The glitz. The glamour. The allure. The freebies. There’s nothing quite like the world of fashion.
Unfortunately, there’s nothing quite so brutal, either. Fashion can be a tough business, but for the chosen few it can also be an intoxicating world.
So, how do you know if it’s for you? How do you know if you should call up that NYC fashion recruiter and pursue a career in one of the most competitive businesses around? How do you know if you can climb the ladder of success (and enjoy it along the way)?
Here are 10 things to consider before you walk down that runway.
1. The Pressure Cooker
The fashion industry is a pressure cooker. It’s competitive, stressful, and sometimes downright panic-inducing. Unfortunately, the world of designer handbags and summer collections can sometimes seem like one big MMA cage.
In such a competitive world, only the bold survive. Toughness is a mantra. Confidence is a way of life. Many people became the best by thinking they were the best, or at least by telling the world they were the best.
In a dog-eat-dog world, a streak of boldness will serve you well. You don’t have to pick fights, but you should be able to hold your ground and keep your head up.
For all the pressure and competition (or perhaps because of it), fashion jobs are also some of the most creative, exclusive, and glamorous.
2. The Pyramid of Success
The fashion business is a pyramid, which is to say it’s hierarchical. Sometimes the exact nature of the pyramid is strange and mysterious. Who belongs where isn’t always clear.
One thing is clear: you’ll have to pay your dues. Unless your father owns a record label or a luxury hotel chain, you probably won’t start out at the top, and the bottom tier of the fashion pyramid is notably low. It’s an industry famous (or infamous) for employing an army of slaves, or “unpaid interns,” in official parlance. That means years of hard and often unremunerated work at the behest of people who are intensely conscious of their own importance.
When all is said and done, though, the pressure cooker produces some great results. You often need a little friction to light that creative spark, and fashion is all about that creative spark.
3. Brutal Hours, Tedious Tasks
Living at the bottom of the pyramid means performing the most unglamorous tasks. Before you even consider calling a fashion industry recruiter and diving into the world of slick runways and high-end labels, ask yourself if you’re ready to get down and dirty.
Lugging around garment bags? Fetching your boss a mocha latte? Delivering routine messages? Doing it with a smile and a spring in your step?
Of course, if you can survive the gauntlet, you might just emerge as the next big thing. Maybe not, but a little dream never hurt anyone.
4. Even More Brutal Hours, Even More Pressure
You may think you have it made as soon as you’ve landed that first paying job, but if you think life will get easier as you climb the ladder of success, think again. Each rung brings only more stress. High-end fashion is notoriously demanding, particularly for top designers.
Many will be the mornings when the clock strikes three and you’ve only just walked out the office door―and don’t wait around for your overtime check. A number of fashion jobs are salaried, and that means you may be working long, long hours without a big wad of extra cash to show for it.
On the bright side, you’ll be joining the exalted ranks of the Honored and the Overworked. Along with doctors and CEOs, you’ll glow with the pride and satisfaction that only comes with working your butt off. (If you’re not getting your beauty sleep, you might need that inner glow to look your best.)
5. A Small and Well Connected World
It’s no secret: Fashion is (almost) all about who you know and how well you know them. Behind many successful designers stand a host of famous parents, wealthy uncles, and powerful friends.
Before you become too disheartened, you should know that the business also has a reputation for rewarding hard work and ambition. Those are good tidings if you don’t happen to be cozy with any major power brokers. It does mean, however, that you might have to do some extra leg work to get in the door.
Don’t waste time stewing in envy and bitterness. Instead, get busy. Begin strategizing.
6. The Who’s Who and What’s What
You know those social skills that serve you so well at parties? You’ll be able to use them shamelessly as you work your way to the top.
If it’s true that people hire their friends first, then get friendly. You don’t have to be a toady or a lap dog, but a few honest friendships and a lot of networking will go a long way.
Seek out allies. Then try to keep them. Get in touch with fashion industry recruiters. If you’re dying for a job with that great New York label, check out a local New York fashion agency. Find someone, anyone who can help you get in the door and up the ladder.
7. Fashion Is Business, Not Art
Designing clothes is one of the most creative niches out there. It may come as a surprise, then, that fashion is not, strictly speaking, an art. It is first and foremost a business.
You mean fashion is not all self-expression and artistic vision? Well, not entirely. If you think you’ll be designing or critiquing only the most stunning, creatively satisfying pieces of haute couture, think again. Half the time (maybe more, maybe less), you’ll be hawking unseemly or even hideous get-ups just to keep the business afloat.
Then again, for true fashion aficionados, a few cringe-worthy moments may be a small price to pay for the pursuit of a dream.
8. Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall
Fashion is all about looks. Let’s be honest: The industry practically invented the idea of body image.
This is where that surplus of confidence will come in handy. Of course, even a relatively self-assured and level-headed person can lose touch with reality when surrounded all day, every day by paper-thin models and airbrushed photos. Just remember: You don’t need to be the most beautiful person in the room.
You will, however, need to look sharp, and that can be a daunting task when you’re working for free or pulling in minimum wage. Thankfully, taste counts for more than money. If you can’t figure out how to pull off a head-turning look on a budget, you probably have no business being a trendsetter anyway.
9. It’s Personal
It may be business, but it’s also very personal. The outfit you wear, the way you look―it’s more than a piece of loose-fitting cloth. It’s about your creative vision, your sense of yourself, and the image you want to project to the world.
In the fashion industry, critics circle like a school of piranhas. Whether the attack comes from a magazine editor trashing your newest collection or a coworker glancing sideways at your sneakers, it can seem like your very soul is under assault.
It’s no wonder tempers flare. If you’re unwilling to sacrifice your health and mental stability, you’ll need to shed that thin skin and learn how to hold your head high (preferably higher than your competition).
Act as if nothing ruffles your feathers, even when you’re ready to scream obscenities into the bathroom mirror. Muster all the forces of pride and dignity at your disposal. You’ll not only maintain your sanity; chances are, you’ll also earn respect.
10. To Each Her Niche
Maybe you’ll be the next Anna Wintour or Marc Jacobs. Chances are, you won’t, but that’s okay. There are plenty of wonderful jobs from which to pick and choose.
Designer, writer, editor, buyer, brand representative, PR agent, visual merchandiser―the list is long; the list is thrilling. The trick is knowing which one is right for you.
Want to come out with your own line? Select the next hot thing for a major store? Or would you prefer to write about the latest fashion triumphs and flops? Do you have a creative mind? A business mind? Or a critical one? Fashion employment agencies can help you narrow down your search and find that one dream job that’s perfect for you.
It’s the Passion, Stupid
In the end, everything comes down to passion. From the doors of that New York fashion agency to the huge desk in that executive suite, success in the fashion industry depends on how badly you want it.
Only a healthy dose of ambition, and an abiding love for clothes and accessories in their infinite variety, will propel you to the top. Only with the right amount of devotion will you be able to endure the hard days, long nights, and thankless tasks.
Only you can decide whether the reward is worth the price. If you are prepared to bear a little strain for the sake of stunningly stylish attire, then you might just be the perfect fit for the fast-moving, seductive world of fashion.
Ready to take the next steps? Call us at 212-575-5898.