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How to Succeed as Emerging Talent in Fashion

Industry insiders and careers experts share their advice on how to navigate the challenges at the start of a career in fashion, from how to network effectively to optimising job applications and impressing in the workplace.
Two junior employees look at a garment in a design department
Knowing how to impress potential hiring managers or recruiters, future collaborators and colleagues, can be crucial to securing a first job or account to break into the industry. (Pexels)

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Whether you have plans to launch your own business or hope to work for a fashion brand, conglomerate or retailer, fashion is a notoriously competitive space for emerging talent. Indeed, knowing how to impress potential hiring managers, recruiters, future collaborators or even investors can be crucial to securing a first job or account to break into fashion.

On November 1, BoF hosted an advice-led panel at the Jimmy Choo Academy (JCA) in London, attended by students and entry-level talent across the city to equip them with insights on how to navigate the early stages of their careers.

The panel, comprised of industry insiders, included Daniel Peters, founder of Fashion Minority Report, a learning and career development platform geared towards underrepresented talent in the fashion and creative sectors. He was accompanied by Mark Eley, programme director at JCA and co-founder of brand Eley Kishimoto, alongside BoF’s Sophie Soar, commercial features editor and host of the LinkedIn Live series Building a Career in Fashion.

The discussion was moderated by BoF’s associate director of content strategy, Alice Gividen, and panellists shared actionable advice on how to stand out among a wealth of other applicants. Now, BoF shares some key insights and learnings from the topics covered by the panel.

Craft a considered, authentic personal narrative to stand out

DP: For me, it’s the storytelling within your brand and what it is that you’re going to bring. It’s about selling yourself. Sell your skills and what you’re going to bring to the business, because I think that’s what the employer cares about. [...] Give [recruiters] a reason why you’re the best person for the job — that’s what [they] want to hear.

Be unapologetically yourself. Whatever brand or fashion space you’re in, the industry should be made for everybody. Kicking down the doors of exclusivity is about being yourself.

ME: I still don’t see myself as employable, even though I am an employer and have worked in the industry with a plethora of remits. You don’t have to come through the orthodox levels. You have to have a mission to succeed, which is the biggest battle. You need to create a reference point with the industry to understand how you can be investible and how you have equity in order to have growth opportunities at the beginning.

SS: It’s important to make sure that you show your authentic self [in applications and interviews]. The person you are showing up to the interview is the person who will be showing up at work, and getting that across on your CV and application [is important]. Make your CV your own — they want to hire you as an individual.

Customise and curate your applications to succinctly showcase skillsets

DP: When I look at someone’s portfolio, I don’t just want the end product — I want to see how you got there. Where are the annotations? We’re hiring a person not a commodity.

You should consider refining and editing your portfolio according to the brand you’re applying for. In the past, I have received 50-page portfolios — I don’t have time to read that. I want it to be concise, considered and curated. That helps me understand that you can edit and curate from a design perspective.

You should consider refining and editing your portfolio according to the brand you’re applying for. That helps me understand that you can edit and curate from a design perspective.

ME: It’s about individualising your learning, understanding your expertise and focusing on where you want that to be. At JCA, the attributes that we build within designers on exit hopefully have a rounded personality, but with a very focused niche identity when it comes to their design attributes. This should enable them to be empowered to own that rather than being a sheep.

SS: Look at customising all of your applications. Find out people’s names before sending a cover letter — rather than addressing it as “Dear Hiring Manager” or “Dear Recruiter”. Even if you end up being the wrong name but still someone in the business, it suggests you have done your homework. Then, make it obvious in a cover letter and a CV that you have understood the criteria that they look for.

Be prepared and self-aware in networking situations

DP: Being prepared when you walk into the room helps you feel more confident and less insecure. It’s about understanding that and having a few questions [for people you want to connect with].

Don’t turn up with business cards or your portfolio because that can feel awkward. You [don’t want to] end up monopolising their time when there are probably other people that they want to speak to. It’s about having the self-awareness that everyone is at the same point that you are.

SS: The editor-in-chief of Elle magazine, Kenya Hunt, once shared with me in an interview: “We [tend to] rise up the ranks in groups.” The colleagues that you have now will also be there when you rise up to leadership roles in due course. It might be hard to connect with people who are [many] seniority levels above you — if you can, engage in projects both in and outside of work with peers who are on your level.

ME: It’s not all about you. The culture of having relationships and security in your fraternity along with people who you have had internships with and interaction with will build your influences and that will build your brand’s personality. You’ll keep that fraternity around you. You meet industry connections in exactly the same way as you make friends. You knock on people’s doors or go to the same events and there’s a rhythm to that which will be unique to you.

Show up when possible to make an impression and connect with others

SS: Whenever you can — show up. If it is a completely digital role with remote working, that is more difficult. But it’s important to show up and show people your face as it makes you more memorable. If you are in an environment where you are presenting over Zoom — turn your camera on, be engaged in the comments section.

Make sure you ask questions in that follow-up because then you give them something to respond to.

ME: I think students can work alongside each other, hopefully as consultants and collaborators rather than employees. That’s because they have a focus on their own vision and keep on exercising that to make that something fruitful for themselves in the present and in the future.

Ask considered questions in-person and through written communication

DP: You may come to me and ask for a job — everybody wants a job. But if you build relationships with people and say, “I’m going to ask for 20 minutes of your time,” and pay for the coffee — walk in wanting to learn from those people and consider the potential they have to learn from you. Then, make sure you maintain that relationship. Check in with them because then you’re going to be front of mind if a job does come up.

SS: Follow up on LinkedIn, Instagram or email, and send a message. Make sure you ask questions in that follow-up because then you give them something to respond to.

Ask questions in the workplace too. Quite often, we are so focused on being interesting and we forget to be interested. People remember not really what you said but how you made them feel. If you show you care about what it is people are saying and engage with it, that can be incredibly valuable.

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