Edith Head once said, "You can have anything you want in life if you dress for it." If only it were that simple! Unfortunately, building a career in fashion is a little more complicated than slipping on your favourite outfit and strutting right on into Vogue's head office.
Although, that does sound like something Stephanie Irwin, product designer at Farfetch, might try! Stephanie attributes her fashion career to the times she has edged out of her comfort zone and looked at things from a different perspective.
Over a glass of mulled wine and a hearty helping of tiramisu, Stephanie and Visualist's founder, Cherie, chat about Stephanie's progression in the fashion industry.
Develop a creative identity
We're not talking about devising a one-word moniker for you to go by or trademarking a shade of red. A creative identity can be as simple as a consistent sense of self, evident throughout your work.
Begin defining your style by answering these questions:
- How is this me?
- What do I like visually (colours, textures, era)?
- What am I trying to communicate?
- How do I want to be perceived?
In the fashion world, you'll be inundated with new influences, new ideas and new working styles. Be attentive and ready to learn, but be sure to put your own stamp on things.
Stephanie has spent years refining her tastes and preferences, but the process is infinite. Here's how to get started:
- Immerse yourself in culture and the arts—drink up as much as you can to accrue a broad bank of references and interests.
- Ask critical questions about what you're consuming—it's all well and good saying 'I like that', but always ask yourself, 'why'? How can your conclusions inform your own work?
- Know what you stand for—think about your core values and create work that honours those. Everything you create can be interpreted as a statement.
Individuality is your asset. Authenticity and originality in your work will serve you well.
Cast your net wide
It is easy to become obsessed with the glamour of the industry but the fashion industry is far more multi-faceted than the front-row of stylists, editors and designers. Do explore the many roles on offer in the industry and pinpoint where you may excel.
You can be an iOS engineer at a fashion company, a user researcher, or someone who writes copy for e-commerce and product descriptions.
Stephanie breaks down the two-step process that helped her find her place in the industry:
First, find out what you're good at. Make a list of areas you excel in and special skills you possess, cross-check them with people you're close to—they may have new ideas to add.
Next, once you're confident in your strengths, seize opportunities that allow you to combine those talents with your passion for fashion. Search for companies where your interests and assets can intersect. Connect with them on LinkedIn. Attend events, courses, engage in conversations—be open-minded and explore lots of different avenues.
I always knew I wanted to work in the industry, but I had this frustration because I felt like I could never find my place.
Stephanie is more than familiar with the anxieties of not knowing your place in the industry, but is now thankful for the time spent exploring her options. Entry level roles in fashion are becoming broader, demanding an increasingly varied skillset and extensive knowledge of the industry as a whole—the more experience, the better.
Optimise your internships
The purpose of an internship is to see if it's a job that you'd absolutely hate.
Fashion internships are a case of trial and, quite possibly, error. Use them to gain insight, network and trial areas of interest. After interning, reflect on your experience:
- What did you like/dislike? Make sure you distinguish between the role itself and the working environment.
- Where did you excel? Acknowledge what you did well—how can you capitalise on these strengths? Identify areas that require improvement—how can you improve? Think online courses, extended reading etc.
- What else would you like to try? Were there areas you dabbled in but would like to explore further? Did you notice a branch of the company that you'd be interested in learning more about?
If you're trying to break into fashion, internships may seem like the holy grail. But we encourage you to know your worth and approach with caution.
People should pay you for your time. That's my controversial hot take!
As Stephanie astutely notes, it costs you money to work for free. One of Stephanie's side projects, 'Your Fashion Career', is a platform dedicated to empowering interns and creating conversations surrounding the controversial 'unpaid internship'.
All that said, internships are not the be-all and end-all these days. Create your own opportunities for learning and networking. Whether it's a podcast, blog or Twitter account, build your own platform to demonstrate your personality and passion.
You are more than your CV
Sure, a killer portfolio will put you in the race, but it won't carry you over the finish line. Employers need to know that you're their type off paper too.
Stephanie's trick for standing out from the crowd? Tell a good story.
Go to art galleries, theatres and busy cafes. Go to events and start a conversation with the person next to you. I know it's scary and awkward but that's where you find your stories.
I remember a student at LCF, her goal was to be a PR assistant. We spoke about her work at Dunhill, turns out she once helped Princess Diana's brother buy a pair of shoes! That is a story employers will remember!
Don't count yourself out of an opportunity because you lack experience. Focus on what you as an individual can bring to the table. We often see young people, especially women, shy away from opportunities because they don't check every single requirement listed on the job description.
When I doubt myself or wonder whether to apply for something that is perhaps a stretch of my capabilities, I think: What would I do if I were a man? Usually, I end up applying.
Practical experience is essential, but character speaks volumes. You want to build a biography that cannot be summed up in bullet points.
Learn to love networking
I was told by someone in my life that I would never get a job as 'I didn't know anyone'. It was disheartening but I thought, well, how can I change that?
We may not all have industry connections, but that doesn't mean the door is completely closed. It is easier than ever to connect with industry insiders but, unfortunately, that probably means your contact has an inbox inundated with similar requests.
Many of Stephanie's greatest career moves have arisen from cold emails, she has always operated on the 'don't ask, don't get' philosophy. Now, Stephanie shares her tips on crafting a cold email that won't end up in the bin.
To whom it may concern
- Address them personally—greet them by name. Do not send the same email to everyone in the office.
- Don't be generic—what did you think about their most recent project? Do you have a shared interest? Reference it. Prove you have done your research and make it clear this is not a copy-and-paste job.
- Choose wisely—Stephanie advises looking for someone who is high up enough to have influence, but also low down enough to actually reply!
- Go with intent—a clear call to action is a must. Be upfront with what you're asking for.
- Keep it clean—format your email well: use bullet points, clear spacing and appropriate paragraphing. Make it nice to look at and easy to read.
- Remember you're asking for a favour—be polite, respectful and make your request as convenient for them as possible.
- Feign humility—now is not the time for modesty! You need to prove your worth, explain why they should take you seriously and how you/your service will benefit them.
- Leave them guessing—ensure these questions are answered: Who are you? Why are you contacting them? Why should they bother listening?
Keep in touch
- Build a relationship—follow them and their work and engage with conversations they may start online.
- Share your work—let them know how you are progressing, inform them of upcoming projects, invite them to events, remind them that you are driven and engaged.
The bottom line
Turns out, it's not what you know or whom you know! It is what you want to achieve, how you present yourself, what you have done and who knows you.
Lay strong foundations for your career in the fashion industry with a good work ethic, genuine passion and confident demeanour.
Find Stephanie on Instagram and Linkedin, or check out Fashion Originators on Instagram and Apple Podcast.