“I may look like Barbie but I’m GI Joe underneath,” is one of my favourite sayings about working in the fashion industry. The 2012 shot below by Norman Wong is one of my favourites from my days at Flare. My fine hair looks good (a miracle) and I’m wearing my classic leopard print topper (still have it) but I’m pretty sure I fit a suit of armour underneath! While my GI Joe comment is often met with a laugh, I’m actually dead serious. You’ve got to be tough to make it in this business.
So many people are attracted to fashion because of the clothes, or models or glitz of runway shows and parties. I get that – but it’s probably about 10% of the job. And this is a big business with significant demands. When I talk to students or those wanting to make the leap over from an established career into areas like fashion design, editing, photography and styling, I ask them if they’re tough enough for it. Yes, the industry is exciting and I’ve met some of the most fascinating people on the planet but there are lots of moments when I shake my head and think – we have to do better. Here are a few things to think about if you want to work in this exhilarating, creative, colourful and sometimes crazy business:
24/7 commitment – Many industries have wicked hours but, in fashion, business crosses over into personal all the time. Work days are packed and then evenings are full of product launch events, receptions and shows. Do you have the time, stamina, and wardrobe for all that? Pick what matters to you – networking opportunities, inspiration etc. You don’t have to go to everything.
Low pay – An unpaid internship is the best way to get your foot in the door. And then it can take years to earn a decent paycheque. Salaries and freelance rates have shockingly gone down in publishing for example. I was paid one dollar per word when I first started freelancing in the 90s. The rate is the same or usually LESS now. And even then, it’s hard to find assignments. Can you afford that? There’s a long line of people who will work for free. Value your time, energy and creativity – don’t give it away unless the job has a really strong benefit to you.
Go, go, go, faster, faster, faster – The fashion cycle used to be based upon the seasons. Now, new collections cycle in every six weeks or less. Businesses demand growth year after year. Prices go up, up, up. Fashion bloggers are expected to post daily photos more fabulous than the next. New technologies arrive at a furious rate. And you’re only as good as your last collection, fashion show or blog post. Are you up for that? There’s no resolution for this one. I anticipate that things will continue to move at a breakneck speed. Embrace it and always keep learning.
There are so many people who will read my three points above and think “yes! yes! yes! What’s the big deal?” That’s the kind of passion and energy that wins this game. If that sounds like you, then welcome. Just set some boundaries, be yourself (always), AND take good care of yourself first. Remember, you don’t have to be all things to all people. Be true to your passions and goals.