My Volunteer Experience at New York Fashion Week

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Last Saturday, I got a chance to work backstage at the NYFW runway show of FlyingSolo, an independent fashion designer showroom based in Soho. If you’re curious about how to volunteer at Fashion Week, I wrote an entire blog post about that along with other ways to attend NYFW without an invite.

This was my first time volunteering at Fashion Week so I thought it might helpful to talk about my experience and also provide some helpful advice for anyone who’s interested in working behind-the-scenes but isn’t quite sure what to expect.

While I didn’t work one of the major designer shows and I only worked one singular event, from what I heard, the experience is pretty similar across the board – depending on your role. I was a dresser for the runway models. Here are my takeaways from the experience:

1. Don’t worry if you’ve never worked a runway show before. There will likely be a training.

I was asked to attend one of two trainings a couple days before the FlyingSolo show – held at the FlyingSolo showroom itself. The training was pretty straightforward and detailed – they went over the the logistics of the event, our dress code, what our responsibilities as dressers would entail, the do’s and don’ts we had to be aware of as workers, how to work with our models and who to reach out the day of the event should we have any issues.

Generally, if you are a dresser, you will be assigned a model the day-of along with a rack of “looks” that the model will wear and walk down the runway with. Your responsibility is to get these looks on and off the model in one piece and as quickly as possible. There will likely be a photo attached to the rack representing each look, so that you know what each outfit is meant to look like.

I will say that while it is not mandatory for you to have runway show experience to volunteer, it helps to have some styling/retail/event-planning experience in general. The first two will help you to understand how to work with the garments and understand how to dress the model in the most efficient way that won’t ruin the clothes. It will also come in handy should there be any last-minute clothing mishaps, like a loose thread or worse, a rip. Having event experience will just be useful in preparing you for the crazy adrenaline rush that is the day of the event.

Which bring me to my next point…

2. The day of the event, it is absolute chaos backstage.

When you’re watching as an attendee of a Fashion Week show, the entire production can seem very effortless and streamlined. After all, the actual time that models spend walking up and down the runway is super short – normally less than a minute! But behind the curtain is an epic madhouse of makeup artists, hairdressers, models, photographers, dressers, stagehands, and sound engineers all crammed into one small space.

When I first walked into the backstage area for FlyingSolo, there were hair dryers blasting, models walking in late, makeup brushes flying across cheekbones, dressers unbagging looks from garment bags – in one hour, I experienced more stimulation than I had in an entire year. There are always last-minute changes or tweaks being made to outfits or hair or makeup – a heel might break that needs to be glued back on, a model might mess up her hair putting on a garment and need a re-style, the back to an earring might get lost.

It really speaks to the dedication and the teamwork of the workers (usually absolute strangers) all working together – up until the minute the model walks onto the runway – to make sure the designers’ work looks flawless. As they say in fashion, it takes a lot of effort to be effortless.

3. Being a volunteer is not glamorous.

Do not expect to roll up to volunteer at Fashion Week in your finest designer garb. In fact, you’ll most likely be asked to show up in an all-black outfit that you can sweat in – so black jeans or leggings, black T-shirt, and sneakers. For us, we were also asked to not wear makeup or jewelry either because they were fearful it may rub off or snag on a garment.
The entire experience can be quite physically taxing. Depending on the show, you may be showing up as early as 6AM and leaving as late as 11PM. Before the show, you can be unzipping and racking garments, demo-ing outfits with the models, steaming clothes or running around trying to track down missing models or pieces. While the show is happening, you’ll be zipping and unzipping models in and out of garments at lightening speed.
There’s also a lot of standing and waiting around which may not sound that physically difficult but honestly takes a lot out of you after 8-10 hours.
While some shows will offer light refreshments to volunteers, you can’t always bank on it. I would definitely suggest bringing anything that could help you maintain energy and make your life easier – bottled water, snacks, a caffeinated beverage, your vitamins, hair ties, your essential oil kit (okay, I’m half kidding on that one). Bottom line is you are responsible for taking care of you during Fashion Week so don’t get caught starving or dehydrated when you need to be on your A-game.

