It’s been a little while since I put out a new post and I’ve definitely missed connecting with you and bringing you some much needed fashion industry career information.
These last few months, I’ve been busy working on a few projects. Back in September I managed THREE fashion shows for New York Fashion Week and an exclusive event with Bergdorf Goodman. For the holidays, I’m back with Bergdorf Goodman, working on their holiday windows and some other events centering around their theme for the season called, Magic in the Making.
I’ve gotta say, it’s been surreal. Being in charge of runway shows and large luxury events is definitely not what I’d thought I’d be doing when I first started out in this industry! Especially not having a full-circle moment with the Neiman Marcus Group – they are Bergdorf’s parent company (I was a visual stylist at Neiman Marcus 15 years ago).
So I’m sure many of you have poured through the pages of Vogue since you were a kid taking in all of the fashion season after season…or was that just me?
In any case, I have no doubt that your love for this exclusive industry and your desire to be part of it are strong. I also completely understand what it feels like to want something so much, but not know how to even start, especially when it seems everyone else is doing what you want to be doing.
But not to worry because today we’re going to be discussing some ways you can get into the fashion industry with no experience – regardless of where you live.
I know location is a constant barrier to many people, but I hope that by the end of this episode, you’ll feel better about getting started and unburden yourself just a little bit from thinking that you’ll never be able to start your fashion career because you don’t live in a fashion capital.
STRATEGY #1: WORKING RETAIL
The first strategy to getting more experience and helping you get into the industry is working retail. I mean this 100%! For those of you who are looking at me like I’m crazy or rolling your eyes – just hear me out. When I say “working retail” I don’t mean getting a job at a local store, miserably folding sweaters for a few hours, doing the bare minimum and then going home.
That’s just getting a retail job.
What I mean is taking advantage of everything at your disposal…I’ll explain. (For the sake of this example, let’s go with a large store like H&M.)
Regardless of whether you’re hired part time or full time, in high school, college or somewhere in between – the lesson is the same. Don’t just get a job for the sake of getting a job. There is so much to learn when you work in retail, but you have to be willing to take the time to understand so that you can grow, especially if your end goal is a career in the fashion industry.
Yes – it is 100% possible to start your career in retail and have it lead you to being a professional in the industry.
This is exactly how I started.
I got my first retail job at 16. Trust me when I say, at the time, I WAS NOT thinking about how this retail job could start or change my career in any way. To me, this job meant I would be financially independent to buy my own things. An employee discount on the clothes was a sweet bonus.
I noticed early on that I loved working on the store visuals. It was something I had never thought of before when walking into a store to shop, but as an employee, I started to see how the visual manager got to work on all aspects of the store’s appearance and didn’t have to worry about sales or customers.
It also made me realize things like, they put certain items in prominent positions for customers to see as soon as they walked in and put the brightest colors up front. As soon as something was low on inventory, something else would take its place and if that item was also on a mannequin, it would also have to be changed to reflect the new product.
I was intrigued by how much planning and psychology went into the store’s visuals and how it ALL was based on and lead back to sales.
Depending on the store, you could potentially be in charge of changing out mannequins or working on window displays based on your store’s sales or new inventory. Other stores, like the H&M’s of the world, have directives that they receive from corporate detailing exactly what needed to go where or when something can be changed out.
If working with customers is more your thing, you could look into being a personal shopper for your store. This role has different meanings depending on the store you’re working at, but back when I was in retail, they existed at stores like Express (the next store I worked at for 3 years). This really just meant that you were good at working with customers, asking and understanding their needs and suggesting some looks or items that fit into what they were looking for.
This role is excellent at forcing you to learn the assortment, understand new items or collections that come in and strategizing what the person you’re working with may or may not like.
If visuals and customers aren’t particularly things you like, maybe it’s math. Yep – that’s right. Math.
But how does math factor into your retail job? Well, by working at the register, of course. Obviously you’re not calculating totals because the computer does that for you. You’re not even calculating coupon codes. What you are doing is understanding the psychology of every customer that shops at that store and then using math to get them to take the next step you want them to take.
For example: while I worked at the men’s store at Express (this was back when Express Mens and Womens stores were split up into two completely separate stores), I loved working at the register. We had an in-store credit card that we were instructed to suggest to any customer that went up to pay. When I first started working at the register, I’d get a resounding NO at even mentioning the words “credit card”
Opening this card would save you a percentage – it was no secret, everyone was told to say this when ringing customers up and there was signage all over the store.
However, over time, I realized that if I focused on not just saying the percentage (I think it was 15%), but the total amount of money the customer would save and how that translated into their purchase that day…
BOOM. They’d open the card.
So for example, I would say something along the lines of “Would you like to open an Express card with us today? If you did, you would be saving $18 on your purchase, that’s like getting this top for free!”
I’d have to do quick math to calculate this because we didn’t have the phones then that we have now.
Anyway, working the register helped me understand how wording things a certain way, even if it was the same information just presented differently, would change the outcome if the customer felt it was to their benefit.
It was my own personal introduction to marketing.
In speaking to some of my students about using retail as a means to get lessons that could help you within your career, many of them felt that this meant working harder to make the store more sales and by default, more money.
