Fashion graduates of 2014: here are the first steps of your career in fashion
First of all, congratulations!
You have just finished your fashion degree! So what’s next for you? A well-deserved holiday? More fashion education? An internship in a studio? Or, perhaps, setting up your own label or fashion business? But would that even be possible?!
This article for Modeconnect will help you explore these options. This post, the first of a series of seven, will take a look at the first year in the career of Melissanthi Spei, talented fashion artist and designer of gorgeous fashion artefacts. My aim here is to provide you with ideas for your next steps in fashion, to help you think about the direction of your fashion career.
I’m Jacki Hall and I am lucky enough to work with the next generation of UK fashion talent. I teach MA students at London College of Fashion, and mentor and advise graduates, entrepreneurs and small designer businesses on how to start up and develop. After fifteen years, I know the industry and how to get ahead in it.
Like Melissanthi, most fashion graduates haven’t received much in the way of business training and education. I graduated in printed textile design in the mid-1990s and had a number of talks on pricing (how many ceramic teapots), marketing (how to design fliers), what accounting is (still not sure on this one) and, I am sure, other gems of information that I just did not find very helpful.
But, back to you. You’ve finished your studies and the summer stretches before you in a haze of opportunity.
Endless friends no doubt talk of interviews, of someone-who-knows-someone, of a work placement that might be paid and permanent, of an amazing, totally incredible, internship in a studio with the next best thing since, well, Mary Katrantzou.
Here is where the anxiety creeps in. What am I going to do? How many CVs have I sent out only to hear nothing back? Can I afford to rent my flat/go out/eat? Live?
No, getting a career in fashion isn’t easy. So let’s see how Melissanthi did it.
Melissanthi Spei: “I see fashion as an art, although I know it’s a business.”
In July 2013, Athens-born Melissanthi Spei graduated from MA Fashion Artefact at London College of Fashion. Melissanthi is a designer and maker of ‘crazy, creative pieces’; she explains: ‘I use things I see in everyday life and make them beautiful.’
The conceptual designs and accessories of her degree collection have shown in exhibitions and events across Europe (The Queen’s Ball in Amsterdam andCarnival King of Europe exhibition in Warsaw); featured in leading international fashion media (Vogue Italia, L’Officiel Italia) and been shortlisted for major fashion competitions (SDC International Design Competition, International Talent Support). Yet even with such enviable success, countless job applications and four internships under her belt, Melissanthi struggled to find work in the industry.
“After graduating, at first I was really positive and excited about designing my own pieces but by September I was so disappointed: I had applied for almost 200 jobs – I went everywhere! You need money to survive, so I was considering finding a part-time internship and part-time job, but I had already done four internships, and as a Masters graduate there’s a time where you have to say ‘no, I can’t keep doing that.’”
Now Melissanthi works for a successful young label in its second season in London. In a small team of six, the hours are, of course, very long, but she has a lot of responsibility: she juggles budgets in Excel spreadsheets, negotiates with agents and suppliers and undertakes design research for the new collections. She began her career there as a design assistant but is lucky enough to be learning everything involved in running a small fashion label.
Melissanthi really values this experience. She’s not – yet – designing her own collections, but she loves the job, the designer’s vision and helping the designer achieve success in his own goals. But does she still hope for her own label?
“It’s still my dream. Hopefully one day this will come true. But for now I can do small customised pieces, through collaborations in my spare time.
It’s good to work for a more commercial company and be more realistic about the industry, while working on more creative pieces that keep my identity and my ideas alive. It’s good to do both.”
Melissanthi’s advice to fashion graduates
1 – Seek advice and support early on
Find people who know the fashion industry and can help you look for a position, or simply explain what jobs there are, what employers are looking for and how to access them effectively. It’s good – and easy – to speak to previous graduates. I had to do everything myself and I would have saved a lot of time if I’d got advice earlier. Long before you gain this precious fashion degree, speak to your university careers advisors and also look for jobs to see what’s in the market. There are a lot of organisations who support young designers, so research and contact them.
2 – Insure an income
Get a part-time job, any job, and keep a roof over your head. Even if you do not get your perfect fashion job there are ways to turn a job taken mainly for a living into an interesting experience. If you really like a particular fashion designer, maybe you can get a job as a sales assistant in one of their boutiques. This will also give you an understanding of the business.
Every time I applied for a job, I started by researching the position in order to adapt the way I presented myself. Get your CVs out there and see what response you get. Some CVs look so bad people don’t want to read them; if you have strong visuals use them in your CV to catch attention.
3 – Keep on building and demonstrating your skills
Some skills are useful in most jobs in the fashion industry; cultivate those.
Make sure you can use computer packages like Illustrator, Photoshop, and Microsoft Word and Excel. It’s also useful to know all aspects of the fashion industry so reading some marketing books would be helpful.
Go for lots of interviews if only for the experience – especially with established design labels – but don’t expect to get a job straight away. It’s a challenge when you go for an interview to show that you can do both the commercial and the creative designs.
4 – Promote your designs
Present your work well. Take good images of it that you can send to blogs and magazines, but realise that with a lot of magazines even when you give your work, they may choose not to use it in the final cut. Build an understanding of what the editor is looking for. In any case, it’s good that people know that you’re out there and they know your work. Today it is easy and inexpensive to promote yourself through the web, there are lots of good blogs to contact directly and send images to. If your work is well presented and they like the images, then they can upload and use them. – Here is how to submit work to Modeconnect! –
5 – Grow and use your networks
Connections really help, it makes finding work much easier, but I didn’t have any. However, I had already met my boss on a collaborative project with a mutual contact and so I reminded him of that in the interview.
6 – Work, work, work…
Everything gets a lot harder once you have graduated: as you are not a student anymore you don’t have access to tutors, machines or equipment. You don’t get to do it again, so you really have to do your best when you are studying.
While you are job-hunting, do internships so you know how the industry works even if it’s unpaid. You’ll meet more people and grow your network through this and you never know what it might lead to. I know lots of people who started from internships in a big company and were so good that they were invited back for paid work. Even magazine internships were useful; I did lots of social media work. This wasn’t really creative, but good to see another part of fashion industry, and helped with how I now do my research. Graphic design experiences really helped me present my work better.
7 – Be realistic
You have to start from somewhere. You cannot expect people to just appreciate your work and buy your pieces; that takes a lot of time. If you take a studio job, realise that you won’t get your name known if you work for someone else. For a lot of people this is a difficult choice, it’s a struggle, but you have to be realistic and work for other people first.
8 – Shared design vision
In a studio job, work for someone you appreciate and believe in, it keeps you motivated during long work hours – unavoidable in the fashion industry! It’s really good to work with someone who shares your ideas and whose designs and materials you can really relate to. It’s important that the label’s aesthetics are similar to your own; otherwise you will struggle to support and understand the designer.
9 – Finally, be nice!
It’s really important that you don’t have an attitude – don’t be difficult, dramatic or competitive. It’s important to work well within a team; those people will remember you. Designers want collaborators who support them.
So, now you have had a peek into what your next year – and the first year of your fashion career – might hold. It may be exhilarating and life-changing; it will definitely involve hard work, long hours and, possibly, Excel spreadsheets…
We wish you all the best of luck!