Which Fashion Career Is Right For You?

Even if you’ve never done a sketch or sewn a button, you can have a career in fashion.
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Even if you’ve never done a sketch or sewn a button, you can have a career in fashion.
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Being a designer is obviously one of the most visible roles you can have in the industry, but talent and skill are required (don’t tell that to all the reality starlets trying launching clothing lines).

It’s a huge industry and there are a multitude of jobs available; you can find one to suit your temperament and talents. Here are a few suggestions and ideas for getting started (and keep in mind this is more of an overview than a comprehensive list):

Fashion Merchandising/Sales and Marketing: This is where design and business intersect. Designers ultimately need to get their product to the market. Merchandisers track and monitor fashion trends and consumer trends. A head for numbers and a ton of creativity are non-negotiable.

There are many options that fall under the “Merchandising” umbrella. Retail management is one. Lauren thinks this is an under-appreciated career path. You can make really decent money and get firsthand knowledge of a multitude of brands, marketing strategies, and how to manage people.

Buying is another route. This will require some years of experience on a retail floor and as a buyer’s assistant. I have a friend who started out selling shoes at Nordstorm in college and is now a jewelry buyer for them. Find a niche you love and learn everything about it.

Have an artsy, creative mind? Advertising, either on the corporate or retail side, might be for you. Advertising, in this age of quick media consumption, is the juggernaut that never stops. You can work at a corporate level (think of all the different brands that Gap and Limited Inc. own) or the retail level. (How does Macy’s move all those cosmetics?)

There are several fashion schools that offer Fashion Merchandising degrees--FIT in NYC is one--but a general business degree, retail experience, and carefully chosen internships can set you on the right path.

Production Management: This is front line of fashion. Production managers are responsible for getting textiles and clothing made at the manufacturing level. They work with suppliers and retailers to make sure a quality production.

This field has potential to be an exciting and challenging. This weekend the New York Times reported about a growing movement towards “zero waste” production, where very little material goes unused. It’s a design as well as manufacturing challenge.

Everyone is interested in the magic formula of getting clothes produced cheaply but with a certain level of quality. The green movement is showing no signs of stopping, which adds another layer of challenge.

The decisions made at the production level can have long-reaching economic implications. The movement to keep these production in the US--like the grassroots efforts to sustain NYC’s Garment Center--is huge now.

Some fashion schools offer Production Management as a degree option. The job requires some business training and you should have a fascination with how things are made.

Visual Presentation/Styling: These are two separate though potentially overlapping professions. As far as styling, I don’t think I can articulate it any better than Sally Lyndley has just done. With the celebrity status of stylists like Rachel Zoe, it’s definitely a profession that is on the rise in terms of visibility. A degree isn’t totally necessary, but again, having some understanding of numbers, business, and communications is essential. And internships and networking are probably more important in styling than in the other professions.

Simon Doonan is, of course, the godfather (or fairy godmother) of visual presentation. Are you theatrical? Good with props? Creative? Welcome to your new career. Store windows are only one of many options for visual presentation. Museum exhibits, fashion shows, and showrooms all use this technique. The FIT degree description characterizes the profession perfectly: “They are storytellers in three dimensions, creating environments that inspire, inform, and persuade.” There are specialty degrees at art and fashion schools specifically for visual presentation.

Public Relations: PR is the middle man between a product and a retailer or consumer. PR reps are in charge of keeping a brand’s image squeaky clean and making sure people are talking about it. Their job is to make a brand seem appealing. A charming and friendly personality is an absolute must in this field. I adore most PR reps I’ve met because they seem absolutely and genuinely enthusiastic about their clients. It’s infectious, which is exactly the reaction you want to elicit. A degree in communications, marketing, or business--along with the all-important internships--will get you there. Fashion Journalist: Love to write and love fashion? The opportunities to report and weigh in on what’s happening in the world of fashion have never been greater. Magazines are expanding their online presence and hiring bloggers to report up-to-the minute news. You can also write for e-commerce sites, PR firms, or trade publications.

But first and foremost you need to be a good writer. Consider a journalism or creative writing program, but at the very least take writing courses. I can tell you firsthand that the feedback you get from instructors is invaluable and can really up your game.

Write constantly. Blog for EVERYONE. Get clips however you can. Prove that you know the industry. You’ll need research and interviewing skills and you’ll need to network. Another thing I’ve learned is that the more “experts” you know in the industry, the easier your job of reporting will be.

Still unsure of which direction to take? Here are some easy things to do: Work in retail. Read industry publications--spring for a WWD subscription. Know the players in the industry. Read all the magazines and blogs. Shop! See what’s in the stores. Notice how online retailers market and sell things. Maybe something will inspire you.

Now go get yourself a career.