I recently stumbled on this excellent piece by the Uk’s Guardian Newspaper. Its a Q & A with people in the fashion industry on how to make it in the fashion industry, priceless advice for any aspiring fashion designer. I will probably touch on and expand some of the concepts that are mentioned in later post, but here is a quick summary of the best pieces of advice:
- Look for high-demand or high-growth fashion niches
- Sell yourself not just your fashion. You need to be pro-active in your career.
- Create an online profile that showcases your best work
- Be willing to compromise and take what opportunities are available
Andrew Groves is the course director of the BA Fashion Design degree at the University of Westminster. Andrew’s own background in fashion is extensive and has included being head assistant to Alexander McQueen
Think about what types of designers are in demand: There are many areas where there is a need for other kinds of designers. There are so many womenswear designers leaving colleges in the UK yet not as many menswear, sportswear or accessories designers. Also, there is always a demand for really great pattern cutters that also understand the design process.
Knocking on doors can lead to fantastic opportunities: Designers very busy and inundated with people approaching them, but they are far more impressed by people that make the effort. I have had students travel to New York or Milan to personally hand in a self-directed design project and CV to the designer or company that they want to work for. As expensive as that might initially be, it has meant our students have worked for Dior, Chanel, Marc Jacobs and American Vogue. It also means they get to meet the person behind the work, which is vital.
Think about what you’ll bring to internships as well as what they can offer: Are the companies that you want to intern with going to teach you skills that are relevant to your future career goals? What is the mix of the skills that you can bring to their company that are relevant to their needs? Some companies are led by computer-based design, others are all about sampling and craft technique. Try to find the company that you think is the right fit for you, and you are much more likely to be what the company is looking for as well.
Stephanie Finnan is owner of The Fashion Careers Clinic, a careers advice service specifically for fashion, textiles and accessories designers
Don’t be picky about location – you could miss out on excellent opportunities: Graduates looking to work overseas should consider less obvious locations and be very open-minded about where they work for their first role. Don’t be picky. When I was a recruiter, I had some great roles for major clients in Germany – it was a struggle to find people who would go, due to the fact that the design studio was located in a tiny village in the countryside. Those looking for their first design job should put worries about location aside – the brand in Germany paid well, had a great creative director and excellent quality in their production. Don’t miss out on excellent opportunities simply because the location isn’t 100% perfect.
Make sure your CV is on the right desk at the right time: Remember not all graduate design roles will be advertised, as most companies are looking to save money on advertising and recruitment. Therefore, lots of employers will consider utilising their own contacts and direct applications. It’s all about your CV and details being on the right desk (or in an inbox) at the right time. Make a target list of companies you think your style would suit. You should have at least 100 companies on there – many more than you might think – and apply to each one. Always email images of your work alongside your CV.
You never know who might be looking at your online profiles: Make use of fashion and business networking sites such as Linkedin, Fashion United, Fashion Industry Network and so on. Create a profile on each one, as you never know who might be looking. Lots of recruitment agencies and major fashion brands source new talent from these sites. Also, join as many portfolio sites as you can to get your work seen. Good ones are Arts Thread, Coroflot and Style Portfolios. Apply to as many fashion recruitment agencies as you can – there are more than 20 in the UK alone. Not all of them take on graduates, but try them all anyway.
Make an effort to fill in any gaps in your training – it’ll pay off when you are looking for work: When I worked in recruitment I noticed that many clients – especially high street retailers – ask for strong computer-aided design (CAD) skills in either Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign or similar. Assistant designers and interns can make themselves more employable by investing time and effort into training in these skills as soon as possible. Unfortunately, not all colleges and universities have CAD training as an integral part of their courses. If this is the case, graduates should either learn via books, short courses or online learning applications.
Fashion design grads will also be more employable if they can design both garment shapes and also the textile/graphic to go alongside. Employers don’t want to hire two designers – one fashion designer and one textile/graphic designer, if they can get someone who does both.
Talent is not enough – you need to get out there and make sure everybody knows about your skills: It’s often the better designers who are missing out on jobs, simply because they’ve been told how amazing they are by tutors and parents, following success in competitions, awards they’ve won and press following graduation. While there’s clearly nothing wrong with praise for a graduate, it’s dangerous if the said graduate then thinks a job will fall at their feet. I’ve seen many graduates who have had lots of press after their university show and been featured in news articles and photo shoots yet haven’t secured a job in the six months to a year after graduation. Graduates should be aware that they need to be proactive and persistent – talent is not enough. They need to get themselves out there and make sure everyone knows about them. It’s all down to networking – in person and online – developing new contacts and also utilising the contacts you already have.
Ann Guise is a qualified careers adviser who runs a small bridal design business specialising in silk wedding veils. Ann worked for 14 years in the costume departments at BBC Television Centre, London and then in Cardiff. She has also worked as a freelance costume designer and in the fashion retail trade and has been awarded awarded fellowship of the Chartered Society of Designers
Forget 24/7 glamour – fashion can be a very stressful career choice: It is perceived as a glamorous career but that can be far from reality. When I was a costume designer, I stood on a wet hillside at 4am while a scene was being shot for the umpteenth time. I’ve spent days covering dancers’ costumes with diamante. I once needed a costume that had been sent back to Japan for a re-shoot. It arrived with minutes to spare after being biked from Heathrow. It can be very stressful!
Fashion designer Vanessa Knox set up her own brand, Vanessa Knox Limited and is also the co-founder of luxury womenswear brand Isabella Oliver
Don’t be shy about asking for help – we all know we can learn from each other: The first step in creating a successful brand would be knowing that you have a product that is special and knowing who your target audience is. Do your ground work and research like mad; who your customer is and what that customer would pay, who your competitors are and why they would buy this product from you and not a competitor. Be focused and don’t be shy in asking for help from smart clever people who have done it. You would be surprised how many people out there who are more than willing to help new designers and entrepreneurs and this expert advice is extremely valuable. In my experience, it is how it works as we all know that we can learn from each other.
Katarina Rimarcikova has worked for high-end fashion labels such as Alexander McQueen and Gucci alongside freelance collaborations with various labels and designers. Katarina set up her own label in 2006
Start making contacts early to increase your chances of landing a good job after graduating: These days it is almost impossible to get a high-end design position after graduating. There are so many fashion students graduating each year and there are only so many jobs. However, starting internships early during your studies can help you establish good relationships and connections and can lead to job proposals.