I’ve spent a lot of time lately talking to all kinds of people about my career in the Canadian fashion industry. My impression is that many of them – graduating students to those looking to switch industries – think my days have always been full of glamour and excitement. I often hear – “What you do must be so much FUN!” (emphasis theirs) or “I want a glamorous career just like yours.” And while there have absolutely been times of fun and glamour, it’s also been a LOT of work (emphasis mine). I love this business otherwise I would have moved on long ago, but I’d estimate that 5% to 10% at times (mainly as the Editor-in-Chief of Flare) were actually glamorous. 

Photo by Tara West

So while I’ve cherished the fun and exciting times – dancing under the stars next to Karl Lagerfeld at the Hotel Cap du Eden Roch in the South of France was a pinch-me moment – it was a long grind to reach that pinnacle. Here are the qualities I recommend for those aspiring to be part of the fashion world: 

Be adaptable: Flexibility with change is hugely important in an industry that is evolving at warp speed. There isn’t a prescribed path to success anymore. Success will come to risk takers who recognize opportunities before others, and then leap. Five years ago, when I left Flare, I told my young editors to abandon the expected climb up the corporate ladder to my role. I encouraged them to explore online publishing, blogging or content production (marketing) which is where the business is now. I moved over to retail at that point with my eye on e-commerce and social media sales.

Multi-task: Juggling a lot of responsibilities is normal now. Most people I know are handling the tasks of several roles. Social media is a perfect example. Successful creatives have invested a lot of time telling their story on Instagram and SnapChat. Many clients now build social media support into their expectations – whether you’re a model, editor, photographer, or makeup artist. You’ll need to invest the time, energy and resources in creating social channels that reflect your brand. Approach them like a serious business, like a micro-magazine, where you can learn what appeals to your readers. The quality of photos and captions should be consistent with everything else in your business.

Learn: Loving clothes isn’t a substitute for education in fashion. If you feel that way, fashion should be a hobby. I believe in learning as much as possible about business in general to maximize your opportunities. I studied buying and merchandising at a private fashion college. Now, if you’re taking the fashion business path (versus design), I would suggest general business studies with a layer of fashion at the end. Study what you’re good at – photography, law, finance, operations, data analysis (that’s a huge area) – and then add an elevated fashion marketing course at the end. Consider a co-op study term or internship as an essential part of your education. It’s the best (and often only) way to get in the door. 

Be savvy: Learn on someone else’s dime. Before launching your own business, work for someone else. You’ll avoid the basic mistakes, build a network and take away key business skills that you wouldn’t learn on your own. 

Have stamina: Much of the fun comes at the end of a long work day packed with meetings. To make the most of the event – and all of the networking – you’ll need to be able to juggle exhaustion and a lack of personal time. Remember, this time is also business – most of my invaluable connections were made at events.

A lot of my advice is basic but I hear the same questions repeatedly. The fashion industry is crowded so you’ll need to differentiate yourself and be prepared to work hard – not just show up for the party. Good luck!