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How To Explain the Fashion Industry To Your Parents

April 3rd, 2017 at 2:00am

Both of my parents are in the medical field. My dad is a surgeon; my mom a pharmacist. Early on, I knew a science-based occupation wasn’t for me. (I may or may not have cried during the frog dissection in high school biology. And by that I mean I definitely did.) My parents were never the type to force their chosen professions on me. That doesn’t mean it didn’t take some explaining when I told them I wanted to go into fashion.

You see, even if you didn’t grow up with parents with those same occupations, just by the sheer fact you are a human being with basic life experiences you know what a “doctor” does. If when I tell someone I work in fashion, however, it is often followed by a look of bewilderment or (worse) a condescending “Oh, that’s nice.”

As an outsider looking in, the fashion world seems like a glamorous mix of clothes, parties, and selfies with far more literal style than substance. But if Miranda Priestly’s harangue about cerulean blue taught us anything, it is about so much more more than meets the eye.

And in case you don’t feel reciting the same lines from “The Devil Wears Prada” for the 253rd time, we’ve got your back. Here are some talking points for when your parents invariably have questions about what it means to work in fashion.

Photo via @mmoor

Why do you need to study fashion? Isn’t it just a hobby?

Can’t it be both? While, yes, majoring in fashion is definitely geared towards the more creatively wired individuals, being successful in any occupation—no matter the industry— takes a combination of education, experience, hard work, and passion.

Also, just because you decide to work in one facet of the industry, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have a solid understanding of the fashion industry as a whole. Think of it this way, if you were a heart surgeon, wouldn’t it be prudent (if not absolutely necessary) to also understand the rest of the human body as well? Taking classes and actually studying the industry is about more than liking clothes. It’s about setting yourself up for success.

Why does fashion matter?

Beyond every garment of clothing, there are hundreds of decisions that go into that single piece. Where should the item be produced? What fabrics? What are the technical specs of the design (yes, there’s math in fashion!)? Who is the audience? How should we describe it in the copy? What are our margins (ugh, math again!)? It is one of the few industries that literally touches every person’s life. So you can tell your dad that T-shirt he just threw on this morning is about way more than he thinks.

Photo via @taylormackenzieh

What are jobs in fashion?

Better question: what jobs aren’t there in fashion? Contrary to what my grandma thinks, just because you work in fashion, that does not mean you are a fashion designer. That is just one small subsect of the industry. You can be an editor, artistic director, stylist, brand manager, photographer, visual merchandiser, public relations coordinator, creative director, social media manager, heck even an accountant for a fashion brand or media company. The list (and thus the opportunities) are endless.

Can you actually make a living in fashion?

According to the McKinsey Global Fashion Index, in the last decade, the fashion industry has grown at 5.5 percent annually with a net worth estimated at $2.4 trillion (yes with a T). To put it in different terms, if the fashion industry were a country, it would be the world’s seventh-largest economy. So, yes, there is opportunity to be had within the industry to have a fulfilling career, follow your interests, and support yourself financially all at the same time (while budgeting and being a responsible adult, that is).

Photo via @melissaepifano

It’s six weeks until graduation. Why don’t you have a job/internship yet?

There are a lot of careers, such as doctors, lawyers, and accountants, that have very defined paths. I am sure you have many friends who work in finance who had their first jobs or summer internships secured nine months out.

The fashion world is different. Because the ever-changing atmosphere and individual nature of each company, it is nearly impossible for them to know roles that will be open eight weeks let alone eight months in advance. A lot can happen in a short period of time. Perhaps a media company goes through a fundraising round to grow their team; maybe an editor just left to start her own blog, thus creating a sudden vacancy. The fashion world tends to hire on an as needed basis. Meaning that the window of time between a position being available to it being filled is rather quick.

Let your parents know that it is normal to not have a job at graduation. And, perhaps to qualm their constant texts and emails on the subject, set up some informational interviews to plant the seeds with companies you would be interested in working for. That way, when a position does pop up in the not too distant future, you will be top of mind.

Photo via @savannahjslaton

What other questions have your parents had about what it means to have a career in fashion? Let us know in the comments below and we’ll tackle them in an upcoming feature!