4. Your priority is your job, not your followers.

When you’re surrounded by models and industry professionals and maybe even the rare celebrity, it can be extremely tempting to pull out your phone and start recording.
Do not, I repeat DO NOT, do this. Put the phone away. In fact, you will likely be asked by the brand to keep your phone in your bag. If you do pull out your phone, don’t be surprised if an event organizer or security personnel asks you to put it away.
Beyond the fact that it takes away some of the magic of the show if you’re posting backstage footage left and right, it’s also highly unprofessional and might cause you to make a mistake in your role. During the show, we literally had three minutes in between each look to get the model outfitted and ready – and that included the time that she walked down the runway and back. The timing was super quick – BAM BAM BAM – and if I was too preoccupied with taking selfies, I might have forgotten a piece or been careless with the garments and ruined them.

5. It is a great way to meet people.

You really do bond with the other volunteers backstage. You will walk into the experience complete strangers and walk out with the camaraderie of war buddies. There will definitely be a few moments when you might be finished with dressing your model but your fellow volunteer isn’t and may need a hand. There was moment during the FlyingSolo show where I needed to put these incredibly elaborate candelabra earrings on my model and….get this, I don’t have pierced ears. I had idea how to do it. Another volunteer kindly helped me.
For me, it was incredibly inspiring and uplifting to be around so many like-minded people who were just as passionate about fashion as I was.
And while your number one priority is to do your job, there will also be opportunities to network and make conversation with the people around you. If there’s down time and there are no tasks to be done, feel free to strike up a conversation with the models, the other workers, the event organizers, and ask them about themselves. After the show, it is usually a big celebration and there is a collective sigh of relief as everyone celebrates the completion of an epic event. Use this opportunity to talk to the designers about their labels. Ask for their emails – the worst they can say is no.
At the end of the FlyingSolo show, I left several hours of sleep poorer but a few emails and Instagram handles richer. And while none of them may turn into a job opportunity, you never know when having a contact may come in handy.

6. At the end of the day, it’s a great learning experience.

I always say that everything is either a good idea or good learning experience. Even if you leave your volunteer shift thinking, “that was cool but I never want to do that again”, it is still an incredibly valuable asset to know how to work behind-the-scenes at a runway show. Especially if you’re going to working on lots of editorial shoots.
It also shows to future employers that you’re serious about the industry and also communicates a level of organization, dedication and open-mindedness.
I would recommend that anyone who is serious about working in fashion to do it at least once in their lives. All it takes is one day of work to gain a resume-builder that will pay off for years.

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What about you? Have you ever volunteered for Fashion Week? Comment below and share your experience!

So You Want to Work in Fashion? How to Get Started

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Stepping foot into the fashion industry can seem like an overwhelming and daunting task. Despite rising visibility into the world of fashion due to social media, the path to fashion still seems rather elusive and is full of myths. When I first started working in the industry, a lot of people would ask me questions like “Is it like the Devil Wears Prada? Do you just run around picking up coffee and scarves all day?”, or “Are you like Rachel Green now? Do you run into Ralph Lauren in the elevator?”  Which isn’t their fault at all – for most people, the only exposure they have to actually working in fashion are movies or influencer Instagram accounts. It still boggles my mind how little concrete information there is online on how to actually land a real job in fashion. In a way, I think it’s because the industry is partially fueled by the illusion of glamour – that the world of fashion is a luxurious and exclusive haven where only the elite can play. Only people that truly work in the industry know that most of it is not like that at all. 

Which brings me to my first point if you want to start working in the fashion industry…

1. Make sure it’s what you really truly want.

Okay, I know it’s annoying when you’re already fired up about working in fashion and reading a damn fashion career blog for me to suddenly stop you and go, “whoa, whoa, slow down a second, do you actually want to work in fashion?” But believe me when I say that it’s important to understand what you’re getting into before stepping into the void of an entirely new career path, especially with an industry like fashion.

