If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked for advice on how to get started in fashion, I could have stocked a store with designer shoes by now. And it’s not just students who ask, but those wanting to jump in from another industry, and even more who are treading water in this business and looking for a fresh stream. Finding a successful path forward is crowded and littered with broken dreams. There’s a number of different options to take but almost all of them start with networking. I’m not sure why that’s a dirty word to some. Yes, sometimes it does involve standing around chatting while sipping on cheap wine and struggling not to spill appetizers down your front. And I’ve done plenty of that (cheap wine, not the spills) in my career and always found the connections I’ve made to be invaluable. Networking was the key that opened all of the major career doors in my life.
Networking is easier than ever, and takes many forms. Start by keeping yourself informed about events where you’ll meet like-minded people. In the above photo, I’m interviewing designer Tanya Taylor at an event open to customers at Holt Renfrew. Tanya and I were available to speak to anyone after the formal Q&A. How can you find out about these events? Check your phone. Social media has become an invaluable source of information.
Follow industry leaders, your favourite stores and associations on Instagram and Facebook to stay up to date. For example, the first week in April in Toronto is packed with events hosted by The Canadian Arts and Fashion Awards (@cafa), an association that highlights fashion retail, technology and design. There’s the big bash – the black tie awards evening on April 7 – but the team is also hosting a new series of retail and tech forums. The first one is April 6 and more are planned in future. The Kit (@thekitca) is holding a conference on April 4 and 5 featuring editors, social media influencers and fashion business leaders sharing stories about their careers. The Bay (@hudsonsbay) is celebrating Calgarian and global media influencer Imran Amed (@imranamed) of the Business of Fashion (@bof) at an invitation-only breakfast. Amed, now based in London, is the recipient of the Vanguard Award at the CAFAs.
If you can’t afford to buy a ticket, offer to volunteer. And then once you get to the event, talk to as many people as you can. Hand out your business card. Follow up a week later. Keep showing up. That’s networking in a nutshell.
Don’t rely on emailing industry leaders and asking for a meeting or lunch. Everyone seems to be doing three jobs these days so time is at a premium. Unfortunately, they will likely press delete when your email pops up. You may get a chance to meet that same person at an event where they will be happy to have a quick chat with you.
If you’re in Toronto, I’d also suggest following the Toronto Fashion Incubator (@tfi_fashionincubator); Fashion Group International (@fgitoronto); TOM Toronto Mens Fashion Week (@tom_fw); and the FDCC (@fashiondesigncouncilofCanada) to name a few that host industry events.
Engage on social media as well. Leave appropriate comments. Look for new people to follow. I’ve met all kinds of people through Instagram.
Networking is all about getting out and meeting people. Once you start attending events regularly, you’ll notice the same people and find it easier to make connections. And you’ll start to see doors opening that may have been previously closed, or you may not have even known that they were there. Good luck!