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LONDON, United Kingdom — The class of 2020 has been dealt a difficult-to-imagine hand. With degree shows cancelled and internships largely on hold because of the pandemic, fashion graduates are entering an increasingly unpredictable job market; 23 percent of entry-level jobs in the UK have been slashed since lockdowns were implemented in March, according to the Institute of Student Employers, while a new survey by the International Labour Organization in May found that more than one in six young people worldwide have stopped working since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
But while employment opportunities are likely to remain in question for as long as the coronavirus continues to spread, the social distancing measures and travel restrictions caused by the pandemic have prompted industry leaders to re-evaluate the ways in which the fashion world operates. The acceleration of digital services and a growing consumer emphasis on ethical and sustainable shopping are forcing brands to respond and adapt — and spotlighting a new set of jobs in the process. Here, BoF highlights six jobs that employers are looking to fill now — and will be long after the pandemic.
GGI — or computer-generated imagery — has been gaining traction in fashion image-making, from short films to advertising to editorials, for several years. But the government-imposed lockdowns during the pandemic have made the technique commonplace. Digitised versions of in-person productions have become a popular alternative, with the likes of Vogue Taiwan and Paper magazine having both released CGI covers over the past few months.
“There was a lot of trial and error as we rendered and built the CGI world,” said Yii Ooi, a stylist who worked on the Vogue Taiwan all-CGI May cover. “The model’s body and the styling were the first things we rendered, then the face and the hair.” While this cover was born out of necessity, with most clothing samples stuck in locked down European capitals and models unable to travel, Ooi added that CGI rendering and 3D design — which is a form of computer-generated imagery — are becoming an increasingly popular option for magazines looking to experiment with visual content while keeping costs low. “I am already working on a few more CGI projects,” he said.
While a computer graphics background is useful for a job in computer-generated fashion image design, given the technical demands of digital rendering, a strong creative vision is equally crucial. The profession also requires extensive organisation: lighting, set design, styling and composition are all decided from the very beginning. For Paper magazine’s digital July covers, which feature Munroe Bergdorf and Aweng Ade-Chuol among others, 3D designer Rodolfo Hernández — in collaboration with photographer Bryan Huynh — asked the models to use an app on their phones to 3D scan their faces at home. From there, Hernández used the scans to render their bodies and create their surroundings also in 3D.
“In fashion, 3D is still very new,” Hernández, whose background is in game design, said. “There’s a lot of freedom… 3D rendering gives you an advantage in terms of creating images that would be much harder to do in real life if you are only relying on a camera.” Hernández, like Ooi, is seeing an uptick in fashion clients eager to use CGI imagery in editorials and campaigns, particularly as budgets are slashed and consumers become hungry for something new.
In fashion, 3D is still very new.
But although many recent CGI fashion visuals have been born out of government-imposed lockdowns, the medium isn’t going anywhere. In fact, experimentation with digital imagery is only just taking off, according to legendary image-maker Nick Knight. “We are at the tip of the iceberg,” Knight, who spearheaded the use of digital media in fashion photography with his platform Showstudio, told BoF in April. “We have great equipment at our disposal, we just have to resee it… [The pandemic] is accelerating [a digital shift] that is already upon us.”
The upheaval has pushed many brands to look for answers to urgent questions about their future: How have lockdowns impacted sales in the long run? Is it wise to invest money in e-commerce right now? What is the best way to get rid of unsold inventory? How can businesses survive a second wave of lockdowns? In these exceptional times, data editors have become even more important to retailers looking to make sense of the industry’s new way of working.
Put simply: a growing number of brands will be looking to base their decisions in data to optimise return on investment. After three months of lockdown, 80 percent of fashion businesses based in Europe and the US face financial distress, according to The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company’s The State of Fashion 2020: Coronavirus Update. Equally, the report estimates that 30 percent of fashion industry employees perceive their company’s post-pandemic recovery planning to be ineffective. This downturn means brands will need their next steps to be informed and risk-averse.
Data can help retailers sharpen their marketing strategies and develop new products that are more likely to land with shoppers. When used carefully, data about the consumers that scroll through their e-shops can help brands better understand what consumers want and gain their trust. As the shift from offline to online continues beyond the pandemic, retailers with bolstered e-commerce channels will have access to more data. They need data editors to analyse the information and maximise its potential.
