LONDON, United Kingdom — From the haute couture maisons in Paris to the artisan workshops in Milan, Europe continues to be an aspirational place to work in the industry — and fashion job opportunities on the continent are growing. The European Commission reports five million people are directly employed in the EU fashion value chain, with the creative industries’ growth in employment growing by 14.5 percent. Specifically, employment in designer fashion has increased by 23.4 percent in Europe, according to the UK Government’s "Creative Industries Sector Report" in 2016.
Despite bleak Brexit headlines and cross-continent debates on immigration policy, Europe's fashion industry is more diverse than many other industries. Europe’s dominant fashion companies are leading by example; luxury conglomerates and Parisian rivals LVMH and Kering employ 145,000 and 29,000 worldwide respectively. At LVMH, 80 percent of their workforce comes from outside France, while Kering fosters talent abroad through partnerships with universities like Parsons, Tsinghua and London College of Fashion. Leading European e-commerce companies such as Farfetch in Portugal, Yoox Net-a-Porter Group in Milan and London and Zalando in Berlin also place greater and greater emphasis on attracting international talent to solve global challenges. Farfetch employs individuals from 47 nationalities, YNAP 96 and Zalando over 100.
A number of European chief executives rank highly on the Harvard Business Review’s "100 Best-Performing CEOs in the World," typically a strong draw for talent. LVMH’s Bernard Arnault and Kering’s François-Henri Pinault were in the top 25, with both companies revealing strong financial results at the end of last quarter. First place went to Pablo Isla, chief executive of Inditex, parent company to Massimo Dutti, Zara and Pull&Bear, who has led Inditex to become Spain’s most valuable company.
With President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to turn France into a “start-up nation,” the city of light is also set to expand its endeavours in technological initiatives. However, other European cities are catering for an industry reaching further into technology and sustainability innovation. Berlin is a world-leading tech hub, second only to London in Europe, while Copenhagen gains greater traction with its annual Copenhagen Fashion Summit and Global Fashion Agenda, both championing the sustainability movement. It is a continent that caters for almost all.
So how can you take the first steps to moving to Europe?
Learn About the Industry
From France’s strength in accessories to Italy’s forte in ready-to-wear, each European destination has its own specialities and strengths for varying interests and levels of expertise.
Ensure to do thorough research before settling on your destination of choice, to find where your greatest opportunities lie. Organisations such as La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode in Paris, The British Fashion Council and Milan’s Camera Nazionale della Moda Italiana work to promote and coordinate the fashion industry within their chosen country, providing valuable platforms for those wishing to research the country’s experts and expertise.
Attend to the Paperwork
If you are not an EU citizen and wish to move to a country within the EU for work, you will require a work visa. This is different from the Schengen visa, which only lasts three months and is primarily used by those travelling. The process to apply for a work visa slightly differs for Denmark, Ireland and the UK.
Your work visa will also be referred to as an EU Blue Card, which is the combined work and residence permit for non-EU/EEA nationals. The Blue Card ensures the same working and salary conditions and benefits as EU citizens. Applications for visas can take up to three months, which means forward planning is of the essence. In order to apply, you must have valid health insurance.
The conditions to apply for the Blue Card states you must have “higher professional qualifications, such as a university degree, and an employment contract or a binding job offer” for at least one year’s work. The work VISA does not cover those who are or intend to be self-employed. The salary received must also exceed the average salary of your profession in that EU country.
Start Your Career Abroad, From Home
It is highly advised you apply for a job abroad before you make the international move. While you might receive a job offer on a Schengen visa, you cannot remain in the country and work on it, and you cannot ascertain a residency permit without proving work or health insurance first, the process for which might take as long as your travel visa lasts.
However, as an ever-global industry, fashion companies in Europe, whether a Parisian luxury conglomerate or e-commerce giant in Berlin, often have international offices and a multinational workforce, meaning the practice of acquiring work visas is likely more familiar and common to them. Smaller companies might also be able and willing to sponsor your visa, but the cost of it might make your application less attractive.
While you may wish to apply outright for a position abroad, you could also find positions at home in a suitable company that offers the chance to move abroad further along in your career. Multinational businesses can facilitate a transfer overseas into other offices, but register your interest in this when you apply. That way, you can ascertain the likelihood of an overseas transfer.
Hone the Job Application
As with any job application, candidates must prove their worth. However, a requirement of the work visa is that a company must sponsor you, and for that to happen they must prove they are not displacing a worker from their country capable of doing the same job — they must also pay more money to prove it.
Therefore, while your usual interview preparation must go above and beyond, you may require some additional experience or personal qualities to assist your application.
Do Your Cultural Homework
Working abroad will require a basic understanding of the country and culture to which you wish to move, and the possibility of a language barrier might hinder your application process. A basic understanding of the language, or the expressed intent to learn and improve your language skills, could strengthen your job application, as well as facilitating a new start in a new country.
Taking advantage of the Schengen VISA could also assist your application, should you have experience abroad already. Demonstrating a former interest and time spent in your chosen destination strengthens your application and seriousness about the move. What’s more, you can also find some organised volunteer opportunities, which do not require a work visa, and further demonstrate your commitment to working abroad.
An Unclear Future for Britain
As the British Government continues its furore around Brexit negotiations, the March 2019 deadline looms ever larger. Politicians contest the consequences of a hard or soft Brexit, and the implications on working in the EU will differ depending on the outcome.
A soft Brexit would keep Britain closely associated with the European Union so as to avoid disrupting trade and business relations too drastically. The United Kingdom would remain within the EU’s single market and customs union, meaning that while the country would not be in the EU or retain its voice in EU affairs, it would still be bound to its rules and tariffs. Consequently, a soft Brexit offers a greater chance for freedom of movement.
Alternatively, a hard Brexit would fully remove the UK from any alignment with the EU, their single market and customs union, ensuring a divorce from the Union’s rules and tariffs. Following a hard Brexit, the right to move to the EU would end and visas would be required for British citizens, including temporary work or travel. During fashion weeks, the likes of the designers, models and buyers wishing to travel to Paris or Milan from the UK would follow a process similar to when they are traveling to New York.
A joint report from negotiators for the EU and UK, published on December 8 2017, assured British citizens who wish to move elsewhere in the EU before Brexit day can do so and retain the right to stay in that European country. However, following March 29 2019, that freedom of movement will change. There will be an Implementation Period, from March 30 2019 until December 31 2020, during which time UK nationals can move to an EU country as they can now. If you are legally a resident in the EU by December 31 2020, you will be covered by the Withdrawal Agreement, and can continue living and working in your country of residence.
The British Government’s website states it will set out “initial proposals for our future immigration arrangements with the EU in due course.”