A lot of recent graduates would be too scared to apply for a job in graphic design, especially when that wasn’t their major and they didn’t have any experience. But Kali Concepcion isn’t most people.
With a degree in retail merchandising and product development and six fashion internships, Kali landed a design assistant role after graduation, diving headfirst into the technical and creative field of graphic design. From there, she learned pretty much everything on the job or taught herself, proving that neither your education nor experience should ever stop you from doing what you’re passionate about.
To find out more about how College Fashionista’s brand designer went from fashion to graphic design, I sat down with her to chat about what she studied in college, how she learned the technical skills that were required for her roles, and any struggles she faced along the way. Here’s her “untraditional” path.
On her major in college: “I majored in retail merchandising and product development. It was really a 360 exploration of everything in fashion. I didn’t look at any other majors. I was just always interested in fashion and knew that regardless of what I did, I wanted to be in that industry.”
On how her internships shaped her career goals: “I think you could say that because I had a lot of wildly different fashion internships, I got closer to knowing what I didn’t want to do. I think that they helped me mainly in just putting myself out there and dipping my toes in a lot of different departments and just forcing myself to interact with different people.”
On why she applied to graphic design jobs after college: “When I got to New York, I was like okay, I need a job now. And when I started applying to jobs, I was like where are my skills? Everything was pointing to graphic design. My portfolio was all graphic design work. And it was very random things—not real designs, in my opinion, because I didn’t major in it, which is how a lot of people build their design portfolios. But it was full of collages I’d made and a couple of projects that involved design. So, I applied for design jobs.”
On landing a graphic design job with no experience: “To be honest, most of the time I just played it off like I knew what I was doing. But there were many moments when my boss and I would be discussing something he wanted me to do and I would be very clearly confused. Basically what I did was just talk myself in circles and then Google it quickly. I just figured it out. That’s what I did the entire six months in that job.”
On continuing to learn in her role now: “Now I’m a brand designer for College Fashionista. I didn’t actually start as that—I started doing marketing—but they knew I had a background in design so I was able to help with that, too. I also made it clear that I could be the go-to person for any graphic design needs and over time designing slowly just became my full-time. Now basically everything you see designed at CF is from me.
“I do still have to Google how to do things literally all the time. I’ve made so many mistakes, and I’ve been called out on it and had to admit that this is not my specialty and I’m learning. But I feel like I’ve become a way better designer just in having feedback from my manager and from making mistakes. I’m learning every single day and I probably will be forever.”
On feeling “behind” other graphic designers her age: “Since I didn’t major in graphic design, every day I feel like I’m like I’m so behind. But all I can do is keep trying to teach myself and keep improving. I also have to realize that not every designer is the same. Everyone’s start, path, and skills are different. So I just have to remember that and keep chugging along.”
On having regrets. “I honestly wish that I had at least minored in graphic design. It would be great to have the traditional educational foundation on top of the lessons I’m picking and choosing from the internet when I don’t know something. But I’m glad I took this path because I know I wouldn’t be here today if I hadn’t.”
On what she would tell college graduates who are considering an “untraditional” path like her own: “Take a class. Whether it’s continuing education or an online course, try to get some ‘education’ in the space. But also, just jump right in. There’s no use in waiting until you feel like you’re ready, because you’ll probably never feel ready. Just go for it and learn as you go, because that’s how it’s always going to be anyway—you’re always going to be learning.”
Interested in reading about more “untraditional” career paths? Check out our last installment of My Untraditional Path here.