If fashion is in your blood-which is no doubt the case if you’re reading this magazine!-there are a variety of options in the field for you to pursue. Succeeding in the business of fashion requires not only a foundation in education, but also a persistent attitude, a wealth of self-marketing and a willingness to work from the ground up. Follow our insider steps and you’ll be on your way to the career you’ve always dreamed of!
The vocation that immediately comes to mind when one thinks about the fashion world is designer. But becoming the next Stella McCartney takes an incredible amount of talent, perseverance and pure luck; it also helps to have a famous relative. You can start by honing those drawing skills. Going to design school is the best first step-you’ll learn to sketch, make patterns, design textiles, source fabrics and sew garments to produce an entire collection. There are a number of fantastic colleges in the United States where one can master it all (see “Top U.S. Schools for Fashion Studies” box), and besides instilling all that knowledge into your brain, the prestige of a good school on a resume can help you get a foot in the door following graduation.
An internship during or after design school is a must. It will give you the experience of being in the workplace and the accountability of being part of a design house, as well as contribute one of the most important facets of the industry-a network of people who can help you on your way. Like many businesses, it’s all about who you know, so start building those relationships as soon as you can! Securing that first position right out of school can be tough, so make sure you build an incredible portfolio that allows you to stand out from the crowd. Then use your newly formed contacts and sell yourself! Make a pop-up portfolio, a video resume of your senior-year fashion show or show up to the interview in your own designs. It’s up to you to elevate yourself above your peers, so use the creativity that brought you to fashion in the first place. Entry-level design positions such as pattern maker, sketcher and sample maker are available at companies of all sizes and will be the platform on which to build your career. You can find listings for job openings at websites like stylecareers.com and green-sheet.com, and some big corporations are now posting legitimate ads on craigslist.org for job openings.
Once you’ve moved up a couple rungs on the ladder at your workplace and feel you fully comprehend the design process from conceptualization to production, it may be time to strike out on your own! Hopefully you’ve established your name well enough among your colleagues and saved up enough cash for a startup. You may need some additional financing in the form of investors, but make sure that these are people you know well and can trust with your financial well-being. Acquire an LLC (limited liability corporation), make your samples, source a manufacturer and, finally, rent a showroom space. There are many multivendor showrooms in big cities like Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Texas and Atlanta. Working at the showrooms are wholesale account executives who will know your brand inside and out, and will be able sell it to buyers they have relationships with from department and specialty stores. This is crucial in getting your line into actual stores, otherwise you’ll be just be a website or boutique lacking purveyors who have the power of distribution to a much wider network!
New designers also need to understand the power of celebrity. Gifting the latest pop singer or reality starlet a few key items from your line costs relatively little, but the effect of a couple photos of your clothing in the tabloids is priceless publicity. Remember when Jessica Simpson wore Rachel Pally jersey dresses on The Newlyweds, Sarah Jessica Parker rocked terry cloth Juicy Couture dresses on Sex and the City and Ashton Kutcher sported Von Dutch hats constantly on Punked? Okay, I’ll admit I’m stuck on TV from a decade ago. But seriously, unless you have a personal relationship with a celeb (or that relative connection we were talking about earlier), hiring a publicist to help get the word out about your amazing designs is a good idea.
So now you know how to become an internationally famous fashion designer. But maybe designing is just not your forte. No worries-there are plenty of other jobs to pursue in fashion! Maybe you already have a bachelor’s degree, but it’s in something more traditional like English, psychology or business. That’s not a problem, as these degrees are universally applicable to the apparel industry.
If you have an eye for color and balance and a head full of creative ideas-and you don’t have an adverse reaction to a little manual labor-visual merchandising could be what you’re looking for. This field involves conceptualizing displays, dressing mannequins, folding down table items and creating color stories within the collection. Every department store, fast-fashion chain and even some larger boutiques employ some sort of visual or merchandising team to get their new merchandise to the floor in an innovative way. To land one of these positions, try to get an internship with a designer or store that has a visual merchandising program. You’ll get your hands dirty and rack up some pictures of your work to show at an interview for a paying gig down the road.
For someone who is naturally numbers-oriented and can recognize trends in a market, buying or planning could be the perfect way to carve out a niche in the fashion world. Most department stores have a buying program that candidates can enter right out of college. Here, they’ll teach the group all facets of the business and evaluate what area you’d be best suited for within their company. There’s a definite corporate ladder in this market; for example, you would start as an assistant buyer, then become an associate buyer, then a buyer and finally a senior buyer.
And then there are some people who are simply social beings. They develop relationships with everyone they meet and are social butterflies around town. A real “people person” who also possesses apparel knowledge would make a great fashion publicist. Brands are constantly seeking universal appeal and name recognition, but don’t always know how to achieve the status they desire. If you think you can get that vendor’s name out there and help distribute their clothing to the masses effectively, try seeking internship opportunities while still in college. These jobs are popular with the young set and fill up fast, so start early to get a leg up on the competition! After you land that first internship, it’s all about connections. Find out if your mom’s friend’s sister who works in fashion knows someone who can get you an interview-that’s networking! Who you know will help get you to where you want to go.
Finally, there’s fashion journalism. What could be more gratifying than writing about your favorite subject? Hone your writing skills, find your niche in the field and develop a voice that makes you unique. Then get out there and send your writing samples to anyone and everyone! Hopefully, you’ll at least get some constructive feedback as to how to improve your technique, and in the best-case scenario, you’ll get some freelance or salaried writing opportunities.
Whether you’ve dreamed your whole life of having your own clothing line, or you soak up fashion news daily like a sponge and want to delve into the apparel world in any way possible, you can find a perfect career for yourself in the clothing industry. Besides the opportunities previously mentioned, there’s also wholesale, production, retail management and countless other positions. If you approach your job hunt using the right tools, put in some humble entry-level hard work and take advantage of your personal resources, the right job will eventually come your way. Just look at Rachel Zoe-you know you’ll be watching her when she’s back on Bravo this fall!
Top U.S. Schools for Fashion Studies
Drexel University (Philadelphia)
Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (Los Angeles)
Fashion Institute of Technology (New York City)
Rhode Island School of Design (Providence)
Parsons (New York City)
Sam Fox School of Design (St. Louis)