The Devil Wears Manolos: 6 Ways to Get In— and Stay In— the Fashion Industry
It's been two years since I've graduated college with no job in sight. By no means do I know everything, but I've picked up a few things along the way that I believe may be helpful to note if you're interested in a career in fashion.
We All Start From Somewhere. Take the Job.
No city glamorizes an assistant role like New York City. Kate Young, the World's Most Powerful Stylist, was Anna Wintour's assistant before she went on to become a celebrity stylist. As for me, I moved to D.C. after undergrad still in search of a job. I actually only moved to New York in August of 2015 after being offered a job with Rent the Runway that ended up being more customer service based than I'd like to admit. Four months later, my job announced that they were moving to New Jersey and I quit. During my time there, I learned of so much about dresses and brands, which helped me transition into a ready-to-wear brand that was sold by RTR before ultimately ending up in the media space at Vogue. In fashion, nothing is beneath you. The idea of nepotism is also a luxury that many people of color can't afford. So, while it'd be nice to start in positions of power, entry-level roles help you holistically appreciate an industry while giving you the knowledge to sustain your career. As Carrie puts it in Sex and the City, "In New York you're always looking for a job, a boyfriend, or an apartment." You should always keep your eyes peeled for new opportunities, and know what you'd like to get out of a role before you start (this can change along the way). The worst thing is not being prepared when you're ready to leave or when the perfect opportunity presents itself.
The Cover is Just as Important as the Book
There is always something happening in New York City— this is especially true on the days that look like you just rolled out of bed. You always want to present your best self because, as shallow as it may be, your aesthetic makes people want to listen to you. And if you have a good aesthetic, it makes people have to listen to you. Your "best self" could mean a variation of things. For me, a woman on a fixed income (because I fixed it), it's not necessarily about wearing expensive designers. It is, however, about making sure that I am always poised and that I look and feel like I belong in any room. My best performances are given when I feel like I look like a snack. I also accidentally bumped into Anna (literally bumped into her) my second day at Vogue. Great thing I had on nice shoes.
Bosses Don't Get to Positions of Power by Being Practical
Is there a reason my coffee isn't here; has she died or something? Andy faced many challenges: getting the Harry Potter manuscript for the twins, booking Miranda'a flight out of the monsoon, and learning a million names just in time for the gala. My college Residence Director taught me that as Black professionals, many of us want to turn in perfect work and will often stray from handing anything in if it's not our absolute best, where our counterparts are taught to get the job done on time. Deadlines are more important than perfection. Of course, we don't want to have to compromise either which often means lunch at our desks or longer hours surrounding major projects. Hell, the expectation is only there because many of our bosses did it. They didn't have the whole work-life balance thing going for them, which means we have to learn to work smarter. In fashion specifically, contacts are everything (which is how Andy winds up with the Harry Potter manuscript). Leverage your resources.
Always be a Student of Your Craft
Read whatever your boss is reading. I had the pleasure of being an assistant to the CEO of a brand and I always made sure to flag any articles he was reading as it related to business, design, or events. Most companies have office subscriptions. Use them to your advantage. Business of Fashion and WWD will keep you in the loop about any new advancements in competition, as well as give you a broad scope of the industry. These are also good places to scout new opportunities. The Fashion Law is hilarious and gives insight into the growing career path of its namesake. If your company doesn't have an office subscription, don't fret— follow them on Twitter for any updates.
Allies are Your Most Important Accessory
We all need allies in a cutthroat industry like this one— both as peers and mentors. It is also important to be an ally. Many of my friends are into streetwear and we often lob opportunities and events at one another year round. You will see who is not your friend come Fashion Week and learn that "hey big head" texts come in all shades. Don't be fooled, your mentors are the ones with the real clout and can pen a recommendation letter like no other. I trusted my former boss enough to be transparent about my interview process which worked out great because he was able to help in terms of scheduling and feedback. Of course, this example is atypical but having someone that will vouch for you makes other people want to be in your company.
Likability, as much as I'd hate to admit it, is also a major component of getting and keeping a job. If you're called in for a second interview to meet the team, they already know that you're qualified. They want to see who is the candidate that they will work best with. This is not to say to change who you are. You absolutely want to be yourself so that you can be certain you'd work well with them too. After all, you are interviewing the company as much as they are interviewing you.
Play the Game
This was probably the most sound career advice I'd ever gotten. If you want it, you have got to play the game. You have to think outside the box and sometimes this may mean finding the email address of every single person on a team to send your resume to. It may mean that you've had no relevant work experience but still finding a way to be in the room. It means getting them to look. If you want a job, sometimes you have to put in extra effort to differentiate yourself from the crowd. I always believe in coming in with something for interviewers to look at aside from your resume. If you've done the work before, bring in an example of what you're doing in your current role. If you have no prior experience, bring in a hard example of what you'd do in the role to show you're qualified. Playing the game also means wowing your boss once you're in the position. Be everything you intended to be.