Career ITFI

5 Strategic Ways to Break Into in the Fashion Industry With No Experience

Let's talk about the fashion industry...

One of the world’s most sought after industries to get into and also one of the hardest. To some, fashion may seem unimportant, but just to give you some reference, in 2021 alone, the revenue of the global apparel market accounted for 1.5 TRILLION dollars of the world’s economy. 

Crazy, right?
The rise of fashion influencers on social media has made the prospect of getting into the industry much more appealing, popular and competitive. Because of this, it can be incredibly frustrating to start from zero when others already seem to have so much success. It can also be overwhelming to understand all the different facets of such a fast moving industry.

I GET IT. 
…But, if you want to make it in this business – you can’t focus on everyone around you, especially when you’re first starting out.

Let’s do a quick visualization, I promise this will help!

Pretend you’re driving on a highway and your destination is your career goal. Now as you’re driving, all sorts of things are happening on the other lanes around you. There are cars behind you, some that are passing you, some that are stopping completely on the side of the road and then there are some that are so far ahead of you, you’re barely able to make them out. 

This is more or less what happens in life as we work towards our goals. Throughout your professional career, there will be people you surpass, others that may try to hold you back and some that are so far ahead, you’ll feel it’s impossible to even try to catch up.

And…do you know what you have to do?

No matter your experience level, you have to look straight ahead – get rid of the rearview mirrors, put those blinders up – and just keep moving forward. As long as you keep moving, you’ll eventually make it to your destination, but you have to stay in your lane.

I want you to consider this episode a pit stop on the road towards your career goals. 

Here, we’ll refuel your car with the fundamentals you need to continue your journey and be prepared for whatever roadblocks you encounter along the way, making it easier to reach that long-awaited destination you’ve worked so hard for.

So, my determined readerin this post, we’ll be breaking down five ways you can gain experience in the fashion industry, regardless of your skill level or expertise, to ensure that you reach your career destination with confidence and success.

As you’re first starting out, it’s crucial to get as much experience as possible for a few different reasons: the more experience you have, the more appealing you will be to prospective companies on your job search, and the more you’ll be able to speak to and about in interviews, informational meetings and during networking events. Additionally, and perhaps most importantly, the more experience you get, the better your understanding will be of the industry and the career path you ultimately want to follow.

There are some ways to do this whether you’re just starting out or already have some industry experience.

STRATEGY #1: GETTING AN INTERNSHIP

The fashion industry has so many career path options and gives you a variety of internships to consider. As a student or recent grad, internships provide real world experience in your intended field, set expectations for you as a professional in the workplace, give you access to key industry players and possible mentors and arm you with knowledge that will put you in a position to beat out competition during the hiring process.

One of the best things about internships is that they also help you understand what elements you don’t like or want for your career. This could be as specific as your workplace environment – you might discover that you don’t want to work at a startup and prefer a large corporation, or something as essential as realizing that rather than being a fashion designer you want to be a fashion stylist working with designers.

This is SO important, especially when you’re first starting out, because it sets the foundation for the rest of your career. With internships, you get the opportunity to try out different workplace settings, career paths and companies, helping you understand what you’re good at, aspects of certain jobs you don’t want and areas where you can thrive.

Additional benefits of internships include:

    • Building your resume as you learn about different aspects within your role
    • First hand experience as you take on specific projects
    • Behind-the-scenes exposure to a company’s day to day activities and culture
    • Connecting with potential mentors and building relationships with coworkers that have a range of expertise
    • Getting a first look into campaigns, events or upcoming seasonal designs
    • And a potential permanent role with the company, which is especially helpful if you have no prior experience

Something important to keep in mind is that it’s normal for fashion companies to offer unpaid or college-credit-only internships. However, depending on the company, you may also receive perks such as employee discounts, a transportation stipend or even access to fashion shows and industry events in lieu of payment.

Some of my favorite sites to find fashion opportunities on are:
Ed2010.com // freefashioninternships.com // stylecareers.com // fashionista.com  

We also have a Careers page that features fashion jobs and internship opportunities.
You can access it here. 

STRATEGY #2: WORKING IN RETAIL

This is actually how my experience in the industry started! Retail provided the perfect opportunity to make money after school and on the weekends due to flexible scheduling.

Believe it or not, working in retail also provides the possibility to develop skill sets in sales, marketing, merchandising, buying and styling [not to mention bonus lessons in patience and customer service] – all of which are valuable for becoming a successful fashion industry professional. 

What you learn at a retail job is completely up to you. If you clock in everyday and simply fold sweaters or spend your shift bored or miserable, you won’t get anything out of the experience. 

However, if you show up to your shift ready to learn, ask questions, be serviceable to customers and managers alike and give it your all, you will be ready to take advantage of all the potential lessons that are available all around you.