But it’s not just companies that will rely on data to make smarter, more lucrative business decisions. “Consumers are becoming increasingly interested in this type of content and are using it to inform purchasing decisions — just like they might look at charts or trending categories on Spotify,” said Morgane Le Caer, a fashion insights reporter at search platform Lyst. Indeed, as social media blurs the lines between sponsored content and authentic recommendations, savvy consumers will continue to look for ways — like data-driven consumer reports — to arm themselves with information about the products they are buying.
Amid analysing statistics, fashion searches and social media trends, data editors must have a finger on the industry’s pulse at all times. “You need to read everything you can, from big publications to independent writers, newsletters and even your Twitter feed,” said Le Caer. “Having a strong instinct, being willing to dig for information, and not afraid to ask questions that won’t necessarily be answered is also key.”
Virtual Showroom Designer
Over the last few months, pandemic-induced travel bans underscored the industry’s reliance on unnecessary travel. With the growth of e-commerce and deepening environmental concerns, flights to far-flung locations are likely to become less common post-vaccine. As a result, store buyers will have to increasingly make use of online shopping tools like virtual showrooms — interactive digitally-rendered spaces where shoppers can browse through clothing samples online — in order to decide on next season’s trends, while luxury brands will become more reliant on tech-powered showroom alternatives in order to manage their global wholesale networks.
It comes as no surprise, then, that virtual showroom design company Ordre has seen a significant uptick in traffic, according to Chief Technology Officer Simon Lockyer, who said his time in lockdown has been spent having conversations with animators and game designers about garment renderings. To work at Ordre, and indeed other virtual showroom platforms, exceptional digital design skills is integral to ensure that the online shopping spaces can offer buyers a slick and interactive experience that rivals that of physical showrooms.
There is a market for people who are doing fashion design and creating garments to start working in this field.
Virtual showrooms have been around for much longer, but the pandemic has turned them from an accessory into a necessity as the industry rethinks crowded wholesale events. While many 3D designers have video game or software engineering backgrounds, Lockyer believes the field is open to a much wider range of disciplines. “There is definitely a market for people who are doing fashion design and creating garments using online software to start working in this field,” he said, adding that the job requires both creativity and technical know-how.
For Joor, a digital wholesale platform that connects with over 8,600 brands and 200,000 curated retailers, easily accessible data is the biggest benefit of the online buying tool. “You are able to forecast much earlier because everyone is writing things in a way that can be seen instantly, not in an excel spreadsheet you are waiting on someone to share,” said Joor Chief Executive Kristin Savilia. “And it’s connected to everybody’s systems.” As the technology develops and evolves in line with retailers’ needs and 3D renderings match the intricate details of real-life garments, virtual showrooms will become another trusted sales channel in addition to offline models.
Customer Experience Manager
As people locked themselves indoors to reduce the risk of infection, many turned to online shopping channels to pass the time. As a result, brands — including the likes of Nike, Uniqlo and Everlane — started receiving overwhelming numbers of orders and returns.
This increase in e-commerce traffic, combined with supply chain disruptions and furloughed employees, highlights the importance of a well-trained customer experience team that keeps consumers informed about their orders across markets, time zones and social channels. Additionally, as e-commerce growth continues to accelerate beyond the pandemic, a strong online customer experience team will become a more valuable asset to any brand in the long term.
A crucial skill for a customer experience manager is proactivity, which means anticipating possible problems — and coming up with solutions — before the customer complains, according to Patricia Loureiro, global director of customer service at Farfetch. “Equally if you are an advisor or a stylist, it is important to have empathy and to be able to establish a deep and intimate connection with clients remotely in e-commerce,” she said. “The most important thing is to reset your heart and intention with every customer to ensure that the customer has a really tailored experience.”
But while brands will continue to invest in customer experience management in the future, the job is likely to see significant changes as customers move from offline to online. Experts believe that much of the e-commerce customer service workload will soon be adopted by artificial intelligence, particularly when it comes to straightforward tasks like parcel tracking and self-service checkout. Instead, companies will focus their resources on the customers that request human interactions as part of their personalised online shopping experiences.
