Bolton School Former Pupils

Vanessa Barber (1998-2005)

Occupation: Senior Fashion and Graphics Designer for Focus International 

What were your favourite subjects and who were your favourite teachers at School?

I really enjoyed History and Textiles at school.  I liked learning about life in different eras and Mrs Head, my then History teacher, really brought each topic to life and made each class interesting.

Maths was never one of my favourite subjects at school but Mrs Dickinson was by far my favourite teacher.  She made maths interesting and helped me to understand each topic, meaning that I came away with a good grade for my GCSEs which I’m thankful for.

What further study have you undertaken since leaving School?

After leaving Bolton School Sixth Form I went to Huddersfield University to study Fashion Design, which I loved, and came away with a First Class Honors degree.  While at University I undertook a placement year in industry where I moved to London and completed internships at Vogue, More magazine and Berube Fashion house, which were a great insight into the fashion industry.

What does your job involve and how did you progress to your current role?

I have a full-time job as a Senior senior fashion and graphics designer for Focus International (part of the JD Sports group).  For Focus I design men’s and ladies’ fashion for a large variety of High high street and online retailers.  My job at Focus involves keeping up with the latest fashion trends and designing exciting and commercial ranges, which I oversee from initial design concept through to reviewing final garments ready to hit the stores.  Alongside my career in the fashion industry I also run my own business called Beautiful Ink, designing bespoke wedding stationery, which I began just over a year and a half ago after I got married.  My business has grown rapidly since it began and has already gained interest from the press, including being selected as runner-up in the Country Homes and Interiors magazine’s Country Business of the Year competition.

What/who influenced your career choice?

I’ve been creative from a young age and enjoyed drawing and making arts and crafts for my parents who I guess are my main influence.  They don’t have creative careers themselves, but have always encouraged me to pursue what I enjoy and work hard to reach my potential, which I’m grateful for.

What/who has been your biggest inspiration?

I don’t think I have had one specific inspiration, but I have been interested in art and design since I was young and have been inspired through visiting museums, galleries and following various designers, which have all inspired me to pursue my career direction.

Which skills do you consider to be essential for your job?

Having an eye for new fashion trends and being able to interpret these into commercial garments to suit the high street market.  Having strong computer design skills is also essential, as well as a sound knowledge of fabrics and garment construction so you can produce designs that are interesting, but also wearable.

What do you like most about your job?

I like that every day is different.  In my role at Focus I get to design for a number of different brands and clients and I get to travel to visit trade shows, customers and suppliers, which keeps each day interesting and different.  I work with a really great team, too, so going into work each day is fun.

What is your biggest challenge in your current role?

Juggling a full-time career and running a small business is challenging and can take over a lot of my time, so being able to multi-task and be organised is essential.  Seeing my business grow the way it has is really rewarding and I’m really glad I took the risk in starting my own business.

What do you consider to be your greatest career achievement?

My greatest career achievement is that I’ve found a career I’m good at and enjoy doing every day.  I’m also proud to see the achievements my small business has made in a short space of time and am excited to see how it will continue to grow in the future.

How did Bolton School help you to be successful in your chosen career?

Before starting at Bolton School in Year 7 I was very shy, but being in an encouraging environment like Bolton School really helped me to grow in confidence and meet my own potential.  The resources at Bolton School are fantastic and the School helped me figure out what career path I wanted to take and helped me get there.

What advice would you give to our pupils interested in your field of work?

The fashion industry is incredibly competitive and so it is difficult to stand out from the other equally talented designers.  My advice would be to take every opportunity that is given to you and help make yourself stand out by entering competitions, undertaking work experience and showing your dedication to the industry.

Vanessa Barber

Vanessa working on her wedding stationery business - see more at