A lot people fall in love with the idea of working in fashion, attracted to the fantasy of sitting front-row at Fashion Week or rubbing elbows with elite designers and models. Let me tell you, right here right now, that the majority of the fashion industry is not glamorous. It is long hours, low pay (initially), lots of competition, high pressure, hard-and-fast deadlines and absolutely zero hand-holding. Most people never make it to Fashion Week and if you want to make a name for yourself and get to that elite front-row, you’re going to have to work your ass off and go above and beyond to stick out. Favors and hand-outs are few and far in between in fashion. That’s because the majority of industry professionals are self-made, meaning they had to pull themselves up through the industry with hard work and perseverance, so they expect to see the same from newcomers.

Did I scare you off yet? None of this is meant to take the wind out of your sails. It’s meant to make you understand that to last in fashion, you truly have to love the work and the industry. If you’re going in to party with socialites and be photographed by street style photographers, you may get slapped with a harsh reality check. But if you read that little passage and you’re still fired up about working in the industry, then congratulations, you’re ready to get started.

2. Understand what your options are. 

The next thing you’re going to have to figure out is what kind of job you want to get in the industry. Oh great, easy right? *cue panic attack*

There is an endless amount of possibilities in terms of what jobs you can have. A role could also be very different depending on where you work – whether it be a large luxury retailer or a small direct-to-consumer brand. You could work in fashion design and actually design garments, you could be a fashion stylist and help style celebrities or models on photoshoots, you could be a buyer, a merchandiser, you could work in production planning or supply chain management, you could manage social media or marketing strategy for brands, you could work in fashion PR and put on influencer events, or maybe you want to be a manager of a retail store or your own boutique. And that’s just a sampling of the jobs out there. Overwhelmed yet?

If you have no idea what any of these jobs entail, I’ve written a post that dives a little more deeply into each type of role and what kind of work you’d be doing (here).

However, it is extremely important that you do your own research on the different types of roles out there in fashion. Google is your best friend. Before I made the decision to get started in fashion styling, I devoured as many blogs, articles, books and Youtube videos as I could find on fashion styling and what that world entailed. The more knowledge you equip yourself with, the clearer of an idea of what you’ll be getting yourself into and the more confident you’ll feel in taking the next step.

If you’re not even sure what type of role you could see yourself in, do a little reflecting and ask yourself: what kind of work could I see myself doing on a daily basis and genuinely enjoying? Are you someone who enjoys sewing and altering and is obsessed with the actual construction of clothes? Are you someone who loves putting together outfits for your friends and family and loves interacting and meeting new people? Do you enjoy creating catchy Instagram posts and writing about fashion and celebrity style? Do you geek out for math and Excel? You can also think of brands that you love and could see yourself working for. Go onto their careers page and look up the different jobs they have posted. Really read the job descriptions and responsibilities. Do any of them appeal to you?

3. Ask around!

While online research can definitely help you get a feel for what a specific job entails, nothing can beat advice from an actual human being who has worked that job.

When I first decided that I was interested in working in fashion styling, I started reaching out to everyone or anyone that I knew who worked in anything remotely fashion-y and asked them for advice. If someone mentioned that they worked in fashion or had worked in fashion, they were getting asked out to a coffee date. Even if they don’t end up giving you all the information you need, chances are they may know another person who works in the roles you’re interested in and they could put you in contact with them.

I’ve even looked up people on LinkedIn who worked in specific jobs or companies I was interested in and messaged them on LinkedIn – asking if they wouldn’t mind answering some questions or hopping on a quick call. Obviously not everyone answered but a few actually did!

One lesser known tip that I have is to reach out to fashion recruiters as well as people who work in fashion. Recruiters who recruit for fashion roles are actually a good source of information. Whether they are an in-house recruiter for a fashion brand or a recruiter at a fashion recruiting agency, they come across all different kinds of job descriptions and resumes, and they will know not only what responsibilities different jobs entail but also what companies are looking for. I once interviewed for non-fashion role at TheRealReal and, although I didn’t end up taking the job, we actually spent a good portion of our interview talking about the fashion industry itself and how to break into fashion styling. She was super nice and gave me a lot of advice about how to get started and even gave me the contact for a wardrobe stylist that I ended up becoming a fashion assistant to!

