The fashion industry can provoke different reactions. For the untrained eye it can be a mysterious world of glamorous parties and beautiful people sparking fear in even the most confident of individuals. Without question The Devil Wears Prada will be referenced, along with the (sometimes) misconception of bitchy girls and bitchier boys. Of course this is all true to an extent but working in fashion is a whole new ballgame.
It was something I’d always known I wanted to do. Much likely people who love animals dream of saving their fluffy hinds by being a vet, I envisioned saving people from bad shopping decisions by working in fashion. At eight I wanted to be a designer, 10 a stylist and 22 Samantha Jones (the career not the promiscuity!). After working in Kurt Geiger on my gap year I decided I wasn’t going to Africa to work with Elephants (one day!), I was going to uni and work with designers instead.
I didn’t have a foundation college qualification (after A Levels) or spend the year interning in the industry but I did have an unwavering passion which, apparently, was enough to get in! The next three years were tough, fun and scary. I spent my days shunning parties for coursework and family get-togethers for interning. I flitted from styling and photography to magazine desks and PR showrooms, determined to soak up as many different areas of fashion as I could to get a 360 view of the industry.
That was…ahem…10 years ago and hell of a lot has changed since. So, I thought I’d share my experience, tips and warnings along the way to how I got to where I am.
YOU’LL PROBABLY HAVE TO WORK FOR FREE
Let’s just state the obvious here! Working in fashion is renowned for shit to no pay for a long time, as is a lot of other creative industries. I started out interning at the likes of My-Wardrobe.com, Anya Hindmarch, Look magazine, Trace PR and London Fashion Week whilst completing a pretty hardcore uni course and it wasn’t easy. I used my student loan to cover travel expenses and it was considered hitting the jackpot if the company covered a measly train ticket.
I’m not saying it’s right and I know the industry has become a lot better at paying something for interns but be warned, it won’t be much, it definitely won’t be enough to live on but if you can, it will be invaluable. I still believe to this day it was my internships not my degree that opened doors to my career, but more on that later! My advice would be to save, live with family or find a part-time internship and a part-time job to pay your way. You won’t regret it.
IT’LL BE LONG HOURS
You know that 9-5 thing you dream of when you’re a student. Yeah, that doesn’t happen in the fashion industry. Whether it’s an ever-growing to-do list or you’re working with multiple time zones, the chances are you’ll be working well past 5pm. My first proper job in fashion was as a PR Manager for a luxury designer vintage brand. I spent my days in the office and the evenings at events, hosting events or planning events.
It WAS glamorous and often involved mingling with celebrities or high society types and while I would often be checking my watch for the last train home, it’s those types of situations that can change your career. With everyone so busy in the office, it’s those after-hours situations that enables you to chew the fat with your boss over late-night deadlines or casually talk about your ideas when they’re relaxed at an event. Those are the times where you go from being another wage slip to someone they notice on Monday morning.
YOU’LL GROW AN EXTRA LAYER OF SKIN
The fashion industry may have a bad rep for bitchiness and I’d love to say it’s not true. But it is! Sorry! I don’t want to generalise as I’ve made a lot of firm friends over the years who are nothing like The Devil Wears Prada but you will meet people who will scrutinise you for wearing last season, throw you under the bus to save their own arse or snigger if you don’t know the latest ‘in’ modern artist.
It’ll hurt, it’ll remind you of school but it will teach you important lessons. I like to think I’m a lot more resilient since working in fashion and, with age, have become a lot more aware of how damaging words can be. While not fitting in might be your worst fear, it’s actually one of your best qualities as fashion is all about dancing to the beat of your own drum. Some of the most pioneering movements in the industry have come from people who wanted to do something different. Remember that!
IT’S WHO YOU KNOW NOT WHAT YOU KNOW
I cannot stress this enough and it’s not limited to working in fashion. Whether you’re a wallflower or an extrovert, honing your networking skills is paramount to growing your career. Some of my best and most exciting roles and collaborations have come from networking events or striking up a great phone relationship with someone.
So many of us hide behind emails now that relationships are often lost. We’re busy, I get it and they’re convenient but ultimately you’re going to have more of an impact on someone by taking the time and effort to get to know them, be genuine, give them your attention, find common ground, be (slightly) personal and talk about how you can help each other. But the most important part? Stay. In. Touch. Not just when you want something, but a genuine interest in how they are, what’ve they got going on, can you meet for a coffee.
I know, it all sounds really obvious but you would be surprised how quickly a casual acquaintance can be a very valuable work friend by doing these things consistently. And lastly, there is SO much to be said about meeting people face-to-face. It changes everything, truly and will separate you from the hundreds of other faceless names they come across in the day. Working in fashion is 80% of who you know, not what you know, so get to know those key people.
YOU DON’T NEED A DEGREE
I say this hesitantly because it was a great life experience but….I wish I hadn’t gone to uni. Or better yet, I wish I hadn’t focused so much on the work and had more fun because working in fashion is all about the experience and obviously, who you know!
Depending on what area of fashion you want to work in, it always helps to be outgoing, friendly person – the ability to talk the talk is one that will get you places! While a degree will help to get you internships, I don’t think it’s necessary. Especially now where employers can see exactly what you’re about from blogs and social media. Building up a strong CV and different skills is by far the most valuable part of working in fashion.
IT’S NOT FOR EVERYONE…
I know so many people who either went to uni or worked in fashion and are doing something completely different. If you hadn’t noticed I’m not a fashion designer and I’m not Samantha Jones! When I moved out of London I turned my back on the fashion industry for a few years while I worked in bridal and fitness magazines but I built up a lot of amazing contacts in other sectors like fitness fashion, beauty, travel and health. These often cross over into the fashion world more than you’d think so I still kept one manicured toe in, so to speak!
But since I went freelance, I write a lot of fashion content for national and international glossies as well as here from time-to-time. For me, this is exactly how I like it. While I wasn’t prepared to sacrifice my personal life (and sanity) for a career immersed in the fashion industry, I see and work in enough of it to satisfy my love of it. I don’t think I would have got to this point had I not tried it and encourage anyone who wants a career in fashion to get out there and experience it to truly know if it’s for you or not.
And if it’s not, it’s not the end of the world – there are so many different areas and sectors that are still connected to fashion indirectly that might be a better fit.
…BUT IT COULD BE THE BEST THING EVER
That being said, I have a lot of friends who are having just the best time working in fashion. Once you get past the junior stage of your career, there seems to be a shift where you earn more money, get more recognition and generally settle in to more of a groove. Sure, some burn out and it can be so easily done, but whether it’s persevering or finding a role that suits you, it could be the best career ever!
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