A career in fashion, something many girls and boys dream of having. The clothes, the models, the parties, the runway shows… everything seems so fun and glamorous.
When an average outsider think of a career in fashion, they think of a bunch of people designing clothes, they think of “fashionistas” heading to fashion shows, they think of designers throwing parties and mingling with celebrities, and they think of an industry that capitalizes on materialism. Yes, the fashion industry is all of the above, but those are only what you see from the outside, the glitz and the glam.
But a career in fashion is so much more than that. No, not everyone in fashion is artistic and knows how to sketch a dress. No, not everyone is superficial and only cares about clothes. And no, a career in fashion is not always glamorous. We’ve been in it for 10 plus years, we’ve seen quite a bit to know what it is all about.
Fashion is a business. It’s a business that employs 4 million people. Needless to say, that 4 million involves a little more than just designers and models. Clothes don’t just magically appear in the stores once they’ve been designed. There are many people involved behind the scenes to make it happen. Needless to say, you don’t need to be creative in order to have a career in fashion. You can be the biggest math geek in school and still belong somewhere in the fashion industry.
With a new class of college graduates entering the work force in three months, many are probably still figuring out what they want to do with their careers. Some may be interested in fashion but don’t think they fit the mold, or their parents don’t think it’s an industry serious enough to pursue. So we decided to dedicate a post to the industry that nurtured our careers, to shed light on all the misconceived notions, and to educate those who are truly interested in the opportunities available. We will talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Biggest misconception of all time! Yes, there is no fashion if there is no visionary to create a brand, no designer to sketch, and no photographers to capture the magic of the clothes. But there will also be no clothes to sell if there is no sewer to put the garments together, no production planning to work and negotiate with factories, and no supply chain to figure out the logistics of receiving and shipping. Like we said, the fashion retail industry is so much more than just designing clothes.
Like any businesses, fashion companies need the basics to function. They need Finance and Accounting to manage the books and cash flow, IT to create and support the systems, Legal to put together contracts, and HR/ Recruiting to hire and take care of employees. Like we said, fashion needs more than just designers and models to run the show.
Yes, an appreciation of fashion is good to have. Just like any job, having the passion makes what you do a lot more meaningful. However, many people have the misconception that you have to live and breathe fashion and dress like you are in a magazine shoot. False! Trust us, there are more important things to worry about at work than whether or not your outfit looks cute today. You think the guys in IT care about what polo shirt their coworker is wearing, or that you have new nail polish color on? We aren’t saying you can show up at work in your pajamas, but you certainly will not look out of place in just a pair of J Brand jeans and James Perse tee. Make sure your shoes look cute though.
People think bankers are tough, but people in fashion are just as tough, if not more. Not to be inappropriate, but angry women and gay men are a million times scarier than straight suited Wall Street “bros”. And when they attack, they get personal, with no filter, like a dagger shooting straight at where it hurts. Let’s just say there are many passionate personalities in fashion who are very direct in expressing their thoughts. Honestly, we prefer that over those Wall Street men who put a smile on their face and attack from behind. There will be times when people scream and yell, at you (sorry) or not at you (phew). You just need to understand nothing is personal. One of our bibles is Kelly Cutrone’s “If You Have to Cry, Go Outside”. Seriously, if we are all waterworks at work, nothing will get done. There is so much going on every second in this business, there is simply no time to dwell. You have got to tough it up, brush it off, and move on. It is just work, dear.
No, we don’t go to work and just talk about who has the cutest outfit on and where to go for a nice facial. Work can be bat shit crazy and the next thing you know it is already 6pm. The smaller the company, the crazier it is. Big retailers have so many processes and levels in place, things tend to be a bit less insane. But when you work for a smaller private brand, where everyone is covering 3 jobs, and everything is a priority, you may be ready to pull your hair out and find yourself working till midnight. Just like any job, the higher you climb up that ladder, the more involved you get with the business, and the more often you find yourself responding to late night emails or working on a last minute project over the weekend.
The business of fashion is much more analytical than many people thought. The idea of fashion is so romanticized by runway shows and couture brands, people sometimes forget it is a business. When you are in the business of making money, there is no “just because”. No, that top is not there “just because”. It is there because of many dissecting of selling data and analyses. There is pretty much an analytical reason behind every decision making process. Even designers need to understand what their best and worst sellers are in order to come up with garments that suit their customers’ needs. Buyers don’t just buy things because they like them, there is a budget they need to stick to, it is not a free for all shopping trip. Garments need to be priced at the right level to ensure retailers sell as much as possible at full price. Marketing needs to understand their CRM data in order to segment their customer base. Even store associates need to know how to read their selling reports to understand the store’s performance. This is why we said earlier you still belong in fashion even if you were a math geek. Big data is a hot term in the Retail industry, and more emphasis is being put on data analytics and planning. You will not survive long if you do not have a basic understanding of Retail math.
