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!