What does it take to ‘make it’ in the fashion industry? Fashion has long enthralled the public, thanks to the way it intertwines with Hollywood, celebrities, and pop culture at-large. But for all of the inspiration that fashion draws from everyday streetwear and the current times, the “industry,” can seem like a far-fetched, insider’s-only network. As in, imagine a constant “you can’t sit with us” vibe. It can be intimidating, for sure. So, how does one go about breaking into the fashion industry—and crafting a career in a notoriously fickle sector of design and entertainment?
We tapped some of the hardest-working people in the game for the their best fashion industry career advice. Here’s what they had to say about what it takes to make it in one of the most competitive fields around.
Here’s some of the best fashion industry career advice from the pros
Learn from connections
“It seems obvious but, be nice. In an industry that could be a minefield of entitlement and insecurity, being nice not only cuts through the garbage, but you also have the opportunity to truly connect with people on all levels and learn from the connections made.”
—Marissa Rosenblum, VP, Content, Barneys New York
“My best advice for making it in this industry is: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate. Say ‘yes’ and lean in to as many projects and partnerships as you can. Fashion is a collaborative art and also a very small world at the end of the day. There have been a number of partnerships and projects over the years I felt like I didn’t quite have the bandwidth to tackle at that moment that I ultimately decided to take on—and in every instance I learned something that I take with me today and forged relationships that I value, tremendously. So, collaborate, partner, say ‘yes’, and build up that reserve of earned knowledge. You’ll need all of it one day.”
—Kate Davidson Hudson, Co-founder and EIC, Editorialist
Be willing to do the grunt work
“First, I think it’s incredibly important to have a strong aesthetic point of view. Fashion trends change, colors come in and out of season, ‘everyone’s wearing/doing/eating this,’ and then poof, ‘no one’s wearing/doing/eating that.’ It’s very easy to get pulled with the tide. It’s much harder to know yourself and stay true to your vision—what you are and what you aren’t are important (and constant) questions to answer.
“Second, the fashion world is usually associated with all the glamour—the runway shows, the fancy launch events, the glossy ad campaigns. The behind-the-scenes reality is a lot less glamorous and rarely shown. If you want to build a career for yourself in any industry—fashion certainly included—you have to be just as willing to do the grunt work because it’s honestly most of the work!”
Be confident in your POV
“Be aware and be confident. Fashion trends have always been synonymous with pop culture. To be an expert in the fashion industry, you must be aware of what’s happening in news and entertainment. Trends go beyond just what you see from their obvious details—know where they came from and know who’s rocking it! As a fashion publicist, my network looks to me as a trusted source for the latest and greatest styles. That said, it’s important to be confident. While you might not love the ‘dad-shoe’ trend, when Bella Hadid rocks it with confidence, you trust her. Same goes for establishing yourself in the industry. Be confident in not only your personal style, but be confident in your expertise.”
—Hayley Enzor, Fashion PR at Bollare
Embrace what makes you different
“What makes you different is what will make you succeed. If you want to work in the industry, it’s so important to be educated about its history—how it works, who the key players are, etc. However, what I think makes someone stand out is unapologetically bringing their whole self to the table. Fashion needs new voices and points of view, it needs outsiders, it needs unique individuals with fresh ideas. Don’t try to fit into a box that already exists. Also, as cliché as it may sound, be nice and respectful to everyone—this industry is smaller than it seems.”
—Gina Marinelli, Senior Editor, Who What Wear
Be ready to work side gigs
“It’s a time of major change in our already unforgiving industry, so just embrace it and keep up but always maintain your unique point of view. Stay inspired and never sacrifice your vision, even if that means having your 9-to-5 AND a side hustle”
—Kelynn Smith, Creative Direction, LACAUSA Clothing
Consider what makes you different
“Figure out your point of differentiation because that’s what makes your contribution unique and valuable. Whether it’s an unconventional background or a quirky aesthetic, bring something new to the table. Never be above a task, no matter where you are in your career. Managers will notice your proactivity and team mentality, and later in your career, so will your team.”
Diversify your portfolio
“My best advice for making it in the fashion industry is to figure out what you are interested in creating outside of any standard job description and pursue personal projects that highlight your strengths and style as an individual. As a photographer, I collaborated on a bunch of passion projects outside of internships and early freelance assignments that added diversity to my portfolio. The hope is that you get hired and recognized most often for the work that comes from pure passion and intention, and that industry leaders will hire you to expand that body of work based on the initial seeds of creativity they see in these personal projects.”
—Jacq Harriet, editorial and fashion photographer
There’s no “right way” to do things
“Follow your own path. There’s no right way to do things in fashion. So many of us (myself included!) have tried to fit into roles that didn’t work. Trust your instincts and be true to who you are. And find a mentor who gets you. One of the things I regret is not having someone to help guide me along the way. I made a lot of mistakes that I still cringe over. Be you, follow your passions, and you’ll find what you’re looking for.”
Persistence is key
“When it comes to pursuing a career in fashion, I think there are a few things anyone starting out should know. First, every person I know with a fashion career is incredibly determined. It’s a rewarding industry but tough to break into, so it requires persistence and the grit to keep going after hearing no. If you’re passionate about a career in fashion, be prepared to work hard.
“Another important piece is networking. Even though fashion is increasingly moving into the digital and social media spaces, it’s still, at its core, an industry built around connections and personal relationships. Go to events, reach out to people who inspire you, and meet everyone you can. Finally, be nice. The fashion industry has an icy reputation, but all the people I’ve worked with have been incredibly warm and friendly. I think it’s essential to be someone other people respect and enjoy working with.”
—Kristen Nichols, Editor, Who What Wear