Last night, a panel of fashion industry insiders gathered for the second installment of our “How I’m Making It” series at NYU’s Cantor Film Center. The panelists, from all corners of the fashion world, included fashion designer Chris Benz, runway producer Gayle Dizon, PR powerhouse Cindy Krupp, and Katherine Krause and Skye Parrott, editor and creative directer of Dossier Magazine.
Whether you’re an intern just entering the fashion industry or an entrepreneur building a company, here’s what you need to know in case you missed it.
1. There is no one right path into the industry
Though most of our panelists know that they wanted to do something in the industry, Parrott and Krause of Dossier never thought that they would wind up in fashion. Parrott’s first love is photography while Krause was interested in publishing and creative writing. They’ve found a way to meld all of their passions with fashion in the form of Dossier.
Chris Benz’s advice is to “cast your net wide.” All aspects of the industry “cross-pollinate” with each other, he says. In other words, just because you start in one place, doesn’t mean you have to or will end up there.
“Once you’re under the fashion umbrella,” says Krupp, “there are many different avenues.”
Dizon is an example of this: She began her career as a receptionist at Calvin Klein, worked for KCD and assisted Lori Goldstein, before starting her own company. It was her hard work that earned her promotions and opened doors for her all over the industry.
2. There is no one right way to run your own business
While working as a J.Crew designer, Chris Benz spent a year and a half creating the plan for his eponymous label. It was a concise plan that included time lines, schedules, and concrete numbers in order to make his company more appealing to investors. “Fashion takes money,” Benz said bluntly.
The ladies of Dossier had a more lax approach to their business plan. They explained that their magazine began as a side project. “We just wanted to make something nice because we like magazines. So we did it,” said Parrott. They never set out to make a profit. They cut costs by using freelancers and working from home. All of their money goes towards production of the publication.
3. The hardest part about running your own business is actually running the business
“Running the business is something you never think about,” admits Krupp.
Parrot says that owning the company means that you can’t leave work at the office. “You’re never off,” she says.
The bottom line? Prepared to be glued to your Blackberries.
4. Speak up and do what you love
“The ballsiest thing you can do is believe in yourself.” says Benz. Though it can be a risky move as an intern or as an employee at the bottom of the ranks to let your opinions be heard, our panel proved that many times, speaking up and being true to yourself can actually earn you more respect from your superiors. It’s definitely a way to make an impression.
Dizon took it upon herself to the compile hate mail sent to Calvin Klein about his use of fur. She then used it to suggest to her boss that the brand rethink renewing their fur license. Her boss had her tell the designer himself her idea, and Klein actually listened and decided not to renew his fur license. After Dizon’s brave presentation, Klein began to ask Dizon’s opinions about other things.
Cindy Krupp had an intern, who, after ten months, noticed that the company didn’t have a showroom manager, and nominated himself for the job. Needless to say, he got the job.
Krause says that everyone told them it was foolish to start a magazine when the print industry is dying. They did it anyway, and their magazine has managed to cheat death and they get to do what they love.
5. Build contacts and use them!
In order to get his name and designs out there, Benz says that he hired people who already had relationships with buyers.
Many of our panelists agreed that they are much more apt to read and respond to an email if the sender drops the name of someone they know.
If you’re looking for a job, ask for help. Krupp believes that “what you should get in exchange for interning is an opportunity.”
6. Working in fashion makes it difficult to lead a balanced life
It’s the harsh reality of working in an industry with long and demanding hours. Here’s a tip from the panelists–either hire your friends or people who you would be friends with. You’ll be spending more time with your co-workers than pretty much anyone else.
7. When dealing with difficult bosses, suck it up
It’s all about what you take from an experience, no matter how awful. Have a thick skin–it’s nothing personal.
8. It can’t be said enough–intern, intern, intern!
After moving to NYC to attend Parsons at the ripe age of 17, Benz snagged an internship at Marc Jacobs through a friend. He noted that best part of the internship was the access–he got a behind the scenes look at the company just as LVMH came in.
Krupp says that the first thing she looks at on a resume is internship experience. “There’s a language to fashion,” says Krupp. She doesn’t want to have to explain what the CFDA or IMG is, so it’s ideal that the candidate is already fluent in fashion speak.
9. And yes, even employers in the fashion industry look at your Facebook profiles
So double check your privacy settings and keep those profile pictures PG!