We roll our eyes at those stupid Excel classes, but they are actually important. One of the questions many fashion retailers ask during an interview is – how’s your excel skill? You’d be surprised by how Excel-dependent the industry is. And a lot of times it isn’t just a simple plus or minus calculation. Are you familiar with v-lookups? Pivot tables? If you are, congratulations, you already have an advantage. If you aren’t, don’t worry, just remember to learn them quickly once you start a job. Excel will be your best friend, but your worst enemy when it decides to freeze up or worse, shut down for no reason, while you curse the world realizing you have to redo that thing you just spent an hour working on. Just another day in life.
The one thing that bothers us the most about “Devil Wears Prada” is the exaggerated misconception of the fact that people in fashion do not eat. No, we don’t just eat a cube of cheese when we are about to faint. Yes, we actually do sometimes eat cheese bagels for breakfast, not to say we don’t feel crappy afterwards. You’d be surprised by how much some of the girls eat at work! At the same time, when you are surrounded by beautiful size 2 and 4 samples at work, you also work your ass off to stay in shape. Girls in fashion are just like any girls, they like food but they also want to stay fit. We are probably a bit (okay, a lot) more vain when it comes to our appearances, but we also cannot do what we do at work if we were starving and hangry all day. Trust us, none of us would walk out of work still as friends if it were a building of hungry-angry women. So don’t be afraid to bring lunch to work, order a pizza once in a while, and snack on that bag of popcorn. More likely than not, your coworker is doing the same thing.
People always ask, is it like SUPER catty at work? From their facial expressions, you know they love to hear “yes” then the gossips. But 90% of the time, the answer is “no, we actually get along quite well.” For some reason, people think when you put a bunch of females together, there’s bound to be gossips, catiness, and backstabbings, like Gossip Girls. Yes sometimes we get cliquey, yes sometimes we talk crap about a coworker, but majority of the time we actually like one another! And sometimes we love them so much we form life-long friendships. It’s just how normal human beings behave. In seriousness, fashion retail is such a team oriented environment, you really have no choice but to be a team player. There is no way to succeed without the ability to work well with others.
You look at the instagram feeds of bloggers and fashion insiders and think, “omg that looks so fun I want that life!” Well, think hard before you wish. First of all, not everyone gets to travel, so do not assume just because you are in fashion, you get to attend fashion shows and travel around the world like a glamazon. Second of all, when you do get to travel, either just once a year, or once a month, be it domestic or international, it really isn’t as fun as it seems. When you travel for vacation, you get to adjust on your own pace, and schedule activities to you own liking. When you travel for work, it is tiring. You work day and night with no breaks and into the weekends, run around like crazy, attend meetings, go to work dinners, get your 4 hours of sleep, and the next day you’re at it again. There is no “me” time to shut down and have some peace of mind. You are expected to hit the ground running the second you step off that plane. Not to mention the headache with lost luggages, airport madness, harsh weather conditions, it can really be a nightmare. If you’re lucky you get a chance to explore the city you’re in – but rarely does that happen. Some trips can last up to two weeks at a time, and usually we are already dying to get home after 3 days.
One of the most frequently asked questions is – do you get employee discount? Oh yes we do, and that is one of the the best perks of working in fashion. Who doesn’t like discounts?! Some offer deeper employee discounts than others, but there are usually limitations. It could be an item limitation (e.g. no more than 7 pieces per month), a dollar limitation, or a time limitation (e.g. has to be in stores for more than 3 weeks). Majority of the companies also have very strict policies. It is very important to remember this is a perk, for you, they don’t have to offer you discount, so please don’t abuse it. Don’t buy 10 pieces of the same shirt for your family and friends, or waltz into the store with a group and tell them to pick whatever they want – you will get in trouble. And word of advice, don’t just say yes when someone asks if you to get that bag or those shoes. It is like a pandora’s box, once you open it, it is never ending. Most importantly, especially for newbies, only spend what you can afford. It is easy to get excited and overspend with that discount, and we have seen girls who can’t afford rent or worse, are in debt due to overspending. You worked hard to earn that pay check, it will be silly to spend it all away and put the money back into your employer’s pocket.
If you are looking to make big bucks right off the bat, fashion may not be the place for you. We aren’t saying people in fashion don’t get paid well. In fact the higher you are up the ladder, the bigger the pay raises are. But for those who are just starting out, the pay is so minimal, you question how you are going to survive. We always ask ourselves how did we even pay rent back then with that tiny little pay check. Many still live with their parents and rely on them financially even 2 years into the job. In fact you may find the more prestigious the brands, the less money they pay, but people still fight for a position as it is all about who you have on your resume when you start off. But hang in there, the money will come, just keep working and you will eventually breakthrough that one layer to join the 6 figures club. It does exist, we promise!
Hope we are able to shed some light on a career in fashion, whether or not you are interested in exploring this career field. Like any industry, there are things we love and things that drive us up the wall. But nothing is more satisfying than seeing a piece of clothing or a collection selling well, and knowing you played a part in its success. Everyone says it is important to do what you love, and you will never work a day ever again. Well, we don’t really agree with that as work always feels like work, but at least when it is something that suits your passion, it makes all those long hours and hard work this much more worth it!