Working in the fashion industry is not for the faint of heart. Similar to ballet, fashion only presents the beautiful finished product not the grueling hours of hard work needed to make it happen. One may think that rising the ranks of the fashion industry is like strutting up a marble staircase when in reality it is more like a sweaty, dirty, free climb up a mountain. But don’t allow this to deter you from pursuing your career dreams. While working in fashion requires tenacity, resilience, and overall grit, it is an incredible industry with endless opportunities.
I have worked in many aspects of the fashion industry and am currently the customer service and live chat coordinator for Hugo Boss, as part of their E-commerce team. Getting here has taken multiple jobs and years of hard work. I started out in the fashion world as a sophomore in college when I interned over the summer at a fashion showroom. I continued to intern in fashion throughout college and upon graduation worked for various brands by interning and freelancing in public relations (PR). After gaining considerable experience I was able to make the shift to corporate fashion and began to specialize in customer service. I worked in customer service at Burberry before landing my current job at Hugo Boss.
I love my job because it combines my interpersonal skills with my knowledge of how to make and style quality clothes. I work to provide the Hugo Boss customer service and sales associates team with the tools to create a memorable and stress-free shopping experience for the customer. Understanding the brand’s customer is an important part of the job—and one that comes easily to me. I like my team, my schedule, and the experience I am gaining. I am finally starting to make my mark on the industry.
If you know you want to go into fashion and are just starting out here are my five rules for breaking into the biz:
Intern and make an impression.
The best fashion intern knows how to be everything and anything for everyone. Besides energy and positivity a few material items you need to be all-encompassing intern are a GPS on your phone for navigating the streets and subways, in order to drop off all the samples you courier from one place to another. Comfortable, but cute walking shoes. Microsoft Excel skills (learn to be an Excel wizard as this will either ruin or run your life.)
An additional non-material item you need as an intern is thick skin as sadly most people don’t necessarily treat interns with respect. Many will treat you like you’re the hired help when, in fact, you are working for free. Don’t allow this to discourage you. Instead, make the experience worth your while. Work like you want your boss’s job. Learn everything you can and always volunteer to do the harder tasks.
Interning for a showroom, a designer or a PR firm is back breaking and grueling work, but they have a major pay off. As a result of my intern experiences I know how to source fabric and buttons, write a press release, assist with styling, and work with editors. Additionally, I was able to learn the ins and outs of the production process and I assisted in fashion shows and photo shoots that allowed me to immerse myself in a variety of women’s luxury brands.
You will be poor for a long time, accept it.
My first job out of college was working for a designer where I made one dollar above minimum wage. I lived at my parents’ house and always packed a lunch. It was not easy. Working in the fashion industry and being surrounded by clothes you can’t afford manifests itself in a phenomenon called ML or Materialistic Lust. You will lust after clothes. A hot guy will walk past you, but all you will see are his girlfriend’s Fendi shoes. You will open a magazine and sigh as you gaze at silk Marni culottes that you wish you could rock. Your motivation for going to the gym will not only be to get healthy, but to fit into those Hugo Boss leather pants. Almost every item that you have ML for will be out of your reach that first year or two … or three. While most people working in the industry don’t pay full price for clothing, even on a discount, fashion is expensive.
Learn how to look good on a low budget.
The good news is that you can purchase items from the brand you work for at a 50 to 60 percent discount. The bad news? Those clothes will still be expensive and you will still be poor. In the beginning, purchase just one or two items from your brand—and wear the hell out of them. For instance, when I worked at Tucker, I only bought Tucker clothes. When I worked at Kate Spade, I bought Kate Spade clothes and so on. Grow your wardrobe over time. Fill in your wardrobe gaps with affordable pieces from places like Asos.com, Topshop, Urban Outfitters and H&M. For more unique pieces hit up the vintage shops to help give you that filet mignon look on a McDonald’s budget. One of smartest things to do to maintain discount access to designer clothes is to keep in touch with friends and colleagues at different brands. Chances are they want something from your brand too, so you can both share your brand discounts. It’s a win-win.
Don’t listen to or become a horrible boss.
The fashion industry is a materialistic and appearance-based field. You often end up working with or for people who are making decisions based on what you have and what you look like. It is easy to blame people for drinking the fashion Kool-Aid but it could easily happen to you too.
I’ve worked with my fair share of these Kool-Aid drinkers and I must confess that because of them I have cried at work more than once, especially at the start of my career. I have cried on the train on the way to meetings, I have cried at my desk, and I have ugly cried while eating a piece of cheesecake in the office kitchen. In fashion people do not raise their voices or use bad language. Insults are often doled out in the form of backhanded compliments and general passive aggressiveness. The only way to deal with a mean fashion diva boss is to be confident in your skills and work hard. Stand up for yourself in the sweetest way possible. Kill them with kindness. Rise above the immaturity. Always be the positive person and people will remember you.
Know who you are and what you want to do.
Being the ultimate online consumer, I have genuine interest in E-commerce and customer service. Half of my wardrobe has been shipped to my home. As a result it is easy for me to ensure that our customers get great service as I have been on the receiving end of customer service and online chats.
Additionally, given my diverse experience in the fashion industry I was able to quickly rule out what I didn’t want to do. I started out wanting to do PR, but realized the hours and intense environment was not for me. I gravitated toward customer service because I excel at understanding a brand. I recognize quality and I work well with a variety of people. I started out in a call center at Burberry before becoming a chat specialist at Hugo Boss. I began as a freelancer with Boss, but after less than a year, I was hired full time as the customer service and live chat coordinator. My promotion was a result of my superiors noticing that I love what I do. I work hard, listen, learn and make an impression on the people I work with.
It is also important to know who you are and stay humble. Sometimes even I have to remind myself that at the end of the day, we are talking about styles and fits, not life or death situations. While I’m not saving lives, fashion is a valuable resource in terms of how it makes people feel when presenting themselves to the world. I believe that clothes are an expression of one’s self and have the power to externally amplify all of the amazing qualities one has on the inside. I’ll wear a suede blue leather dress to the supermarket, and furs on a casual Saturday afternoon. These outfits convey my sense of self and confidence in the way I present myself.
The fashion industry is hard to break into and hard to stay in. There is the pressure to stay relevant, not just with your clothes and appearance, but also with your ideas. Think about what innovative ideas you can bring to the table. Be fabulous, be classy, be positive, be intelligent and focused and you too will find a way to turn your passion for fashion into a profession.