1. Do an internship
Pretty much all the experts I spoke with agreed that the best way to get your foot in the door is to do an internship in your field of interest. (That said, remember that according to Ontario’s new Ministry of Labour guidelines, internships conducted in that province must either be paid or completed for school credit.)
“Not only do internships open doors for future opportunities and allow you to network and build industry connections, but they also offer the ability to get a taste for different areas in the industry,” says Christie Lohr, founder of Style Nine to Five, a Vancouver-based fashion and beauty career board.
Canadian designer Eliza Faulkner, who interned at Zandra Rhodes, Roland Mouret and Erdem while studying at London’s Central Saint Martins, says her internship experience was crucial when it came to establishing her own label: “I learned how a studio and business ran on a daily basis. Central St. Martins is notorious for teaching its designers very little about business, so the internships are where you learn all the practicalities.”
Landing an internship, however, is only the first step. “I’ll always tell my new interns that if they’re not prepared to be a superstar every single day, then they might as well not even show up,” says FLARE’s assistant market editor Jillian Vieira. “Someone who might be hired after their placement is someone who has gone above and beyond every single task that is asked of them, and is able to anticipate the needs of their editors and bring extraordinary talent to the table.” (Find out more about FLARE’s internship program here.)
The website Ten Thousand Coffees offers a platform in which you can “ask” a top expert (say, Jeanne Beker) for a quick meeting—either in person, by email, or through Skype or Google Hangout—just by filling out a short questionnaire.
Also attend as many industry events as you can—keep your eyes peeled for those open to the public. Once you’re there, it’s not unmannerly to approach a pro, introduce yourself and ask for advice. FLARE’s fashion director, Tiyana Grulovic, is regularly approached by students and other aspiring fashion world-ers and is more than happy to talk a little shop.
3. Maintain your contacts
Whether you know an industry type through your school, an internship or somewhere else entirely, it’s important to stay in touch with those who could potentially shape your career. If someone has been particularly helpful in your development so far, sending a thank-you note and then a follow-up email every few months will keep you top of mind for future opportunities. And once again, hit up those fashion events—you never know who you might run into.
4. Work your social media
Thanks to Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn, fashion worlders are more accessible than ever before. However, there is a certain unofficial etiquette to follow—abruptly asking for career advice or pitching stories via social media is not advised.
LinkedIn is a great place to keep tabs on your favourite experts. If you work in the same industry, it’s okay to attempt making a connection. If your invite is ignored, just leave it—it’s nothing personal; some people prefer to only link with people they know.
Following fashion insiders on Twitter is incredibly beneficial in terms of gaining insight on the industry; you might even come across job or internship opportunities. The nature of most social media is interactivity, so tweeting at your favourite editor or designer is not inappropriate. (Bonus points for contributing something smart to the conversation.)
Instagram is a more personal network. Here it’s best to “like” as opposed to attempting an interaction. If they’re curious about you, they’ll follow you back.
5. Bookmark the career boards
In the past few years, several fashion-specific job sites have launched. Style Nine to Five—and its Beauty Nine to Five spin-off—has been connecting employers with applicants for over four years, and recently launched a New York-specific site. And earlier this year, Business of Fashion launched its own career hub, connecting applicants to luxury houses and e-tailers such as LVMH and Net-a-porter.
Whatever your dream job, the key to success is a well-tailored cover letter and resume, according to Lohr: “I’ve hired applicants based on their cover letters alone, especially those who have shown that they understand the company, have taken the time to explain why they think they’re a good fit and have obviously done their research by addressing their letter to the correct contact.”
6. Show off your skills
Editors, designers and the like are always impressed with entrepreneurial spirit. Since internships and entry-level jobs are few and far between, there are other ways to grab attention. Yes, the fashion blogosphere is oversaturated, but a super-creative, super-clever blogger will still stand out. “A blog lets recruiters know that although you may not have the traditional experience, you’re willing to grow and expand your knowledge base, using initiative and commitment,” says Lohr.
“A blog is a great way to demonstrate ability and passion and create your own voice. Inevitably, this will act as a resume if done right, and will get across your point of view and your talent,” seconds Grulovic. For aspiring stylists, she suggests assisting a more established pro while developing your own portfolio: “Call one of the bigger agencies, (such as Plutino, P1M or Judy Inc. in Toronto), to suss out what kind of assisting opportunities they might have with their senior stylists.”
And young independent designers should focus on creating a killer online portfolio. It worked for Faulkner: “Now that I have a website and am creating my own aesthetic, I’ve had companies approach me. But it’s important to stay true to your style.”
Looking for more inspiration? Read about these five Canadian mavericks changing the face of fashion