When you think about working in fashion you might automatically envisage an Anne Hathaway, ‘Devil Wears Prada’– type situation. A highly competitive assistant role, where you are forced to work 15 hour days in a cut-throat environment, probably doesn’t seem too inviting.
Or maybe you have a keen eye for fashion and aesthetics but the thought of constructing garments in a ‘Project Runway’ style environment makes you want to throw the closest sewing machine at the wall.
While the industry certainly isn’t all glitz and glamour, there are many fulfilling and diverse roles that exist.
Having a love for fashion is easy, being passionate and driven is key, but finding your niche can be the most confusing part.
To help you navigate your fashion career pathway a little better, we thought we’d chat to those who have been there before.
GRACE O’NEILL – Fashion Features Director at Harper’s BAZAAR and ELLE.
Grace, could you tell us a little bit about what you do?
I’m the fashion features director at Harper’s BAZAAR and ELLE. This essentially means I am responsible for conceiving, then writing and editing the fashion-related stories that go into both magazines each issue. I work closely with the fashion team – the fashion director, fashion editor and market editor – to help write accompanying text for their stories, as well as my own trend wrap-ups, designer profiles, cover interviews and deep-dives on industry trends.
In the competitive industry of publications, how did you find yourself working for top fashion magazines?
I honestly never thought I’d end up in magazines – I’m certainly not one of those girls who grew up religiously reading Vogue and Harper’s. I interned at Vogue, then went to ELLE when it launched in Australia and interned for the features director. My first job was at Harper’s BAZAAR on the digital team, where I worked my way up to managing editor of HarpersBAZAAR.com.au. Late last year I switched back to print as the fashion features director for both Harper’s and ELLE.
Most of us see the glamorous side of your job, attending ‘Fashion Week’ around the world and meeting fashion elites. What has been the most challenging part of your career so far?
Aside from the credit card debt… Dealing with the rise of digital media has been a huge challenge, and figuring out how to keep up with the demand of a 24-hour news cycle, while also staying true to the DNA of the brands we work for is a constant state of push-and-pull.
Could you share some words of advice to any inspiring features director?
Read everything. There’s this idea that fashion is this intuitive thing that people either know or they don’t, but that’s simply not true. Anyone can learn fashion if they’re passionate enough, so read everything you can get your hands on, pay for a Business of Fashion subscription, read every review on Vogue Runway, read everything Vanessa Friedman and Robin Givhan have ever written then catch up on Tim Blanks, Cathy Horyn, Lou Stoppard, Jo Ellison and Alexander Fury. Read, and you will become a good writer. Also – don’t be entitled. It’s the most unattractive and off-putting quality in the world.
INDIANNA ROEHRICH – Founder of Simply Social Management.
Indi, you are a self-made business woman tackling brand imagery and public relations in the digital age. What do careers in fashion media look like today? How have they changed?
In the world of social media, a single role for social media didn’t exist 5-6 years ago, now these roles have be made into full-time careers, which is very exciting!
Your job involves wearing many different ‘hats’, what do you love most about your job?
Every day is different at Simply Social MGT, I love that it’s fast-paced, one day I could be shooting content, sourcing products, in brainstorming meetings, pitching concepts… the list goes on. Social media is constantly changing which means I’m always adapting new strategies for my clients to ensure they’re at the forefront of worldwide social media trends. I’m not one to sit still, this digital world is the right fit for me.
And now the burning question, what would you say is the best way to break into the industry?
Hustle and hustle hard. Create a list of workplaces you’d like to get an insight into and get your foot in the door by taking up an internship. If you’ve emailed and received no response, pick up the phone. Ultimately if fashion is the industry you want to work in, you’ve got be persistent, patient and take initiative.
VANESSA LAWRENCE – Stylist and Founder of the ‘Style Vibe’.
Vanessa, what made you decide to pursue styling? How did this career path allow you to incorporate your personal skill-set and interests?
My love of fashion and helping people. I always knew that being around beautiful clothing made me feel inspired, energetic and happy. That combined with my strong desire to help people and make them feel good about themselves, Styling is the perfect profession to help me live my best life whilst helping others.
What are the parts of you job that are less glamorous or that people wouldn’t know you do?
The less glamorous parts of styling are things like – sitting on the ground in someone’s wardrobe perhaps wiping dust off old shoes! Also in the organising of a fashion show, there is a lot of heavy lifting of racks, garments and accessories which I have to do all on my own as I can not afford to have a helper. Shifting 150 pieces for a show from multiple retailers up and down pathways and to and from the events can be tough work.
What part of your job do you enjoy the most?
My favourite part of my job is working with great people!! I feel no matter what brands you are using or situation you are in, when you have the right people around you, it’s so much fun! second to that, I love being in the runway / event space – the energy, beautiful garments, lights and music just really inspires me and in those moments nothing else seems to matter.
NINA O’BRIEN – Founder and Designer of Kindling the label.
Nina, looking back on your career, has fashion design always been a passion for you? How did you find moving from your work with social enterprise garment manufacturing companies in Vietnam back to fashion design?
I studied Clothing and Textiles in undergrad and started the label in 2008. I took the job in Vietnam in 2010 as a break from commercial design, at the time being really inspired to blend my love of design with my need to be effective in the development sector too.
Working in Hanoi with my hearing-impaired production team and being so involved with the supply chain and a proud heritage of tailoring re-ignited my passion for truly well-made clothing. It has now been 8 years of working with my team, growing every year.
I did leave Vietnam after 3 years and moved to Melbourne to do a Masters degree in Fashion Business which has definitely helped me
grow the business, however I attribute the success of my label also to the quality of our manufacture and I’m so grateful that my design direction has no limits with these super skilled women.
I have read that each of your garments are sewn from start to finish by one person, with a focus on attention to detail, quality and garment longevity. Why is ‘slow-fashion’ important to you and your brand?
So much energy goes into one garment; from growing, harvesting and processing a fibre, to fabric design, garment design, pattern-making and finally cutting and sewing. For this to be sustainable I want every garment we make to
be worn and loved. If the manufacture of the garment is done as quickly and cheaply as possible than something important is lost. However if the people who are making the clothes are proud of their skills and workmanship and enjoy what they do, I feel like that carries through to the person who ends up owning the garment. I like that idea of good vibes flowing along the supply chain through my shop and into lives around Australia and beyond.
What words of wisdom would you give to aspiring fashion designers?
It’s ok to be different and do things differently. For example we have never (and never will) individually wrap our clothing in plastic bags as is the industry standard. Our stockists know that an order from us will arrive in a recycled box lined with recycled plastic lining. On the outside it may be ugly (bar a few excellent stickers) but the contents will be beautiful and that’s what actually matters.
Also, It’s ok to not follow the current trend of discounting clothing to clear stock. It is not a race to the bottom – make beautiful garments for your established audience at a fair and honest price point and you will have a sustainable business model.
So what’s the next step towards your fashion career goals? Do you love to write? Can you see yourself in the styling world? Are you a designer?
Remember, all of these fashion career women started off in the exact same position, it’s what you do now that will change your future.