a dance leotard from scratch, and a practice tutu with nine layers of stiff tulle – a process that took over 100 hours. Learning these specialized techniques directly from the experts is a priceless experience for a young designer.

The ballet school was extremely satisfied with Emma’s performance, and they have asked her to help out on contract for their year-end performance. During her off-time in Toronto, when Emma could have been resting or absorbing the sights, she instead found other ways to engage with the thriving local fashion community. She assisted with two fashion shows with fellow NBCCD alumna Samantha Brittany; sewing the underwear and flowers for Samantha’s piece in Vita: Rise for Water, and experiencing Escape the Runway as a volunteer.

“Samantha told me to dress in black and that I would know more when I got there. I wore black but I was so not prepared. There were so many famous people and the things they wore – you wouldn’t even be able to imagine buying in Fredericton.”

After her internship, Emma landed herself a tailoring job so that she could immediately return to Toronto. With her position at Levi’s, she is able to live in the city and continue making career connections. She secured this job because of her experience with made-to-measure garment construction (designing a pattern to fit the measurements of a specific body) which is a method the Fashion Design diploma at NBCCD prides itself on teaching.

“We are a made-to-measure school,” says Johnson. “At other schools, they don’t learn to fit on bodies, they fit on mannequins. That is not the reality. Not all people are shaped the same.”

Johnson chose to attend NBCCD because her career goals matched up with the education she would receive at NBCCD.

“I didn’t want to do years of theory and write papers for every class. I was ready to get hands-on. When I came on a tour of the College, that sealed it. I saw Keith [Parent]’s piece and I was blown away.”

Emma has made her own luck in her career so far. She attributes her success to hard work, not chance. Her opportunities come from making those nerve-wracking phone calls and then showing up with enthusiasm, professionalism, and confidence. She believes not only in herself, but feels that all humans have the ability to reach any goal they want.

“I feel like you don’t have to come from somewhere or something fancy. Anyone can work their way up from the bottom. I am lucky to have such a supportive family. I am going to try to keep climbing.”