It’s Paris Fashion Week! All the haute couture has use thinking: Fashion is one of the most desirable and highly competitive industries to break into. If you’ve got a burning ambition to work as a designer, stylist or fashion journalist, here’s what’s involved and how to stand out from the crowd.
Design and production
High street fashion stores are by far the biggest employer in the sector and most people make a name for themselves by working in a particular area, such as footwear, men’s wear or sportswear.
Designers working for major fashion stores spend time analysing emerging seasonal, catwalk and celebrity trends – as well as producing patterns, toiles and technical specifications using CAD (computer-aided design). While larger companies have pattern cutters and machinists to prepare sample garments, designers working in smaller companies may do this themselves.
Whether working in high street fashion, ready-to-wear collections or haute couture, designers are almost always expected to have gained a qualification in design or dressmaking.
Many academic institutions offer fashion-related qualifications, at levels ranging from BTEC to postgraduate. The most prestigious is the Central St Martins College of Arts and Design in London, which has produced some of the world’s top designers and runs postgraduate courses with an emphasis on professionalism and commercial awareness.
Fashion retailing makes a major contribution to the UK economy, from the smallest eBay trader to high street giants like Selfridges and H&M. If you’re interested in working as a buyer, you may be able to gain on-the-job experience within a management scheme.
Laura, a trainee buyer for NEXT, began by work shadowing at two major high street fashion retailers’ head offices, including NEXT.
She told career site Prospects: ‘Both placements were a fantastic opportunity to increase my knowledge of the sector. Having completed four weeks’ shadowing at NEXT I was encouraged to apply for their graduate programme and was delighted when, after attending the assessment centre, I was offered a position as a trainee buyer.’
Her advice to anyone thinking about a similar career is to gain as much experience as you can within the retail industry. ‘Research thoroughly the organisations you are applying for – commercial awareness is so important.
‘Also, don’t be afraid to go that extra step. When I was preparing for my interview at NEXT, I spent time in their stores speaking with customers so I could understand what was important to them.’
Being a professional stylist is a dream job for many but the reality of hard work and long hours can be at odds with the glamorous ideal that many might have. It’s also not a career choice with a clear path of entry – but rather one that depends on initiative and dedication.
Cosmopolitan’s Fashion Editor Sairey Stemp explains: ‘Fashion, and certainly styling, is not something you can study readily. It is a practical skill that must be learnt. You essentially ‘learn on the job’ and find your feet that way. Work experience and assisting other stylists or fashion editors is absolutely essential. This is where you can gain valuable knowledge and experience which you cannot get in a classroom.’
And Sairey warned that stylists can expect long hours, low wages and to lose their weekends.
‘There is a lot of physical work involved, carrying bags, packing, unpacking, being super organised as to where items have come from and go back to,’ she adds.
A generation of Sex And The City fans grew up wanting to be fashion writers, but while running your own blog can be rewarding and an excellent tool for networking and self-promotion, it’s no substitute for formal journalistic training.
The National Council for the Training of Journalists in the best-recognised body journalism courses in the UK, and offers both degrees and postgraduate qualifications. Its magazine journalism courses – offered at a number of locations – would make a solid foundation for a career in fashion journalism.
But in the ultra-competitive fashion world successful job candidates might have to build on that foundation with work experience, internships, personal blogs and demonstrable passion for, and knowledge of, their chosen subject.
Cosmo’s Sairey Stemp has some excellent advice that applies equally to budding journalists and stylists: ‘You have to build up an arsenal of contacts, be communicative, reliable and responsive at all times. In this industry it is about fulfilling a brief, the guidelines can often change so you have to think on your feet and be adaptable, not set in your ways.’
Should you work for free?
As with many competitive industries, work experience and internships are a key “way in” for many young people hoping to break into fashion. While internships can offer invaluable experience and connections, make sure you don’t blindly leap into working for free. Be clear about what your role will involve and what exactly you can expect to get in return for your free (or cheap) labour – and make the most of the opportunity by networking as much as possible while you’re there.
Other roles in fashion
Because fashion is a business, like any other, there are plenty of opportunities to work in specialist roles – especially if you have transferrable skills or qualifications from sectors such as accountancy, human resources, communications or the legal world.
Stephanie Phair, MD of online fashion retailer The Outnet recently told Glamour magazine: ‘There are a lot of non-designer jobs in fashion: tech jobs, like web developers, and graphic design jobs. Look at your talents, and there’s probably a fashion job for them.’