If you’re interested in marketing, branding or public relations, working in a store will teach you about consumer behavior and spending habits as well as the psychology behind sales. Understanding a brand and how to market to their customers is essential in any fashion industry job. Being in a store gives you the advantage of having your finger directly on the pulse of what flies off the shelf or what ends up in the sale section and the messaging tools used to market both.

Store messaging and product placement affects whether the customer buys or not.  A retail position allows you to see upcoming campaigns, how they’re communicated to the public, and all of the branding insights you’ll need to collect-data-on-and-research for any position within fashion marketing and PR.

If you’re interested in pursuing a career in design, product development or styling, you’ll want to pay attention and learn about fits, colors and cuts for all the styles the store offers. Working in a retail environment gives you direct access to specific fit information, with exposure to a wide range of body types, fabrics, cuts and styles.

Interested in a career in visual merchandising and store presentation? Working overnight floorsets where you change the presentation of the store gives you access to visual directives that bring to life the exact layout the company wants the store to have, usually from a corporate level. 

Pay close attention to these directives, they tell you the exact location of every single rack, fixture and mannequin with one thing in mind – what will get the highest number of SALES.

Some additional perks of working fashion retail are:

Many stores will give you an employee discount. This could be dangerous, I know it was for me those first few years because the majority of my paycheck went right back to the store with all my purchases!

You’ll also get to develop your social skills and learn direct-to-customer experience. Knowing how to network and effectively communicate are vital if you want a future in fashion, no matter the role. This applies to how you work with management, how you treat direct reports if you are in a managerial position and most importantly, how you handle difficult customers. 

I wasn’t kidding when I said retail will give you a hands-on masterclass in patience and customer service. To this day, no matter what store I go into, I always acknowledge the greeter at the front of the store, never ever leave anything in the fitting rooms and always thank the person at the register. 

Trust me, you will have a newfound appreciation for retail employees after you’ve done it yourself.

STRATEGY #3: TAKING A DIGITAL COURSE

One of the few good things to have come out of the 2020 pandemic is the wide array of digital courses being offered across the board. Many universities, including Ivy League schools like Yale, Harvard and Princeton, have been offering free courses since last April. I actually took a few digital courses from these schools during the pandemic – my favorite was a course called The Power of Negotiation. What began as a national offering turned international when schools in Paris, Amsterdam and London began opening their [virtual] doors to people around the world too.

A quick Google search will get you information about fashion industry courses, but some of my favorite resources are Skillshare, Coursera and Future Learn, a site that rounds up international courses and conveniently puts them into categories, making it really easy to search through. Their fashion section has a nice variety of international courses to select from. 

Take advantage of these courses…I have a feeling they won’t be available or free forever. 

Additionally, MasterClass recently added some really cool fashion courses that absolutely need to be mentioned here. Although they’re not free, you can get an incredible range of classes offered through the membership program at only $15 per month. 

Some of my fashion industry favorites include:

»  ANNA WINTOUR TEACHES CREATIVITY & LEADERSHIP
»  MARC JACOBS TEACHES FASHION DESIGN
»  DIANE VON FURSTENBERG TEACHES BUILDING A FASHION BRAND
»  LAURA KING & FERNANDO GARCIA TEACH CREATIVE COLLABORATION & FASHION
»  TAN FRANCE TEACHES STYLE FOR EVERYONE

Also, if you haven’t already done so, be sure to check out my signature course: Fashion Career Blueprint™, it’s a 12-week workshop style hands-on course that teaches students the fundamentals for starting their career in the fashion industry with confidence. I poured my heart and soul into creating this course after realizing there is a massive gap when going from student to fashion professional out in the workforce. I also did it for all the fashion enthusiasts who didn’t have an opportunity or the means to go to fashion school.

Within the course, we break down personal branding, including your branding statement, a deep dive into online portfolios and EPKs. We also cover fashion internships, resumes-and-cover letters, the entire interview process from start to finish, including live mock interviews with fashion HR professionals, cold emailing and networking fundamentals.

FCB opens its doors to new students once a year, but you can sign up for the waitlist and receive updates straight to your inbox. Sign up here. 

STRATEGY #4: STARTING A BLOG OR PODCAST

This next strategy may not be for all of you, but it definitely helps get your message, your look or your brand out there. While this one takes a bit more work than the others, trust me when I tell you, it’s well worth it. 

Many people think it’s expensive to do this, but it can actually be done in a way that is relatively inexpensive. I’ll be going over how to build a blog and a podcast in future episodes for your reference. For now though, I want to talk about the benefits of having an online space with your name and work on it. 

For one thing, it’ll help you tremendously when you start applying for jobs. It has become common practice for employers to include an area where you can add a link to your work on the application itself. This gives them the opportunity to see your work and style in a unique way – through your eyes.

