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Fashion your future: top 10 tips for getting a career in fashion

fashion graduate

Fashion may be your lifeblood, but how do you make a living from the passion in your veins?

That’s what I aimed to find out at Fashion your Future, a free Bath in Fashion event last weekend.

Fashion your future panel at Bath in Fashion

Fashion your Future was hosted by Louise Pickles, Head of Fashion at Bath Spa University and Creative Director of Bath in Fashion, with a panel comprising fashion professionals from a variety of roles in the industry from design to fashion writing. The experts were:

  • Seren Colley, Menswear Design, Tom Ford
  • Emma Askew-Miller, Senior Lecturer in Pattern Cutting, Bath Spa University
  • Marie Baluti, Product Developer Knitwear, Ben Sherman
  • Meera Stannard, Assistant Buyer, Liberty
  • Naomi Smart, Fashion Features Assistant, Vogue
  • Chloe Jones, Bath Spa University Graduate and winner of the Gold Award at Graduate Fashion Week 2012

Informative and perhaps a reality check, the discussion gave me a greater insight into the processes and job roles involved.  I was surprised at the limited amount of time allocated for pure design – although, Seren Colley from Tom Ford, travels to get inspiration for the collections, she only has three weeks to transform her concepts into garment designs, with the rest of the time more about refining and product development.

So, do you want a dream job in fashion? I’ve tried to distil the panel discussion into top 10 tips.

1. Passion

With the fast-pace of the industry, long hours, and hundreds of competitors ready to knock you off your stilettos, you really need to be sustained by fashion.

2. Teamwork

As with many cultural industries, the myth of the sole artist or star designer may be overplayed. The panel illustrated the need for teamwork in the ‘fashion family’, for instance the collaboration between the designer and pattern cutter. Divas need not apply.

3. Internship

From listening to the panel, it sounds as if an internship is an essential step in securing a fashion industry post. Louise Pickles admitted that it may not be right, but often working for free was expected. Unpaid internships certainly can exclude those who are economically disadvantaged, and in the current competitive job market, this trend will surely grow unless there is legislation or incentives to pay interns. Of course, this is not just in fashion but in a variety of sectors, particularly the arts. In fashion, it also seems to be the catch-22 of agencies not working for you until you have some experience…

4. Be a sponge

… but all this means you need to maximise any opportunities work experience or un/paid internships bring. Each member of the panel reiterated this, and urged soaking up all you can like a sponge. Pattern cutting expert, Emma Askew-Miller challenged everyone to learn something new every day.

5. Connections

It’s a cliché, but the connections you make are vital for your career, and from your first placement or job onward you should be building relationships which can help you in the future. Pretty much everyone had got a job from knowing a man or woman who knows a man or woman…

6. Don’t be defined by your role

Even if you are looking to get into a particular function or area, don’t be too confined by this and take opportunities when they arise. Seren, although trained in menswear, took a first position in women’s fashion, whilst Naomi too tested out different skills at Vogue. For Chloe, a recent graduate, she found that each of her internships had been completely different, helping her gather skills in different parts of the industry from mass-market to higher-end.

7. Expand your skillset

Whether budgeting or desk top publishing and CAD, it is important to develop other skills to improve your chances. For Meera in a buying role, she felt that keeping abreast with digital was vital, and also for fashion writing with Naomi noting that Vogue iPad sales were doubling month by month.

8. Get creative with your CV

This is not a euphemism for lying, but rather to get creative with how you deliver your resumé. Louise Pickles mentioned that Matthew Williamson had sent out his scarves as a calling card, which got him noticed. Seren Colley also suggested going old school and printing and snail-mailing CVs, which could actually be more effective than trying to sneak into someone’s cluttered inbox. In fact, it may even be advantageous to head to the company that you’re interested in working for.

9. Grasp your chance

After sending out hundreds of letters and emails with little response, you also need persistence to keep going. But when you get that chance of a face-to-face interview you need to make it count. Marie Baluti’s story was inspiring, as without a background in fashion, she got an opportunity at Celine – knowing it was her best shot, she was honest saying that she would work hard to learn everything with them. Meera from Liberty mentioned their three-minute Best of British Open Call where every second counts to pitch your designs.

10. It’s only fashion…

When asked what was the best piece of advice she’d ever received, I loved Marie Baluti’s comment that “It’s only fashion, you’re not saving lives”. She said that at times she has even cried when things have gone awry at work, but this quote helps her get perspective.

The panel at Fashion your Future answered the audience's questions afterwards

I was particularly impressed with the way in which the panel took time to answer audience questions after the event in the Komedia cafe, and I’m sure those wanting to get their foot in fashion’s door, or strengthen their emerging career, left the event with renewed determination. I met designer Jan Knibbs at the event, who had studied her MA at Bath Spa. She told me:

“I found the forum really useful and it gave me much more of an insight into how a fashion house is run. It also made me realise that as a designer with my own small label I am trying to fulfil all the different roles (designing, product developing, pattern cutting, making, marketing and PR) myself so it’s no wonder that it’s so difficult, especially when you’re not based in London. It was great to speak to Naomi Smart from Vogue, and I’m going to send her a piece of my statement jewellery which hopefully she will use in a shoot.”

From a careers seminar to Vogue, that certainly would be nice work! You can find more fashion careers tips on the Guardian website. Would you still like a career in fashion? Do you have any additional advice for people wanting to get into the fashion industry?  I’d love to hear your tips and experiences.

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