Bottom line: don’t be afraid to speak your intentions out into the world and ask around! The more you ask and make your desires known, the more likely someone will have an answer.

4. Figure out how you can fill in the gaps. 

So you’ve done your research and you’ve decided what type of job you want to  have in fashion. Fantastic. Now it’s time to figure out – how do you get from where you are now to that ideal job? What gaps exist and how could you potentially fill them in?

Can you go back to school and get a degree? Do you need some retail experience? Can you become an assistant to someone who is already working in the field? Do you need some type of professional portfolio or website?

Obviously this will depend on the type role that you are interested in. If you want to become a personal or editorial stylist, it helps to get experience assisting an already established stylist. If you want to be a designer, going to design school is almost crucial. If you want to become a retail manager or store owner, it helps to start off as a sales associate so you can really understand the inner workings of how to run a store (although I would argue that some retail experience is useful in any role). Almost all roles in fashion, from merchandising to social media to editorial, are best entered through an internship.

It’s also important to figure out what specific types of software your desired role requires you to learn. The majority of fashion jobs incorporate technology of some sort now – fashion designers need to work with vectors in Illustrator, merchandisers and buyers are pros at Excel, editors need to understand Photoshop, and if you’re trying to work in social media, you better be caught up on ALL the apps.

The way that you choose to “fill in the gaps” will very much depend on your current job, your lifestyle and, of course, your economic situation. But being aware of your areas of improvement can help you hone on the right path to that ideal job.

5. Get your feet wet!

This is probably the most obvious piece of advice I can give you but it is honestly the most important. You can do your research until you have pages and pages of notes, you can talk to everyone and their mother about their jobs and the industry but until you actually get some real experience in what you’re interested in, you’re never truly going to know if that career path is meant for you.

This doesn’t necessarily mean applying to jobs first. If you’re interested in fashion styling, find some people (either through Facebook groups or even just your friends) and do a couple of test shoots. I wrote a post all about test shooting and how great it can be for building a styling portfolio (here). If you’re interested in working in social media for fashion or becoming a fashion writer, start your own fashion blog and blog everyday.

However, nothing beats real industry experience when you’re trying to advance your career. If you’re starting over in the fashion industry, chances are you’re going to be starting with entry-level jobs. Look up what jobs are available in your field in the area where you live.

DO NOT let your pride stop you from getting the experience that you need. Starting from the beginning of a career can be a very humbling. If you’re a student entering the workforce, you may need to take one (or five) unpaid or low-paid internships before you gain a more senior position. If you’re like me and you’re making a career transition, be prepared to take a major pay-cut. But understand that every job or internship you take is a building block of experience to the work you want to eventually do in fashion.

And finally…

6. Take pride in your growth.

It can be easy when we’re starting out to think that we’re not worthy or qualified enough to work a specific job or talk to a specific person in the industry. Don’t let a lack of credentials stop you from taking a risk and making a case for yourself. Feel proud that you are taking this step and trying to fight for your dreams, and understand that what you bring to the table is unique.

I chose to make the switch to fashion when I was 28 which, by fashion industry standards, is pretty old to get started. Fashion is one of those industries where tons of girls start interning or assisting when they’re barely in college. Truth to be told, in any industry, there will always be someone who got an earlier start than you, that found their life’s calling earlier on, that interned at the right places at the right time, and are now farther along than you. And that’s okay! You are on your own path and figuring out what is right for you.

And if you’ve made it to the end of this blog post, you are that much more prepared to take the plunge into fashion ;).

Did you find any of my tips helpful? Comment below!

 

 

How To Get Into New York Fashion Week Without An Invite

Carolina Herrera - September 2019 - New York Fashion Week

Ah Fashion Week.

It should really be considered a holiday for New York City.

During NYFW, it feels like the entire city participates. Suddenly you start seeing New Yorkers dressed in their finest and fiercest, models and celebrities strolling out of hotels into taxicabs, photographers trailing influencers on the street, hoping to catch the perfect street style snap. And then of course, there are the shows.

