How to Land a Fashion Job: Career Advice From Tanya Taylor

In our “How to Land a Fashion Job” series, we ask industry insiders to real talk about what they do, how they got there and how to break into the biz. This month, Toronto-born, New York-based fashion designer Tanya Taylor

Name: Tanya Taylor

Age: 30

Job: Founder & Creative Director, Tanya Taylor

Follow: @TanyaTaylorNYC, tanyataylor

fashion job tanya taylor

Did you always know you wanted to be a designer? How did you get into the industry?

I did not always want to be a designer—I actually grew up wanting to be a fashion lawyer or dentist, two very polar opposite dreams. I went to McGill University [in Montreal] and graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce in Finance. While I was there, I realized I missed being creative. I had grown up painting every inch of the walls in our basement and being extremely crafty, so I decided to take an “Intro to Fashion” class at Central Saint Martins in London the summer after third year, and fell in love immediately. After McGill, I graduated from Parsons School of Design in New York and interned four days a week for two years at Elizabeth and James before becoming an assistant designer on their womenswear team. In 2012, I started to miss the business side of what I had learned and realized I could be both creative and entrepreneurial if I started my own company.

What are the most important qualities a person needs to have for your job and why?

Tenacity, courage and kindness. As a designer, your work is always going to be judged and it’s important to stay true to your vision and forge on. Roll with the punches, but never stop smiling! Kindness goes a long way in terms of how my team communicates—we try to have a sense of humor with every challenge that comes our way.

What would you say was your first big break? Who gave it to you?

My first big break was when I was hired as an assistant designer at Elizabeth and James after interning there for two years. I worked closely with Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen and found their sense of curiosity and attention to detail very inspiring. (Sidenote: I got my internship by faxing in my resume. The design team was so curious as to who would fax anything that they invited me for an interview. Lesson is, it’s okay to be quirky and stand out!)

Who in your life would you say inspired you to be where you are today?

My grandfather was an inspiring entrepreneur. He was extremely grounded and hardworking and ran a company with over 5,000 employees but treated everyone equally. He taught me the value of kindness and how a good leader needs to eliminate fear from life.

What was the most pivotal move in your career to get you to your current status?

The most pivotal move was moving to New York! Second most pivotal was having a bad day at work in 2011 and listening to my gut that I needed to leave my job and start my own collection. I literally knew NO ONE in NYC and was incredibly naïve about what it takes to make it in the industry, but I had a lot of guts and wouldn’t take no for an answer. I sometimes look back and can’t believe the strength it took at the very beginning.

What was the worst/most challenging position you’ve had in the industry?

In the summers while I was studying at McGill, I worked as a seamstress repairing vintage dresses at Paper Bag Princess on Davenport Road in Toronto. I desperately wanted to work there—they had the coolest archives of ’50s and ’60s gowns and the owner always told me the most glamourous L.A. fashion stories.  BUT, small problem, I didn’t know how to sew, even though I’d led them to believe I could. My lesson: don’t exaggerate your sewing skills when you’re dealing with thousands of dollars of vintage. After that, I went to Parsons to learn how to sew. 🙂

If you were just starting out today, how do you think you would try to break into the business? Anything you would do differently?

I would have talked to more people before starting. I stubbornly tried to break into the business by myself. I wish I’d known more of the mentors I have now. I would have asked questions like: ‘Should I have a showroom to launch the collection? Do I need to invest in shows? How many SKUs should there be in a collection?’ I also would have edited my first couple of collections. When I started I thought the goal was to show how creative I could be and show how many things I could do, but I’ve learned that’s not the goal. Strong collections are clear and concise, and creativity is at its strongest when it has boundaries.

What would you say was one of the biggest risks you took when you were just starting your career?

When I was first starting out I had a lot of motivation to make things work. I rented a studio and hired my first employee before I even had a visa to work in the U.S., so that sure was a risk! After that, I just put myself out there. I wanted to show at the Museum of Modern Art so I begged a major company to sponsor our spring ’13 presentation there. I loved Liv Tyler so I sent her stylist a look book—she ended up being one of the first celebrities to wear the collection. I knew I had to be bold and ask for what I wanted.

What was one of your proudest moments as a designer?

The first time Michelle Obama wore the collection. I was working very late on my Vogue Fashion Fund submission and it was a complete surprise.

What continues to surprise or amaze you about your job?

My team!

Who is your ultimate fashion icon?  

This is tough but… Diana Vreeland. She wore her personality with honesty and flair.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your career so far?

Ask for help when you need it. I am a firm believer in collaboration!

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