“You can call this full service versus self-service,” Loureiro said. “[It is important that] full service entails an experience that [consumers] can remember. Customers never remember the technicalities of the process. It’s what they felt in the moment [that stays with them].” A strong customer service team should therefore have strong critical thinking skills and high emotional intelligence, particularly as digital channels become a principal destination for a wider range of consumers many of whom have grown increasingly sceptical of in-person shopping services.
Corporate Responsibility Expert
Over the years, companies have come under mounting scrutiny on social media as users take to Instagram stories and comment sections to hold brands accountable for their complicity in perpetuating structural inequalities. Recent anti-racism protests that have erupted across the US have brought conversations around racism and injustice to the fore in most industries. Fashion and beauty brands like Adidas, Reformation and L’Oréal have released public apologies for allowing racism to take place within their workplaces.
In the coming years, experts in corporate responsibility are likely to see an uptick in demand for their knowledge as brands that have made public pledges to “do better” are forced to follow through on their promises. Brands will need to listen and learn from experts about how to effectively reflect on the dynamics of their workplace culture and ensure their internal structures reflect their outward-facing content.
The fashion industry punches above its weight in terms of its influence on society.
“The fashion industry punches above its weight in terms of its influence on society. It is a sector that is so influential in terms of trends, ideas and visions of beauty,” said Elisa Niemtzow, who leads the Responsible Luxury Initiative at non-profit organisation BSR, when asked about what attracted her to the career path. “Integrating sustainability and resilience into that approach is really interesting. [It is important to think about] how we can use the voice of the fashion industry and the fact that it’s such a powerful business engine to change how we live and what we value.”
Fashion jobs in corporate responsibility require two sets of skills: a deep understanding of the fashion industry as well as expertise in a wide range of social, environmental and governance issues. Due to the localised nature of the job (approaches must be adapted to suit specific social and cultural contexts while maintaining a global perspective), Niemtzow advises those interested in pursuing a career in corporate responsibility strengthen their understanding of global affairs in order to provide companies with resilient short- and long-term strategies that can create urgent and meaningful change.
Smart Inventory Manager
Inventory planning is yet another component of the fashion industry the pandemic has placed under the spotlight. As brands scramble to shift large amounts of unsold inventory after months of shuttered shops, industry leaders are beginning to rethink the ways in which products are organised and handled.
When it comes to inventory management, retailers have traditionally operated in a top-down manner, basing decisions about stock on pre-planned budgets and trend forecasts. The pandemic has upended this working model. Instead, retailers are likely to look to automated inventory management services that coordinate stock using data-driven bottom-up operating models that more accurately predict demand.
For this job, strong analytical skills, as well as an ability to interpret data and manage metrics, are crucial. A profession in automated inventory management will also require a willingness to take on responsibilities across departments when it comes to the organisation and execution of localised stock management.
To some, this shift to data-driven inventory management is long overdue. “Covid-19 has accelerated investment in digital processes, and [this has highlighted] how behind the times the retail sector was,” said Joaquin Villalba, chief executive of retail inventory management platform Nextail. Bottom-up inventory operating systems are becoming the most logical business models to adopt at a time when trends are decided by the social media-using masses, not by a small group of elite fashion editors.
In a world where trends will continue to change as fast as users upload to Instagram, smarter ways for brands to manage the products they’re selling are becoming more and more important. In fact, personalised and customised shopping experiences have become crucial for brands that need to retain the attention of their customers in an increasingly saturated market.
For retailers, this means that continuously adapting, smart inventory management systems that can calculate stock — how much and where it is required — by syncing with real-time data can offer brands a serious advantage. Retailers can more easily move stock from one shop to the other, order more of one product and less of another, in accordance with the consumer’s requirements in order to avoid a stockout or being left with large piles of unsold goods.
“The world has become more dynamic,” said Villalba. “You don’t only have two or four seasons a year, now you have one capsule every week or every other week … The pandemic has been a moment of realisation for many brands that they can’t operate solely by looking at budgets. It has made them redundant.”