7 tips for a fashion career

 24 April 2013

The fashion industry is highly competitive, and it can be hard to succeed without determination and forward-planning.

Build up your skills as much as possible while you look for opportunities. Image: Matt Smith, Royal Opera House
Build up your skills as much as possible while you look for opportunities. Image: Matt Smith, Royal Opera House

When it comes to a career in fashion, whether you are interested in breaking into the high-end market or high street, chances are you will be up against thousands of other applicants who all feel as enthusiastic as you do.

For many people, the enthusiasm soon wanes as the realities of paying the bills come into play. For every jobhunter out there, the nightmare of landing your dream job can seem neverending.

Here are seven pieces of advice for breaking into the fashion industry.

1. Decide what sort of fashion career you want

Knowing where you want to end up keeps you motivated.

Do you want a career with a start-up, or are you aiming for corporate stability at an established fashion brand?

Sometimes it’s about being brave enough to identify what you really want.

Do you prefer to work with your hands, with words, with ideas, or with a computer? Alone or with a team?

Do you want to be rich one day or happy with a bohemian existence? Being aware of what established and emerging fashion roles are out there broadens your understanding of possible futures.

Sometimes it’s about being brave enough to actually identify what you really want.

2. Make realistic plans

It might all sound very straightforward in principle, but it's also important to determine what you don’t want from your career.

Be realistic about paying the rent, too. A lot of advice you will hear about the fashion industry will involve internships as an important staple.

But when an unpaid internship is no longer a feasible option, holding down a real job needs to be part of the planning process of getting your dream job.  

Being realistic might mean getting a part-time job or even a full-time one, even if it's not a fashion-based role, and finding ways to pursuing your fashion career around it. 

3. Apply for fashion jobs in the right way

If you find you need to settle for jobs that pay the bills, set aside dedicated time to attempt to find the jobs you really want on your CV.

Doing this month after month can begin to feel absurd, but don't give in.

Regardless of what industry you are entering, there are useful things you can do to give yourself the best start. This is advice you'll tend to hear from everybody from employment agencies to British glossies to independent fashion bloggers, but it's worth repeating:

  • Personalise your CV and cover letter for each application.
  • When looking for work, find a direct contact to approach wherever possible.
  • Avoid relying on agencies. Do your research.
  • Sell yourself, but don't overdo it – you're starting out, so you want to stay believable. 

4. Spend time practising your fashion skills

Once you have figured out what kind of fashion career you want, make sure you practise your skills whenever you can.

Take practising really seriously. You're building the skills that will define your career. If you want to be a really good fashion designer, you need to be designing as much as possible.

There's a place for every niche aesthetic – fashion can be quirky, complex and dark.

This might involve researching, reading, writing, drawing, sketching, or making things. You need to be actively creative and expressive.

Even if you're working in an environment where you are unhappy, make sure you spend time practising. Do your best to ensure that you are spending time on the skills that will get you towards where you want to be.

Dame Vivienne Westwood once said that the only way you learn anything is by copying. She practised her design skills by repetitively copying historic costumes in order to learn more about their construction and develop her technique.

You can do the same with the work of people you admire until you feel confident enough to do things in your own way.

5. Develop your DIY mentality

Lulu Kennedy, founder of Fashion East and editor at large of LOVE Magazine, says: "Trust your instincts. Seek mentoring from the best in the industry, and surround yourself with hard working individuals."

Mandi Lennard, founder of Mandi’s Basement PR, attests to the importance of a DIY mentality: "You don’t need a fortune to put on a show. Make do with what you have and think creatively.

"Try to balance the business and creative elements of a label. Remember to thank everybody who helps you along the way."

6. Don't be afraid to stand out

The polished images presented by a lot of fashion media paint a picture of fictional glamour and perfection.

However, in London, for example, there are equally as many kinds of fashion that are grounded, quirky, layered, complex and dark.

There is a place for every niche aesthetic. There's a good chance there are other people around who feel just as passionate about something as you, and are willing to buy into it.

7. Remember that you're not alone

Working in the fashion industry is not about chasing a rags-to-riches dream. Many established labels often don’t break even.

Essentially, fashion is all about hard work, along with patience, focused steps towards a goal, and a neverending search for the new.

Fashion is not a rags-to-riches dream. Many established labels often don’t break even.

Perhaps that goal is starting your own business. Gareth Pugh, Simone Rocha and JW Anderson were all self-starters.

Alternatively, maybe you aspire to become part of a heritage brand like Burberry. Or perhaps you dream of pioneering new ways of portraying fashion for future generations, as SHOWstudio and NOWNESS have done.

Either way, only with real perseverance can you make your career in the fashion industry work for you.

Being the brains behind fashion’s next trend or ‘It bag' might not be a possibility right now, but each day provides you with the opportunity to move one step further towards the career you really want.

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