If the concept of starting a blog or a podcast seems daunting to you because you don’t know what you’d write or talk about, this is normal at first, but don’t let fear or imposter syndrome tell you that you’re not good enough or you don’t know enough. There’s a reason you’re interested in fashion. Whether you’ve learned what you know through hands-on experiences or through school, think about the things you could go on and on about forever or perhaps things that friends and family always come to you for.

There is a hidden expert in all of us, it’s just a matter of honing in on your talents and making a plan to put them out into the world. With time, you get better at it. The most important thing is that your vision and your voice are out there. 

By creating an online space for your work, it allows you to establish a brand, even if you have limited experience. Doing research as well as analyzing problems and solutions in your profession shows that you’re passionate and motivated. And most importantly, it demonstrates that you’re in touch with your niche.

Another benefit of creating a blog or podcast is that it allows you to expand your network. The more you broadcast your content, the larger the chances are that you can make the right type of people come to you. A blog or podcast can put your name on the map and allow like-minded professionals or even hiring managers to come your way.

Just remember to include your social media handles and contact information on everything you create. Otherwise, people won’t be able to connect with you!

Having a blog or a podcast will also help you establish a digital footprint. What’s the first thing any of us do whenever we find a job or position that sounds amazing? We google the company! …And if you don’t, you definitely should. It’s the same with recruiters. Many, if not all of them, will do some kind of Google search of your name. What they see on the results page can impact your chances of getting called for an interview.

By having a digital footprint, you’re showing recruiters that you’re knowledgeable within the online space, you’re interested in the industry and most importantly, you give them a chance to get to know you even before the interview.

Overall, any content you produce indicates pride in your career which will go over well in the eyes of hiring managers and recruiters.

There is no perfect formula for this except to enjoy doing it, knowing that this can only help your career and bring you additional experience and exposure.

STRATEGY #5: CREATING A SOCIAL MEDIA BRAND

Social media allows you to do 3 very important things: 

    • Connect with existing and new audiences in deeper ways
    • Bring attention and traffic to your work
    • Build and enhance your brand

While almost everyone in the world has some sort of social media account, it’s important for you to understand that creating a social media brand is different than having a personal account. 

Regardless of whether it’s Tik Tok, Instagram or Facebook, you’ll want to make sure that the content you create has a unique aesthetic and that it showcases your interest and knowledge of the fashion industry. 

Additionally, you’ll want to step back and take a look at your account from the eyes of a recruiter or hiring manager. As we mentioned in the last point, it’s common practice for them to look people up, especially on social media, to get a feel for who you are before deciding to take the next step in the application process with you. 

This doesn’t mean that your social accounts have to be full of professional pictures and accomplishments, simply that they should be a positive representation of yourself and of your work. Curate content that focuses on your skills and expertise. Make sure all content you create is clear, easy to read and perfect quality. 

My go-to site for creating all creative content for my site and social channels is Canva. On Canva, there are thousands of templates for just about anything you can think of available to you. There is a free version that has limitations, such as no background removal for images and a smaller image library. And they also have a Pro version that I absolutely swear by. You can try Canva Pro free for 30 days using this link and see how you like it. Trust me, once you try it, you won’t be able to function without it either.

As you post more and more content over time, be sure to interact with people that have questions, those that like your work and reach out to fellow industry professionals. Engagement is important in the social media world and is becoming a way for content creators to not only position themselves as leaders in their field, but are being sought after this way by recruiters and companies alike. This is an easy way to establish a name for yourself while also setting yourself apart from other applicants.

It’s important to keep in mind that social media changes all the time, so be sure to keep up with the evolution of the platforms and to keep looking for ways to optimize your use of the tools available on each platform.

IN THE END…

The fashion industry is competitive, so it’s important to stand out from the crowd. For every 1 job posting, there are 100 other people who have applied. Don’t expect to start a blog or take a course and immediately land your dream job right away. Being in this industry takes hard work and persistence. These strategies are a starting point of a long journey ahead.

The secret to making it? Just keep going. Everyone has to start somewhere. When you start to compare yourself with other people in the industry, remember the visualization we did at the start of this episode. You’re driving towards your goal and armed with the right tools and mindset, you will get there. Put those blinders up and stay in your lane.

Take time everyday to learn something new. Challenge yourself to take some courses, to reach out and grow your industry connections, to do things outside your comfort zone and always continue to learn.

The resources are all there. Now it’s up to YOU to make it happen.

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If you love what you hear, please consider rating and reviewing my show! This helps me support fashion professionals – just like you – get closer to their career dreams in the industry. Click here, scroll to the bottom, tap to rate with five stars and select “Write a Review.” Then be sure to let me know what you loved most about this episode.

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