Recent Grad Sean Kam Shares His Journey From U.S. Coast Guard To Design

Sean Kam

From U.S. Coast Guard To Fashion Design Grad

Sean Kam graduated in 2018 with his degree in Fashion Design. Prior to FIDM, he served eleven years in the U.S. Coast Guard. The recent grad has hit the ground running and currently working in San Francisco at Chubbies as a design assistant on the production team. He’s also working with FIDM Alumna Vani Kumar on a new app she is developing. This is his industry story.

Tell us a little about yourself: I was born and raised in Hawaii. Graduated from McKinley High School in Honolulu in the summer of 2005. That winter I joined the Coast Guard and served for eleven years. Usually that’s followed by, "Why the Coast Guard?" Well, to be brief, my mom said, "You're not going to live here the rest of your life, so pick a service." By here, she obviously meant home. I grew up understanding and respecting the ocean, which is why I chose it. That and we had at least one family member in almost every service already, except the Coast Guard. After completing boot camp in Cape May, New Jersey, I served multiple tours from Guam in the Western Pacific to Yerba Buena Island in the San Francisco Bay. You always end up developing skill sets and traits that exist outside of your actual occupation. What we in the service like to call voluntold. Lol. It’s not uncommon pushing yourself beyond your limits in the military. It’s a method of growth and learning more about yourself.

Upon exiting the military, I had a huge dilemma that a large number of military service members face when entering the civilian world...what the heck am I going to do with my life now?! As a teenager I remember taking those career placement tests that are supposed to tell you where you’d end up in the workplace. Nowhere in there did it mention anything close to what I was going through. We service members have skills to fall back on. But sometimes those skills don't always translate into other career opportunities and it’s not always the same route for each service member. Some of us don’t want to continue doing what we've been doing in the military, for the rest of our lives.

Cut to being accepted to FIDM. I had a huge learning advantage, because my focus was life driven. I wanted a job! I didn’t want to rely on anyone or pay student loans for the rest of my life. Nothing says HIGH RISK to a bank like debt. There’s no way I was going to be a famous whatever when I finished my program. So I was definitely motivated to survive. I wanted to be relevant. That was my drive. How do I become relevant? And stay relevant?

After graduating with my Associates in Fashion Design, I worked three unpaid internships and freelanced as a graphic designer on the side (which by the way was self-taught, since Graphic Design wasn’t what I studied in school). But I applied what I learned from FIDM and dove in head first utilizing my down time to learn as much as I could about graphic design.
The internships all had their individual little perks, knowledge and experience among them. It was reassuring knowing I could be relied upon to carry out tasks and actually apply my knowledge and skills from FIDM, the military, and personal experience. I wasn’t getting paid, but I kept pushing. I was hungry. Hungry to succeed.

I believe succeeding means different things to different people. Succeeding to me meant exposure to the workplace. No one is going to hold your hand. You have to stick it out and be ready for anything and I mean ANYTHING. I now work for Chubbies as a design assistant on the production team. My first week I walked right into preparing the 2019 design boards, and adjusting between multiple tasks, working for a design team of three. So you have to be ready and prove your worth, especially if you want to be respected and get paid.

How do you feel FIDM prepared you for what you are doing now? Although FIDM does teach creative classes, it really prepared me for the industry. They really do their best to capture the business angle to set up for success as much possible. After being accepted to FIDM, a few others as well as myself, built this idea that we would get an awesome job position right after completing our programs. Nope. Total wake up call. After the first term, I realized quickly that life doesn’t operate that way, especially in the workplace. I wasn’t famous and I wasn’t rich. I didn’t have those extra connections. I had to work hard and I needed experience. I was at school from opening to closing, every day. The San Francisco campus closes at 8pm and doesn’t have other available facilities to accommodate students working on their assignments as does the Los Angeles campus. So I got my priorities straight really quick, stayed focused, and remained open to opportunities.

What is your biggest goal right now? To maintain a good balance between my two jobs, freelancing, and my personal life. Lately a lot has been happening, and I’d like to think that’s is because of my hustle. I want to be successful, at whatever that is. Lol. I have this Nixon watch I got like 6 years ago and the band that holds the strap broke a while back. I decided to use a rubber band in its place. I could send the watch in and get a whole brand new replacement. But it functions and still looks decent. I decided recently to use it as a reminder as snapping back when life’s band breaks and to keep me grounded.

Anything else you’d like to share? Yes! If anyone feels lost or unsure please feel free to contact me. I know that feeling of being lost and not having purpose. You are your purpose. Don’t take yourself too seriously. I’m no therapist, but I’ve been through some serious stuff and I know one person’s problems could never be compared to another’s. But I’m here if you want to talk it out and maybe get some reassurance. If I can’t help you, we’ll figure it out together and get you the help you need to find the right path that fits you best. NEVER be afraid of failure. If you don’t make mistakes and improve, you’re not growing.

“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.” —Samuel Beckett

Categories:  Fashion Design Alumni Military Veteran