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For those of us who are not blessed to be part of the fashion elite, Fashion Week can seem impenetrable. Unless you have a hefty social media following or work as an editor of a fashion magazine or a buyer for a luxury brand, your chances of getting an invitation are slimmer than a YSL model’s waistline.

However, there are a few ways you can  work your way into Fashion Week without an invitation.

 

1. Pitch the everliving hell out of yourself.

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If you don’t have the power of a well-known publication or fashion agency backing you up as a worthy of an invitation, then you need to throw your own hat in the ring and make a case for yourself.

Fashion houses have really caught on to the power of social media and they’re more open than ever to having established or emerging bloggers stream, Tweet, or post about their runway shows. If you have a blog, a Youtube Channel or an Instagram account about fashion or lifestyle, try pitching yourself as a content creator to brands or PR firms.

A month or two before Fashion Week starts, research what shows will be debuting their lines and start making a list of PR contacts at those brands, as well as fashion PR firms.  Next, start cold emailing your list of contacts. Keep it short and simple – “Hi my name is so-so and I run the blog Blah Blah” and include some highlights about your brand. Bonus points if you have been featured in any other publication or gotten social media shout-outs. Definitely do no write your entire life’s story.

If you have a pretty solid following, you can apply directly for a NYFW press credential. Although the chances of getting an invite this way may not be as effective as directly contacting brands. If you do get a press credential, you do get the nifty official NYFW media pass (ooooh ahhhh).

If you’re comfortable with a digital camera, you could also apply to work as a freelance Fashion Week photographer or videographer. Many publications need extra help snapping photos of influencers or catching footage of looks down the runway.

I even have a friend who does sound mixing and DJing and he’s gotten hired to work NYFW that way. The point is – if you have a skill or a platform that you think might be worthy of a Fashion Week invite, then the only way to make it happen is to put yourself out there.

 

2. Go to an open-to-the-public show.

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If you’re okay with not going to a show by one of the major fashion houses, there are a rising number of events that are open to the general public. These are usually showcases by emerging brands or networking events for industry

You can search for “Fashion Week free events” or “Fashion Week open to public events” in Google. Most of the event organizers post these events on Eventbrite as well. Fashion sites like Women’s Wear Daily or Fashionista.com usually post an article with a list of open-to-public events right before Fashion Week.

One well-known free fashion event that I’ve gone to is The Style Dimension, put on by Women’s Wear Daily themselves. The event normally runs more than one day and showcases panels and talks by designers and industry professionals, as well as lots of fun vendors.

3. Work backstage as a volunteer.

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But for those of us who want to be part of the action but don’t have a social media following or the time to build an entire skillset, volunteering is a good option.

While bigger fashion houses tend to have their own crew and interns that they hire for shows, smaller brands will outsource help from fashion students or volunteers to help put on their shows. If you’re currently enrolled in a fashion school, chances are your school will be sending out tons of emails with different volunteer opportunities. I got the opportunity to volunteer with independent fashion label, Flying Solo, because my graduate school – LIM College – sent out an email to fashion students about the opportunity. I wrote an entire blog post talking about my experience volunteering backstage at Fashion Week.

If you’re not a current fashion student, Google will once again your best friend. There are plenty of smaller independent fashion shows happening at the same time as the official shows. Look up “Fashion week volunteer opportunities” and you’re sure to find a slew of options. Eventbrite is again a great search for volunteer opportunities, as well as AMCONYC , FYID, and CoutureFashionWeek.

Just be aware that volunteering at Fashion Week is very different than attending it. You will not be watching the show at all – you will be backstage on your feet for long hours and will likely be wearing jeans and T-shirt instead of your fiercest Fashion Week outfit. But it is a great way to network, get a glimpse of what Fashion Week is like and experience the intense rush of what it means to put on a full production fashion event.

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However you choose to attend Fashion Week, you will likely have to put in some work. But, at the end of the day, it is the culmination of a year’s worth of work for many designers and is a great meeting of some of the most brilliant minds of the fashion industry. Getting to be a part of it, no matter how small the part, is an experience that is unforgettable.

Did you find any of my tips helpful? Comment below!