This is not what I’m saying at all. What I mean is, use the tools – meaning visual directives, customer spending habits that you can witness in person, marketing tactics and retail psychology – that are all around you and learn as much as you can.
These are the things you’ll add on to your resume later when speaking to your retail experience…but we’ll touch upon that in another lesson!
The ITFI Roster
The first roster of its kind that gives experienced freelancers and volunteers with limited experience the opportunity to further their fashion careers through events.
STRATEGY #2: FINDING VOLUNTEER OPPORTUNITIES
Up next is one of my favorite strategies: volunteering. This route typically works best within areas such as public relations, marketing or events, given the nature of their functions, but be warned that this one takes a little bit more work to find and obtain.
When looking for a volunteer opportunity, you can’t be afraid to reach out to absolutely everyone. This means reaching out to CEOs of companies, to presidents and hiring managers, people in your personal circle and friends of friends – to absolutely anyone that could potentially have an opportunity for you to be a part of that will help you grow.
Many times, volunteer opportunities are not broadcasted or posted on sites like LinkedIn. These are usually the opportunities that are opened in-house and only mentioned to employees to see if they know of someone who would be interested. For that reason, it’s so important to reach out to companies based on who they are, based on their values and on whether they are a company you’d want to work with – even if there’s no official opportunities available anywhere online.
While searching, you may find that certain companies turn you down because they don’t offer volunteer opportunities. This is where your work begins. If this is a company you’re really interested in working with, take the time to learn about projects they’ve worked on and any they have coming up.
Once you have enough information, make a case for yourself. One of the mantras I live by in life is “Never take NO for an answer the first time.” When you want something bad enough, there is always room to try every possibility.
Show this company that you’re interested in the work they do, that you believe in their mission or simply that you want to be a part of what they’re working on. Breakdown what you could do for them. Think of this as a persuasive essay sprinkled in with parts of a cover letter, only instead of previous work experience, you are speaking to your personal strengths, transferable skills and what you can contribute to their upcoming projects.
The key here, and I’m going to let you in on a little secret, is confidence. If you go into this feeling bad because you don’t have prior experience – it’s going to show in everything you say, in everything you write and in every single email you send to any company.
But if you go in there knowing that what you lack in experience you make up for in eagerness to learn, excitement to be there and readiness to be put to work, it won’t matter how much experience you have or don’t have because the person in charge will see that you’re a go-getter and that you’re serious about working.
The best part about volunteering for these particular areas of the industry is that it can be done pretty much anywhere in the world, regardless of whether it’s a fashion capital or not.
Now if you’re asking yourself, “Where do I find emails for these CEOs you want me to reach out to and what do I say?” I’ve got that covered.
Head to LinkedIn and look up the company or companies you’re interested in. It will give you the option to look through the people that work there.
You’ll want to find people that have roles similar to what you’re looking for or within the same department. If you can, send a message via the app or site asking if it’s possible to have an informational meeting with them. This is where you can speak to them about your strengths and inquire about possible volunteer opportunities.
Remember what I said about confidence – it definitely shines through and only works to your benefit, even if inside you feel anything but confident.
Another thing to look for when it comes to finding volunteer opportunities are communities that specialize in providing industry information. If you haven’t already, make sure to check out the Into the Fashion Industry private FB group, that has members from all over the world and of all different experience backgrounds, together in one place with the sole intention of helping people start and further their careers in the fashion industry.
"When you want something bad enough, there is always room to try every possibility."
STRATEGY #3: USING YOUR VOICE TO STAND OUT
The final strategy I want to discuss is how using your voice can be one of the strongest ways to create a path to the career of your dreams. What I mean by this is: start a blog, a podcast, an online portfolio or even a beautifully curated Instagram page that shows your perspective.
By creating an online space for your work, whatever this may be, 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 making something personal and creative 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. An interesting IG page will give people something to talk about and notice your account. An online portfolio will help you stand out when you apply for jobs as it’s 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.
Having an online platform showcasing your work 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 involved and interested in the industry and most importantly, you give them a chance to get to know you even before the interview.
For those of you who are content creators in the making, you can take this a step further and create a website, TikTok or Youtube account, showcasing user generated content, or UGC, as examples of your work. Once you have a nice assortment of content, you can start reaching out to companies to see if they would like to work with you.
The beauty of having so many social apps and sites at our disposal is that there are opportunities in all of them that can help your fashion career journey.
While this strategy may not be for all of you, it will definitely help get your message, your look or your brand out there. And though this one takes a bit more work than the others, trust me when I tell you, it’s well worth it.
There is no perfect formula for this except to try it – see if you enjoy doing it and continuing looking for ways to put your voice out there knowing that this can only help your career and bring you additional exposure, and potentially, the industry experience you seek.
IN THE END…
In the end, the people that excel in their careers are those that give it their all – even if it means stepping out of their comfort zone and trying unconventional methods to stand out or to learn from.
The more exposure you have to people in the industry, the higher the chances are for potential opportunities and networking connections. When you’re first starting out, say yes to all opportunities that come your way – paid or otherwise. While I hate to promote free work, I also know how this industry works. These unpaid opportunities continue to exist and the reality is, if you don’t take it – someone else will.
This industry is based almost entirely on experience and connections.
Work on both of these separately and you’ll see firsthand how the fashion world opens itself up to you.
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