- Hannah Rafter |
For many fashion students, interns, and young fashionistas, the idea of working for a small fashion company or startup to begin their career, isn't an overly obvious or popular one. What is attractive and exciting to most is the thought of working for a well known, prestigious company such as Burberry, Stella McCartney or Net-A-Porter, in other words companies that have already made their mark, have great cachet and have established a strong reputation.
Whilst I’ve always encouraged people to aim high and pursue their goals when starting out in the industry, I also recognise that as a result, other interesting and exciting opportunities can be missed or overlooked - and I believe working for a small company is one of them. Ask yourself the question? What was ASOS or Burberry like at the very beginning? Who were the original team members? Every ‘big’ company in fashion usually starts off as a small enterprise and the people who were there at the beginning to witness and share in the growth and success, are probably very glad they said yes to that job.
Like many, I had the intention, actually perhaps more hope than intention, of working for one of the well known companies I had studied, loved and admired and never saw myself taking a job at a fashion startup. I was like so many in not understanding what was involved and what opportunities such a job could offer. But in my final year of university, involvement in some freelance work led to an interesting job offer when I was least expecting it and I decided to say yes. As a 22 year old, about to graduate, I felt I had nothing to lose and everything to gain by joining the founding team of a small fashion tech company based in Shoreditch, London.
So was it the right decision and what can I reflect on a year later? Given that I have worked for several ‘big name’ companies as an intern prior to joining this smaller company, I can safely say I would choose going small every time.
Here are 5 reasons why:
1. Close working
A smaller working environment, and indeed workforce, means you’re more likely to be integrated with every part of the business. This is invaluable. Sure there will be some areas that won't interest you as much as others but other aspects will surprise you. EG Departments are more interconnected and you end up learning about each department as you gain experience. The closer you are to all aspects of the business the more you learn and you can decide which areas you like the best. Very often there is less red tape and as a result decisions are made more quickly and then easier to implement creative ideas You would rarely have the opportunity to interact with people at the top if you were in a larger organisation.
2. Broadening your skill-set
Working at a smaller company means you understand your place and job role very quickly. You have greater autonomy and the chance to work independently. At smaller companies not everything is as smoothly organized as they might be at larger companies. You will probably not find personalised stationery waiting for you. But then in a small company you do have to find your own way, which also creates great opportunities.
This can be very challenging at times but once familiar you can broaden your scope and expand your skills by collaborating on projects you wouldn't normally be associated with.
You will become more business savvy than you think. Of course working in a small company means small teams, small office, often small budgets etc but big thoughts and ideas. Working in this kind of environment allows and encourages you to develop your entrepreneurial and decision making skills.
3. Getting noticed
Working at a smaller organisation means less people to work around and therefore you're more likely to get your work and abilities noticed. You have the opportunity to be working alongside senior staff members and directors who will be able to listen to your ideas, hear your contribution, this is very different to working at a huge company where ideas, especially from entry level employees rarely get heard. Feeling part of the team gives a great sense of ownership and a keen drive for the company to succeed.
At a small company you're not a number nor are you a piece of the process, you are the process and you can follow everything (be it an idea, a product or a campaign) from beginning to end and probably be the one to execute it as well. At big companies you might never even see the end result or know what you have been working on.
4. Keeping things interesting
Small company environments are never static, things are constantly changing and your job role is never set in stone. Opportunities in startups present themselves which will allow you to discover strengths and interests that you never knew you had. Many people in big companies have roles that become very routine and not as stimulating as they had hoped. In a small company there is no time for complacency with what you are doing, keeping your job stimulating, giving you satisfaction and less chance to get bored and stagnate.
5. Career prospects
When you start out at a smaller company the likelihood is that you will skip a few entry roles very quickly. The chance for faster career advancement and gaining promotion within the company is high. As the team grows so will your position in the company. Increased responsibilities and hard work never go unnoticed but in larger companies it’s often harder for line managers to see your work ethic up close therefore some aspects of your work and commitment may get overlooked.
Big (and I mean immense, inflexible, huge) organisations are a thing of the past in my opinion, they are not flexible and I think they will actually cease to exist in the next 20 years or so. Smaller companies can move with the times and be part of the future.
By contributing guest editor Hannah Rafter, founder and Editor In Chief of The Intern 247, a website dedicated to giving real insights into the world of fashion. @theintern247 theintern247.com
Image: Eric Audras / AltoPress / PhotoAlto