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SAN FRANCISCO, United States — After graduating with a BA in Fashion Design from Northumbria University, Elizabeth Whitehouse began her career at House of Holland as the design assistant for Holland's first menswear collection in London. From the British brand, she moved to Saville Row, working as a multi-product designer in menswear for 3 years at Richard James Mayfair.
However, for the next stage of her career, Whitehouse wanted to focus on one product category, to delve into the detail and performance aspect of materials, and moved to Banana Republic, owned by Gap Inc, as the menswear tailoring and outerwear designer on the wovens team — and from London to the group's design offices in San Francisco, where Banana Republic relocated from New York in April 2018. In the fiscal year 2018, Gap Inc reported net sales of nearly $16.6 billion, of which Banana Republic accounted for over $2.4 billion.
Here, she shares her experience of landing her latest career move in fashion.
What is your role at Banana Republic?
My role at Banana Republic is to design the suits, jackets and the tailored outerwear. I go to fabric fairs, working closely with Italian and Japanese mills, design and develop new silhouettes and designs for the ranges. I work within the wovens design team, where there’s four of us: a pants designer, a denim designer, the woven shirts designer and myself, the menswear tailoring and outerwear designer.
You all have your subcategory, but we work collaboratively, making sure the designs work together and to a concept. We share lots of fabrics, ideas and everyone is so friendly. It’s also great working with the cross functional teams, like the colour team, the fabric team, technical team and merchandising team. I work alongside so many creative people, it’s really inspiring.
How does this job differ from your previous roles?
It’s very different from any other role I’ve previously had. My first job was at House of Holland, which was geared towards creating collections for the runway. Then I went on to work on Saville Row, seeing tailoring at its most historic. I covered suiting, shirts, accessories — everything. So, for this role, I was excited to focus on one product category. I feel like you can delve into the detail a lot more.
I found BoF Careers very straightforward, simple: this is the brand, this is the role, this is how you apply.
There’s a real push at Banana Republic to see what else clothing can do — to create garments which do much more than just be what they’re meant to be — and how it can be relevant to the current needs of our customer, for example, stretch, breathability and temperature regulating. It's great developing innovative new fabrics which can provide these performance aspects.
There’s a move towards sustainability in the company too, which is important to me. It’s nice to work for a company that I feel cares about that. We’re trying to use more organic and recycled materials, and by working cross functionally, all the designers are working on this for each category.
How did BoF Careers help you in getting your job?
A careers platform which has international opportunity is quite rare. It’s hard to find international opportunities when you’re looking at the job market from another country, without being in the city creating connections and being able to interview easily.
The market is also flooded with a lot of supply roles, and a lot of recruiting websites won’t say who the brand is. You have to read between the lines. I found BoF [Careers] very straightforward, simple: this is the brand, this is the role, this is how you apply. The layout is very easy to work with as well. I applied, sent through a sample of work and within a couple of days, I was on phone calls and speaking to HR at Banana Republic. They quickly set up a Skype interview and the process kicked off from there. At the time when I was applying for the role, the design offices were moving from New York to San Francisco and Banana Republic made the visa process a lot smoother — at least, as smooth as a visa process can be.
What advice would you give other job seekers in fashion?
The main thing is to have a point of view and to really know who you are as a designer. When you’re applying for jobs, try and portray that in all your applications, whether that’s within a cover letter, making your CV more creative or showing work samples that are specifically selected for the brand that you’re applying for.
It’s a great cross-section of the industry.
Also, only apply for jobs which are relevant to you. Don’t waste your time applying to a role that you are not 100 percent invested in, especially within design when you might have to do a project to prove that you can design for a certain brand. It is very time-consuming and there’s no point applying for something that might not necessarily suit you.
What excites you about working in fashion now?
At the moment, the most interesting thing is a focus on being more careful with waste and being more sustainable. Everyone [seems to be] making great moves towards being more environment-conscious and trying to make the industry less pollutive, which is very important. Everything seems to be heading towards that: the way fabrics are made, not wasting water, being careful with chemicals in the dying process. The industry has chugged along and become really throw away and super-fast fashion. I think it’s exciting that there seems to be more of a move back to having a smaller, more collated wardrobe of special pieces, which hopefully are made within a more organic and sustainable process.
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