Want to work in the fashion industry? Here’s what you need to know…

The fashion industry is notorious for being a ruthless, demanding, cut-throat industry to work in. For the most part, those assumptions are true. But if you relish the idea of a challenge and having an exciting and varied career, then working in fashion may be for you.

For all the perks of being in the industry – and there are many – there a numerous drawbacks as well – as with every industry. The biggest eye opener (drawback) for me has been learning how hard it is to actually break in. It’s an industry which respects experience as much as talent and capability. Those who lack in one area or other will struggle – that is a fact. That there are so many girls out who want to do it doesn’t help. But that’s okay. If it’s what you really want, once you get your foot in the door, it’s magic. You can wait. Take the time to explore as many opportunities as possible and just be open toward whatever comes your way. Be happy that you are where you are in your life and know that you are not your job, as much as it may serve as a socio-cultural mechanism that defines you.

Here are a few things I’ve learnt over the past 2 years:

1. Not everyone who wants to work – in fashion but also in other industries – will get to do their dream job at the beginning. And that’s okay.
Whether that be as a stylist, make-up artist, photographer, writer – the dream job is clearly different for different people. But how do we know what our dream job is if we’ve never had it before? By knowing what it’s like, of course. It’s important to start somewhere where there’s room for you to make a good impact and for you to give some of your skills a brush up. Remember that your situation will not last forever, even though it may seem that way, and that it does not define who you are as a person deep down. It could be that you are working in PR when you are trying to get into journalism and writing. Or, it could be that you are an intern and wish to be an editorial assistant. And that’s okay because everyone is working toward something and if you are trying, that’s good enough. This may sound like contradictory advice but at the same time, be open to opportunities and try to think laterally about where you want to go – I’ve heard this piece of advice from people who’ve been there and who truly know. You can always work your way in sideways. Think clearly about which area you would like to go into but at the same time, do not feel as if you have to stick to that one thing as you never know where certain opportunities will take you. In short, you never know. And maybe that’s more exciting than knowing all the time. It is so important to be passionate and being passionate about fashion is great but limiting yourself because you think you are sure is not. Thinking about the big pictures is important. The fact of there being so many areas within the industry one could go into does not mean that there are many jobs out there and sometimes, it’s good to get started somewhere else first before moving into the industry as you never know what will happen to you in your time elsewhere.

2. It’s okay to lower your expectations and go with the flow. An opportunity is an opportunity. It’s your attitude that counts.
You are still in charge of your situation. Why worry? If you do not get that coveted job or work for the company you so admire, do not despair because where you are now is not where you will be in 10 year’s time. And essentially, it doesn’t really matter. What matters is that you have taken the right steps toward forging a career and that those little steps will take you somewhere eventually, and it won’t be where you expected to be a lot of the time. And that’s okay because life is meant to be full of surprises. Remember, you may not get what you want, but you always have a choice. It’s not really about your salary or the prestige of the company you work for, but the overall experience of the job that you are doing and where that will take you. Start somewhere and get stuck in before you turn your nose up on something just because it was not what you wanted or expected to get.

3. Sticking to what you love means everything else will follow – in good time.
I’ve often made decisions based on how easily achievable I felt something to be, which means that at times, if something would take a lot of time or effort, I would not bother. It’s good to get experience doing a variety of things within the industry if you’re not sure what it is that you are passionate about. For example, I’ve discovered that my true, no.1 passion is writing, not the fashion industry itself. And once I had made that discovery, it  meant that I could work for so many other companies. So if you know what you want to do already, then that’s great, but don’t feel like you have to limit yourself by sticking to only what you know. Get out of your comfort zone and start writing about as many subjects that interest you as possible. Even though most established editors or people who have advanced in their careers tend to stick to one area or expertise, write about what interests you to gain experience writing about these topics; write about what you’re passionate about; write from the heart. I’m still working towards my dream but when I get there, I’ll let you know how it feels. Awesome, I must imagine.

4. Being patient and persevering, and having a sense of discipline are very important – as is hard work.
Nothing satisfies the mind and soul like good old hard work and knowing that you’ve done a good job. Giving yourself a pat on the back is allowed from time to time. You can relax but never forget about your dream, the sense of purpose it has given you and why you want it to happen. Changes happen over time – not overnight. If you are offered a job in something that may or may not be related, sometimes it’s good to take it because you never know what you will end up learning and enjoying if you’ve never done that thing before. If you don’t enjoy something, you can always stop and not have to feel like a failure because you know your own limits and your own value. You are enough. Be confident and be yourself. And trust that strength and voice within which guides you toward making the right decision.

5. Speak to lots of people and get advice, especially from those whom you love, trust and feel a connection with (i.e. co-workers, family & friends)
It’s good to get advice from people with whom you work, your friends and family to help you decide what the next step you should take should be. But remember to listen to yourself and stay true to your feelings and aspirations. I know that I havn’t always had the conviction that I would be able to do what I wanted to do, but taking the smaller steps made me realise that even though I felt like I wasn’t getting somewhere (i.e. no permanent job), I was still gaining something, whether that be experience, contacts, cuttings etc. And I’ve really felt good about knowing that I am someone who I am proud of for making those decisions and taking those steps.

If you want to work in fashion, here are some important points to consider:

– You get to meet amazing new people, but also horrible, weird people

– Have fun and work hard at the same time

– It’s a big industry, but also a tiny one. You never know who knows who.

– It’s not about grades/age/degree subject/university/race. It’s about personality, talent and capability – and of course, experience. You must have the package! Oh, and luck and opportunity are important.

– You will most certainly work for free for some period of time at the beginning of your career.

– Expect to intern/freelance/work for free for at least 2 – 3 years before getting a full-time, permanent position at a reputable (publishing) company. If you’re lucky, you will get away with having to work for free for a lesser amount of time. But a lot of the contracts at publishing houses for fashion assistants – or other editorial assisting positions are  3 month-to-a-year so it’s always a merry-go-round. And that’s how you get to know people and actually be in the industry. Even when you do get paid, it will probably not be much unless you are the CEO/managerial level – or are doing sales which can pay a lot. But salaries vary according to companies and positions. Editorial work is not known to be well-paid but it’s a creative, varied and important role within the industry.

– You get to travel occasionally. Physical exhaustion though is not uncommon.

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