Whether you want to be a stylist, designer, photographer, or anything else in the realm of fashion, advice from professionals with an insider perspective can help illuminate the ins and outs of the industry. From learning the best ways to make connections and grow your professional network to knowing what to expect from your first gig in fashion, you can gain a lot of insight from the experiences of others. To help give you a better idea of what to expect from a job in fashion, I reached out to professionals across the industry to ask how their expectations differed from the reality of the real world and what advice they would give to students who are trying to get their foot in the door. Ahead, they share their best fashion career tips to help set you up for success.
Be Prepared to Put in a Lot of Hard Work
Many people would be surprised to hear that a career in fashion isn’t always glamorous, especially because so many of us only see the finished product, whether it be a glossy photo shoot, a seamless design, or a cutting-edge new collection. But behind the scenes, long hours of hard work and collaboration go into everything we see from the racks to the runway.
Mackenzie Downs, assistant designer at L.A.-based Project Social T, shared how her own experience has demystified some of the expectations surrounding a career in fashion. “I think people that haven’t worked in the industry or don’t know much about it have this Devil Wears Prada idea in their heads,” said Downs, “but in my experience, it’s not so glamorous. It’s a lot of hard work!” And the value of that hard work also translates into landing your first gig in fashion. “The industry in LA requires you to roll up your sleeves and seriously hustle.” Be willing to put in the extra hours from the start, and your dedication is guaranteed to speak for itself.
Don’t Let a Small Position Stop You From Dreaming Big
Any goal or ambition takes drive, and striving for a career in fashion is no different. You may have to start small, prove yourself in an assistant position, or apply to dozens of jobs before finally getting your foot in the door. But as with any other industry, passion goes a long way in helping you reach your goals and move through the ranks.
Syma Raza, associate manager of public relations at American Eagle Outfitters and the voice behind the beauty and style blog, Syma Speaks, vouched that every job opportunity, no matter how small, is essential to furthering your career. “As [with] any job, there’s grunt work, and you can’t be afraid to roll your sleeves up,” said Raza, “However, if you know this industry is your passion, you will do anything you can to keep going and do whatever it takes to keep climbing that ladder.” Whether it’s a fellowship, an internship, or a one-time gig, every work experience you have is a valuable chance to develop your skill set, showcase your potential, and get one step closer to your dream job.
Hone in On Your Communication and Collaboration Skills
Behind every show at New York Fashion Week and every cover of Vogue is a team of industry professionals making an idea come to life. Whatever fashion career you’re aspiring to, you’ll inevitably work with people across the business, from marketing to design, at some point or another. That’s what makes communication and collaboration skills so vital for anyone working in fashion.
Marketing associate at Condé Nast, Chelsea Horhn, underscored the importance of having these skills in order for any project to go according to plan. “Although the job can be fun, there is a lot of behind-the-scenes work that makes it all run smoothly. Having good project management, organization and communication skills keeps projects moving at a smooth, steady pace.” So how exactly do you foster these skills throughout your career? Horhn advises taking advantage of every position that comes your way. “Don’t think assistant positions are beneath you. Yes, the tasks can be tedious and stress levels are high, but the amount of networking, client communication and internal collaborating you perform will be integral to moving up within your company.”
Never Let Yourself Stop Learning
For anyone seeking a career in fashion, it’s important to be prepared for a fast-paced and constantly evolving industry. From one season to the next, trends and the way people shop can change significantly, leaving designers and sales teams constantly racing to stay up-to-date. No matter what sector of the fashion industry you work in, you have to be adaptable and open to learning something new every day.
Senior director of merchandising at Lafayette 148 New York, Stephanie Gill serves as a liaison between the design and sales teams, working with a design from its conception to the showroom. Gill describes the day-to-day reality of the fashion industry as a perpetually changing environment, offering one example of the quickly growing online platform that has transformed the way consumers buy their clothes. That’s why Gill advises those pursuing a career in fashion to be ready to listen and learn. “Number one, first and foremost: You almost have to be like a sponge, just take it all in, because it’s a constantly changing environment.”
Don’t Overlook the Importance of Networking
As with any industry, networking is your best friend. A good professional relationship with even a single contact in your industry can open doors and connect you to invaluable opportunities. Build your network and you now have access to industry insiders who can provide you with everything from career advice to recommendation letters. Downs emphasized the importance of networking from the start, offering the mantra, “The power of who you know should not be underestimated.”
And while passion alone will certainly help you stand out as a dedicated employee, who you know can make all the difference when it comes to initially finding internships and job opportunities in the industry. Raza encourages college students and recent grads “to ask someone you admire in the industry out for coffee and an informational interview. You never know where the conversation will lead!” Consider your professors, college alumni in your field, or your industry role models, and take the initiative to reach out, introduce yourself, and make connections that could lead to a career later on.
What are the fashion career tips that have helped you the most? Let us know in the comments below!
Featured photo by @geowollner.