How to Jump Start a Career in Fashion
Alexandra Suhner Isenberg of Searching for Style is back, this time to give Handbag Heaven readers some insight into finding a job in the fashion industry. She knows her stuff: in addition to studying fashion in Paris and London, Alexandra has worked as a designer for Sonia Rykiel and Burberry. She has lectured at Saint Matins College of Art and Design and the London College of Fashion, and currently, she teaches fashion students at both the Arts Institute of Vancouver and the Vancouver College of Art and Design. Be sure to check out her blog for some additional bonus tips for students looking to make a living working in fashion.
The fashion industry is extremely competitive, but it can be a very rewarding career path once you get your foot through the door. If you are passionate about fashion and want to prepare yourself for a job in the industry, here are a few things you should be doing.
1. Get an education: There are thousands of people trying to get fashion jobs, so a post-secondary education will definitely make things easier for you. There are tons of great fashion-related degree and diploma courses available, but those aren’t the only ways to get into the industry. If you want to do a traditional university course, it doesn’t mean you can’t work in fashion afterwards. American department stores often hire psychology graduates for their buying teams; in fact, I know a very successful Canadian magazine editor who studied psychology in university and never did a fashion course! Another friend of mine studied theology at a famous English university before she went on to be a marketing manager at Harrods and then a publicity director at a Conde Nast magazine.
2. Learn a language: I would have never been able to study and work in Paris, the fashion capital of the world, if I hadn’t been able to speak French. The fashion industry is global, and contrary to popular belief, not everyone speaks English. So if you have high school French, keep it up by practicing it. Italian and Spanish are also very useful. If you are thinking of learning a language, and you are ready for a challenge, try learning Mandarin. China is the manufacturing hub of the world and one of the most important new fashion markets. Having Mandarin on your resume will be a huge asset. (Did you know it is the most widely spoken language in the world? Spanish is in second place. English is third!) I am starting some Mandarin classes soon…it is going to be tough!
3. Get retail experience: Retail is sometimes a dirty word in fashion, but at the end of the day, the fashion industry is about selling clothes, and that happens on the shop floor. When you are studying, try and work a fashion retail job. I know it doesn’t pay as much as waitressing does, but I can guarantee you that out of two candidates going for the same fashion job, the one with retail experience will definitely be chosen over the one without. I know of a very big activewear brand that makes all their staff do half a day a week on the shop floor. That includes designers, buyers, and even the CEO! They value the retail shop floor experience enormously, and so should you. Get a part time job in one of your favorite stores, and you’ll also be eligible for discounts! Another thing to consider is graduate training programs; there are many companies that offer excellent programs for college graduates. I had a friend who started off selling men’s shirts in a big luxury retailer, and through their graduate training program, ended up on their marketing team! Find out what companies offer graduate training programs, get a job in their store, and work your way up from there!
4. Be aware of the options. Many students I meet want to design evening dresses or be a buyer. Are you great at math? Because you need to be if you want to be a buyer! I always ask my students, “How many evening dresses do you own?” Usually the answer is “not many”…but we all have tons of pairs of jeans, t-shirts, and day dresses. Why not design those? Consider your job options — there are so many roles in the fashion industry, you should be open-minded and choose something that will suit your skill set. Think about the brands you love, and have a look at their job listings. What sort of roles are available in that company? Do your research and keep your career options open.
5. Know your stuff: I get really frustrated sometimes when I meet fashion students who don’t know about the major fashion brands and have no idea what’s going on in the industry. I get most of my fashion updates from blogs, which are available to anyone with an internet connection, so these days, there is no excuse not to be in the know about the fashion world. Start reading magazines, websites, and blogs, and make sure you know who’s who in fashion. Here are some of my blog recommendations — I get them into my inbox every day:
Business of Fashion is my bible and should be yours. It is the BEST fashion industry blog.
On the Runway is written by Cathy Horyn, one of the industry’s most respected fashion critics. Make sure you know what she is thinking.
Style Bubble, by Susie Bubble, is a great way to keep up with new designers and interesting brands.
The Cut is New York Magazine’s fashion blog, which features little bits of gossip, fashion news, and celebrity stories. It’s a great way to keep up with fashion stories as they happen.
And my blog, Searching for Style, has coverage of all the major runway shows during the fashion weeks. I do a shortened version for my readers, as well as a lot of commentary on the latest fashion news.
Good luck! Do you have your own tips for making it in fashion? Know of some great fashion blogs we should be reading? Share the love!