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Spelling success! How one adult student embraced dyslexia to inspire her Fashion BA at York College & University Centre

If there’s one thing we love at York College & University Centre, it’s a success story, especially when the odds are stacked against a student. Zara Hales is one such story – struggling with undiagnosed dyslexia until adulthood, the 28-year-old graduated with a BA (Hons) in Fashion Design & Garment Technology, after finding creative inspiration in her learning difficulties.

“I had struggled through school, but I didn’t know I was dyslexic until the second year of my degree,” Zara explained. “Through school I had extra one-to-one lessons, but I never got a diagnosis. I eventually left school with just one GCSE, but it was an A and it was in textiles."

Zara gained employment with luxury handbag company Mulberry, where she was involved in the manufacturing process. It was there she discovered her love of the fashion industry and decided she wanted to progress and learn more about design.

She said: “I started the level three fashion diploma at York College. In my first week my tutor, Rebecca, approached me and said I should switch to the degree. I spoke to my family and made the decision that it was right for me, and I went full time.

“It was at York College that it was recommended I put myself through tests for dyslexia, and that’s when I got the diagnosis. It was like a weight off my shoulders.”


Following the positive test results, and with the backing of her tutors and York College’s Student Support services, Zara was able to throw herself fully into her studies.

“I loved the course,” she said. “It’s made me a stronger person and I have learned so much about myself during these three years. Even through the Covid pandemic I was determined to get through to the other side.”

During her final year at York College & University Centre, Zara was looking back on some of her old school books and it was there she found inspiration for her final year collection.

She said: “At secondary school I had a blue book to help me with spelling and learning to read and write. Looking back through that book, as an adult, I can see that some of the spellings are very wrong.

“I decided to incorporate some of those words into the designs of the clothes for my final collection. For example, one of my designs features the word ‘pused’ which was how I used to spell ‘past’. I also used clear PVC to represent the coloured transparent sheets which some people with dyslexia use to help them read.”

The strength of Zara’s design resulted in a successful end to her studies, and a graduation ceremony in York Minster, where Zara also received York College’s Outstanding Achievement Award and the Governors’ Special Award, in recognition of her ambition and success.

Her tutor at York College & University Centre, Rebecca O’Leary, said: “In my 15-year career I’ve never seen a student progress with such success.

“Rather than letting her dyslexia diagnosis set her back, Zara was proactive in obtaining the additional support she needed to enable her to continue her studies and achieve excellent outcomes.

“Her sunny and happy disposition means she is sorely missed in the fashion department.”

Since graduating, Zara has found full time work with manufacturer and designer MLA, who produce public order protective equipment and clothing at their headquarters in Seaton Ross, near York. Initially working with the company part time during her studies, Zara now works alongside designers on new products, within production and is responsible for ordering stock.

She describes the job as ‘amazing’ and believes the effort she put into her studies set her on a successful career.

“The hard work does pay off,” she said. “I would say to young people ‘you can achieve anything when you put your mind to it’. I just put my whole life into college and I got the best grades.”

Are you inspired by Zara's story to take your learning to the next level? There's still time to register for York College Open Day on Saturday 26th November.

We'll have lots of information on all our courses and services, including higher education and degree courses at our University Centre