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Breaking into the fashion industry

Sarah Blythe

It’s easy to dismiss fashion as being frivolous, or superfluous, or superficial.

It’s easy to dismiss fashion as being frivolous, or superfluous, or superficial: however, the industry is full of people who work extremely hard because they’re committed to creating art, or empowering customers, or challenging ideas about gender, sexuality, class, and politics.

What is more justifiably said about the fashion industry is that it’s hard to break into, especially now that any aspiring designer can use social media channels to enter the conversation. So if you’re determined, industrious, and committed to a career in fashion, you’d do well to heed the following advice.

Network strategically

It’s an unfair fact of the fashion industry that many roles are filled through personal and professional connections before they’re advertised. The key to knowing when an attractive role might become available, and who you’ll need to impress for it, is networking: the process whereby you meet people in the industry and get ‘a feel’ for what’s going on. Networking is also a great way to expose yourself to new ideas, meet potential creative partners, and, importantly, show that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about the industry.

Seek out work experience opportunities

This might seem like unwelcome advice to anybody who’s watched The Devil Wears Prada, or who knows just how competitive some fashion internships can be. Fortunately, the chances are quite slim that you’ll be working for Miranda Priestly, and the competitiveness is unavoidable.

Internships provide an incomparable glimpse at the inner workings of the fashion industry, and also look great on your CV. So reach out early to the companies and individuals who inspire you and see if you can get a foot in the door.

According to a 1999 biography of Tom Ford, the film director and fashion designer, Ford called American designer Cathy Hardwick every day for a month in hopes of securing a job at her sportswear company. Hardwick eventually agreed to interview him. She later recalled the incident: "I had every intention of giving him no hope. I asked him who his favorite European designers were. He said, 'Armani and Chanel.' Months later I asked him why he said that, and he said, 'Because you were wearing something Armani'. Is it any wonder he got the job?

Showcase your work

If you’re aiming to work as a fashion designer, it’s important that you develop and maintain a portfolio so that prospective employers can easily see your work. One popular route is to start a fashion blog, or use Instagram, to share ideas and increase your exposure.

Be proactive at your first job

As reported by Career Girl Daily, many successful members of the fashion industry started their careers by working hard, even when that meant looking for opportunities to excel in early roles. Fashion is a niche industry full of niche roles, and the best way to find one for yourself is to accept new responsibilities, seize upon new opportunities, and see what you’re doing, whatever it is, as a stepping stone to something else.

Cut the cliches when applying for jobs

According to a Guardian interview of several fashion recruiters, one thing that they find particularly vexing is the tendency of aspiring fashion professionals to reach for cliches in their job applications. “Fashion is my life” might be true, but what’s the evidence—write about that.

Join the conversation

The influential late designer Alexander McQueen was famous not only for his striking designs and compelling fashion shows, but also for his extensive knowledge of Savile Row tailoring and Parisian couture. Similarly, Azzedine Alaia reportedly began his career as a dressmaker who quickly developed an encyclopaedic knowledge of fashion.

The point isn’t that success in fashion demands that you become a scholar of the industry; rather, if fashion is a conversation between a designer and the public, or between generations or cultures, then the only way to properly participate is to steep yourself in it. So pore over retrospectives by Calvin Klein, Carolina Hererra, Rei Kawakubo, Christian Dior, or whoever else strikes your fancy. It will never be a bad thing to know more about the chief contributions of those who have succeeded in your industry of choice.