In July 2002, I headed out to Los Angeles from Wisconsin with plans of a fashion career. I arrived with my two suitcases in downtown L.A. at my new apartment having never visited L.A. before in my life.
Ten years and 6 jobs and 2 clothing boutiques later, I’ve accumulated my fair share of knowledge in the fashion industry.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned…
1) Fashion School is full of idiots.
There, I said it.
Ok, so obviously not everyone in fashion school is an idiot. But, what I did learn is that there tends to be a lot of folks in fashion school that only like the idea of being in the fashion industry. They are not interested in investing the actual work that goes along with it. Usually these are the people that end up not working in the fashion industry all together. I would suggest identifying the ones in your classes that are taking school seriously and keep in contact with them throughout your school experience. These will ultimately be your co-workers once you enter the job market and prove to be valuable contacts in the long run. I can’t tell you how many jobs I have been offered from people that are working in the industry that I knew from school. Networking starts your first day of class! So, show up and perform at your best!
2) Internships are key to landing your first job.
Without a doubt, finding an internship before you graduate will be imperative to finding work after graduation. Your internship may even lead to a full-time position! You can find internships through your counselor at school or online postings from your school website. If you have a particular company that you would like to intern for, contact them directly and see if they have any internships available. This works especially well with smaller companies or designers that are just starting out. They are looking for the extra help and what you can learn from them is often priceless.
3) Experience, experience, experience.
Experience will most likely get you further than your degree. My first job was mainly from my internship work I did while in school. I was able to build a great portfolio at my internship and was one step ahead of those who didn’t intern. There were times that I accepted certain positions because I knew that I would be gaining invaluable experience and knowledge in that position even if it wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. Don’t be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone!
4) Be ready to wear more than one hat in your new position. (More like 132 different hats.)
I would say nine out of ten jobs you take in the fashion industry you will be doing significantly more than what is first described to you in your interview. You have to be ready and willing to pick up the slack wherever it is needed. You may have been hired as a Technical Designer, but you may also be required to help check the patterns, adjust the grading, run to the wash house and pick up samples… the list goes on and on. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, its just adding to your experience. 🙂
5) The fashion industry is not glamorous.
I know everyone would love to believe that we work in fabulous buildings with fabulous interiors and dress up every day like we’re ready to walk the runway. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. The fashion industry isn’t as glamorous as it is made out to be on television. Usually the buildings and areas (especially in Los Angeles) are less than desirable and most employees choose comfort over fashion in the work place. You definitely don’t want to be caught in 5 inch heels having to run around all day to the sewers, patternmakers, etc. Unless you have an important meeting that day, it is easier to get around in flats, jeans, and a tank.
6) It is easier than you think to start your own business.
Working as a Technical Designer for most of my career in the fashion industry, I have met countless numbers of people that want to start their own business. After opening two clothing boutiques, I found that while its a lot of work, it is definitely attainable for anyone. You just have to start somewhere. Once you finish the first step, it leads you to the second step and then the third step. The idea is to be persistent and keep moving forward until you have reached your goal!
7) Great perks.
Ahhh yes… the perks. Some of the best things about working in the fashion industry are these type of benefits. More often than not you get a great discount on the clothes your company produces. This discount can be anywhere from 35%-75% off retail. You will probably also end up with many free samples to add to your closet. I myself have upwards of 75 pairs of jeans from working at a denim company! (Yes, I know that is completely a ridiculous amount of jeans for any one person to have.) You may also find yourself invited to fashion shows and special events or parties sponsored by your company. This all makes the hard work and often long hours worth it!
8 ) Recruiters are the way to go.
Recruiters will help you find a job. Plain and simple. They’re rooting for you and will find jobs fitting your experience, guide you through the interview process and negotiate a salary and benefits on your behalf. My recruiters have helped me immensely when I’m job hunting. Here are a few fashion recruiting companies to get you started:
9) Expect to be laid off at some point in your career.
The fashion industry is a very unstable industry to work in. One day something’s hot, the next its not. So, don’t take it personally or get too upset if you get laid off. There’s always another job with a company that has the next hottest item. It is not uncommon to work for a dozen different companies in your career.
10) There will be opportunities to travel.
Whether you are a designer, a boutique owner, or in quality control there may be opportunities for travel. You may have to go to China or Mexico and check on production or speed the design process along to make sure deliveries are met. If you own a boutique you’ll want to travel to Vegas for the Magic Show or New York during market week to buy the latest styles for your store. So, if travel is your thing, there are many opportunities to be found in fashion!
As always if you have any questions or need any advice that I didn’t answer, leave a comment! I’m here to help!