Fashion Flashback: Top Tips for Getting Ahead in Fashion

At CCCF 2017, a number of fashion industry professionals at various stages of their careers came to talk to us about their experiences and to give advice on how to succeed in the fashion industry. These included Graeme Armour (designer and brand consultant), recruiter Lizzy Reid, fashion social activist Mary Hanlon, milliner Pea Cooper, and designers Barbra Kolasinski, Louise Bennets and Rhys McKenna. In this post, ECA Careers Consultant Lynsey Russell-Watts summarises some of the key tips and lessons from that session. 

Be aware of the power of good press. Louise Bennets’s first post-graduation work experience came from a choreographer who saw her graduate collection and then invited her to design for a production. During the session, there were many stories of how one thing led to another – winning a prize (or even coming runner up in one) getting you noticed, or getting an internship and then being offered a job.

Don’t underestimate yourself! Even at an early stage of your career, during an internship for example, you can make an impact. It’s important to realise that everyone has something to contribute and everyone has something to learn. Understand and acknowledge what you’re learning – keep a journal and write it down!

Find your niche, but don’t be scared to leave your comfort zone. Although it’s important to develop your own brand and to see where your particular blend of skills and influences can make a unique contribution, it’s also important not to be overly bound by one conception of yourself. Louise told us how the opportunity offered her by the choreographer involved her designing menswear, which she hadn’t done before. She could have turned it down on that basis, but is glad she didn’t as it made her a more versatile designer and opened up other opportunities in the future.

Be curious! You never know what an opportunity will lead to, or what might come to be a powerful influence in your work. Trying new things also gives you the opportunity to find out what you like, and just as importantly, what you don’t.

Build and maintain a network. All of our speakers talked about how building their personal network had been crucial to their success: Pea talked at length about the benefits of networking, co-working and collaboration, whilst Barbra was enthusiastic about the co-working environment of Fashion Foundry in Glasgow.  Building a network has helped Mary to carve out a career niche between fashion, international development and fashion-related social activism, and Lizzy to make a success of running her own business in fashion and creative recruitment. So get out there and meet people!

Be proactive! Lizzy advised students to work out what they wanted and to ask for it! Although you can expect plenty of non-responses or refusals, you certainly won’t get what you want by sitting at home hoping it will happen.

Be persistent but polite! Mary also described this as being ‘pleasantly stubborn’. Realise that people are busy and sometimes they are ignoring you accidentally – your email has just slipped down their inbox and they haven’t got to it. You won’t get anywhere by being rude, but it’s OK to ask more than once. Try not to take it personally when someone doesn’t get back to you immediately with a yes – just because one person says no or doesn’t answer, it doesn’t mean the next person won’t say yes.

Get some experience. You will probably need to put the last three tips into action to get this, but experience is probably the most valuable asset in your career. Getting good experience will separate you from the crowd – though you may well have to approach people speculatively to get the experience you need.

Have a good CV. Keep it simple. No more than two pages, and no silly fonts or pictures – you want to grab attention for the right reasons! Make your CV and cover letter relevant (do your research into where you’re applying). Be conscious of your digital footprint – curate your own brand – what does your on-line presence say about you as a person, as an employee, as a fashion professional?

Find your strengths and know your weaknesses. Barbra talked about how important it was to work out what you’re good at and then go with that. At the same time, if the weaknesses are holding you back, then you might have to take steps to address them, as Pea did by going and getting some business skills. This echoed Mary’s advice to know your motivations: work out what drives you and what bugs you! If you can take on projects and challenges with intent, if you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, it will be much easier to keep going through the rough times.

Creativity is not the only thing that counts. Just as Pea talked about having to aquire business skills, Barbra discussed realising that real-world designing is very different from designing as an MA project – she had to become much more aware of what a product would cost and how viable it then was. Graeme reiterated how developing an awareness of price points had become the most important thing in his work as a brand consultant and designer.

It’s OK to say no. Both Barbra and Louise highlighted the importance of working out what’s important to you, and of knowing when to say no. This chimes with Graeme’s advice on knowing when to stop. From his experience of running his own label, he found it too easy to take on too much, spreading himself between designing, and running the business and PR sides too. Though everyone agreed that a career in fashion required you to work hard, they also agreed that it was essential to put limits on this and to maintain some balance – otherwise other important factors (your creativity, your network, your self-awareness and curiousity) could suffer.

Start now! Whatever it is you want to be doing, start now. Start a blog, set up a professional Instagram or LinkedIn profile, look for ways to contribute the skills you want to make a career out of. Rhys is a great example of the benefits of managing your own projects and getting work experience alongside studying.


Further information: 

Careers Service ‘Occupations’ pages (good starting place with lots of links):

News and Career Advice and Tips: Business of Fashion

How to get started advice:

The Dots:

Fashion Workie: Twitter: @FashionWorkie

Fashion Jobs:

A version of this article was originally published in March 2018.

Photo: University of Edinburgh


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