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15 fashion pros offer key advice to younger selves Part 2

By Jackie Mallon

30 Jun 2020


The second in a two-part piece for which FashionUnited went behind the wheels of industry to ask a cross-section of fashion’s hard-working professionals what advice they would give their graduating selves or what they wish they’d known back at the launch of their careers. We’ve harvested the wisdom of these experts with international resumes who are based all over the world. Some studied in the most elite fashion schools, others did not, a few are in their mid-20s just a handful of years out of school, while others are senior decision makers with decades of experience, some have worked entirely in corporate while others only in luxury houses. The result is a celebration of the humanity that is often missing when discussing the big business of fashion.

Alanna Lizun, Assistant Sweater Designer, Michael Kors, 2018 BFA Fashion Design Kent State University

My advice to my graduating self would be to know that you are not only the job you have or the job title you possess. Coming into the industry you are told to work as hard as you can and as long as you can so you can make a strong impression. With the current job market and global pandemic, it is important not to take your job as the only important thing in your life. Being able to work from home for the past few months has taught me that while getting work done in a timely manner matters, it is just as important to make time for yourself. A good work life balance is just as important as knowing who you are as a designer.

Another tip I have learned along the process of applying for jobs is to not let the opinions of others define you. While it is important to understand how to receive constructive feedback, do not take people’s labels of you or your work as your own personal truth. The interview process is hard; don’t believe everything the interviewer says about your work. Don’t take it all personal!

Amy Troni, Product Developer/Merchant specializing in intimates and sport apparel, has held positions at Hanes, Perry Ellis, Ralph Lauren and Calvin Klein; BS Marketing Merchandising Management, Fashion Institute of Technology

It’s the same advice I still give myself today. Never give up and be persistent. Make a list of all of the companies you are interested in and reach out to explore possible opportunities, network through LinkedIn, reach out to people––people like myself for guidance! Most people are happy to help. Lastly, don't be so hard on yourself, if one door closes, another one will always open, anything is possible. And most importantly, make it happen!

Karen McCausland, Boston-based Knitwear consultant, formerly at Anthropologie, White House Black Market, Moschino, Fuzzi; BA Textiles, Glasgow School of Art, Scotland; MA Fashion,Royal College of Art, London

It was actually really interesting thinking about this, in general I was very fortunate to land in Italy and have all the experiences from so many different aspects of my career. I was also pretty lucky to have great mentors at college who guided me so much and I really owe them a lot for seeing what I couldn’t at the time. Don't sweat it, enjoy the ride! I spent so much time stressing. Maintain the bonds with your fellow students. They will become the design directors in important fashion brands––networking from the get-go is one of the key components to landing the job of your dreams! I really wish I had done more hands-on internships as a student or immediately after graduation, that would have given me more insight into the day-to-day workings of a full collection. I feel that when I landed my first job I did not really know where to start, the first year was a huge struggle.

Peter McLaughlin, currently pursuing MA in Sustainability at Harvard, formerly designer at Tommy Hilfiger Europe, Versace; BA Womenswear, University of Ulster, Belfast

It's very tempting to take the first job you're offered but be aware that this can affect your next job and where you ideally want to be. In saying that, my first job, after studying womenswear was menswear for retail group Arcadia, but when they made 170 people redundant, I went to Milan and worked at Krizia, then Versace, doing both mens and womens so the first experience was very handy. However I don't know if those high-end labels would have considered me if I'd spent 5 years at Arcadia.

Know and research the market you'd like to work in. Ask former tutors and reach out to anyone to make an educated decision. They're more likely to help than not. If you want to work in Paris, start taking French lessons. If you want to work in America then go early so you can be trained in the way the industry there functions and work your way up. Going later can be jarring, and suddenly entering the corporate structure can be a big leap only to find out it's not the environment for you. Corporate hirers are more focused on your resume and the names/brands on it than on your portfolio.

In school there are always those who are divas who think it's very "fashion" and makes them fabulous. It's not. In industry you just come across as unprofessional, difficult, and unpleasant to work with. Fashion is a small world, even internationally, so you don't want to get a reputation. People will ask your ex-colleagues if they would recommend you. So build a reputation as being dedicated, having initiative, open to learning and willing to go the extra mile. Then you will become invaluable and easy to recommend. It's a cliché but true, "your attitude determines your altitude.”

Tamsin Rasor, NYC-based bespoke jewelry designer and VP Merchandising & Development, formerly of Capelli and Arcadia; BA Fashion Design, University of Westminster, London

When I was graduating in 2001, the job market wasn’t great as the world was in a recession following the dot com bubble. Having just spent all my savings on my final collection I had no money and needed a job, any job! After spending my very last 5 dollars cash on a tube ticket to a job interview I didn’t get because I wasn’t built like a supermodel, even though the job was in ‘Buying’ and I was 100 percent qualified, I ended up taking a temp job in facilities management at a Kodak factory. I worked there for 18 months, going from temp to perm which seemed to cement the fact I would never, ever get a job in fashion. But I kept trying, and even ended up telling my boss that I desperately wanted to move into fashion and he was 100% supportive any time I needed to go to an interview––and eventually it happened. I got a job as a buyer's administrative assistant with the second largest retailer in the UK at the time, Arcadia. When I look back at my time at the Kodak factory, I learned so much about people and the world, completely unexpectedly, even though at the time it felt like my hopes and dreams were dying on the vine. So I would tell my graduating self, persevere, trust in yourself and the skills you have trained in. But even if you need to take a detour, don’t be disheartened. Find learning in everything you are exposed to and everything you do because it will benefit you in ways you cannot understand until later in life.

Deborah Latouche, London-based Fashion Stylist and Creative Director of new Modestwear brand, SABIRAH; BA Fashion Design, London College of Fashion

Believe in yourself. Don’t be afraid. Go for it. Research. Everyone has an opinion and that’s fine, but not everyone has to like your work. If you are excited by it and have worked to the best of your ability, then love it and be proud of your achievements.

David Wyatt, Barcelona-based freelance designer, worked with Bally, Kenzo, Fendi; BA Fashion Design, Manchester Metropolitan University, UK

Communication! Yes, you’ve got great ideas, great taste, you’re a fashion maverick and genuine original. But unless your surname is Windsor/Jenner/Rothschild or you’ve had a number one album, no one is going to automatically let you head up a fashion brand––you’re going to need to convince them to give you a chance.

The fashion system is in constant flux and methods of communication change but we designers will always need to express the ideas bouncing around in our brains to the world at large if we want them to become a reality, clothes, accessories, presentations, whatever. So work on your illustration, photography, draping, pattern cutting, Photoshop, Illustrator, even learning languages so you can speak with manufacturers. There are so many ways to get your ideas across and being able to do so will keep you employed much more than those without these skills. Take the time to become proficient with any tool that allows you to communicate your ideas. Clear, precise, even inspiring methods of communication are always powerful, they can even sell a half-baked idea. And there are so many ways to learn them. It’s an arm in your arsenal and will always make you stand out from the crowd.

Click here to read part 1 of this series >>

Fashion editor Jackie Mallon is also an educator and author of Silk for the Feed Dogs, a novel set in the international fashion industry.

Photo FashionUnited