This Saturday, I found myself among the hordes of well-dressed 16-24 year-olds at Teen Vogue's annual Fashion University event in Midtown Manhattan, where industry VIPS like as Grace Coddington, BryanBoy, Amy Astley and more, dropped their infinite fashion knowledge on us.
Competition for seats was fierce. Girls and boys from all over the world rushed and crushed into seats like their careers depended on it. And after everything I learned this weekend, maybe our careers did depend on it.
From working a part-time job at Starbucks, to online etiquette, to taking the time to enjoy just being a kid, here are the top 10 lessons I learned about how to land my fashion dream job.
1. Get a Part Time Job
Most folks starting out in the fashion industry are broke. We live on H&M and 99 cent pizza places, and many of us work a part-job in addition to attending school and interning. Every speaker stressed that yes, it is totally okay to work at the world's top fashion companies--and at Office Depot on the side. In fact, it is even recommended!
Grace Coddington (yes, that Grace Coddington) told the crowd of her days waiting tables in Europe early on in her career. In fact, it was while she was working at a coffee shop that she met a man who introduced her to famed photographer Norman Parkinson--which lead to her big break in modeling. Working and saving every penny in high school/college will give you an incredible foundation when you need to make the big move to New York/Paris/London/Milan, and it looks good on a resume that you were willing to do menial work. Believe me, you will thank yourself later.
2. You Can't Get to the Top by Yourself, Even as a Blogger
The blogopshere is extremely crowded in this day and age and while that might bring out your competitive side--it can also benefit you.
During a class with Rumi Neely and BryanBoy, Teen Vogue's fashion news director Jane Keltner de Valle told us that 70% of the 525 fashion university students who attended Teen Vogue's Fashion U have their own blog. That's 368 blogs, or as you should see it, 368 people to exchange promotions with. One of the main points the pair drove home was that networking with other bloggers was how they got their traffic in the first place. It only takes one other person to create a best-friend duo/blogging partner-in-crime team--like Rumi and Bryanboy--and that person could easily be sitting next to you.
3. Don't Limit Yourself
Evolving to any situation is crucial in the fast-paced fashion industry, especially as an intern. Interning is supposed to be your trial period, to figure out if you were meant for designing vs. styling or editing vs. photography, so don't pigeon-hole yourself to one field because you think that's exactly what you'd like to do.
"This is a good time in your life to explore those other opportunities that you won't get a chance to do when you all of a sudden work in an office everyday," Sheena Smith, Teen Vogue' accessories director told us. Elaine Welteroth, Teen Vogue's new beauty director, added, "One of the most valuable intern experiences I had, was at an internship I did not enjoy because it taught me everything I don't want in my job. It was in advertising. I was so thankful that I did it before I was out in the real world."
4. Edit your Work
Whether they were in the business of blogging, photography, or styling, everyone I heard speak this weekend made it very clear that it is important to only put out work that you feel proud of. Limit the amount of content you release, because there is such a thing as oversaturation. Neely told the aspiring bloggers that her biggest focus is on quality over quantity and being selective with her images--advise she got years ago from The Sartorialist's Scott Schuman. And we all know how well that worked out for her.
Authors Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus (The Nanny Diaries & Over You) suggested asking yourself the following questions before you put your work out into the open (and open to criticism): "Did it serve the narrative? Is it too long? Most importantly, is it funny?"
5. Forge Your Own Path
When asked who her role model was before she'd made it as a big-time fashion editor, Gloria Baume, Teen Vogue's fashion director, said, "It's a tricky slope to look at someone and idolize them because in the end it's really about who you become and what you bring to the table. I think that's something that you have to learn very early on. Believe in who you are going to be."
Neely, BryanBoy and Keltner de Valle all agreed. "You shouldn't spend your time trying to be like another [popular] blogger, because in the end, you will always be second-rate to them," Keltner de Valle said.
Lots of people want to be the next Anna Wintour or Jason Wu, but you should try to figure out if there is something different that you can bring to the table that they can't.
6. Discipline and Schedule
Procrastination kills. Literally. It will kill your career and your reputation, so setting up organization for yourself early on will help develop a good habit that will serve you for the rest of your life. McLaughlin and Kraus recommend you set up a time each day to work on whatever you need to get done. The pair explained that even though one works best in the morning and the other in the afternoon they still find a way to compromise and get things done.
"It's all about creating structure for yourself," McLaughlin said. "The difference between the published and the unpublished is discipline."
7. Social Media is Both Your Friend and Foe
Everyone knows (or we hope everyone knows) not to put a picture of yourself doing something stupid on the internet. Once it's up there, it's there forever for all your friends, family and future employees to see. But where do you draw the line divide between being unprofessional and developing a voice and a brand for yourself?
"People come back for your voice, not because you give earth shattering information," said StyleBistro editor Danica Lo. One hopeful student asked if Lo had any advice on where to draw the line between an online persona and your identity IRL. Lo said she lives by the philosophy that you should "never complain, and never explain yourself online." Treena Lombardo, fashion director of ShopBop later added that "the manners and rules that apply to real life also apply to social media."
We recommend not using foul language, saying negative things about people or posting inappropriate pictures. It only takes one quick Google search for you to lose out on a dream job.
8. Always, Always Have a Good Attitude Because You Are Always Being Watched
Sitting at a desk in the corner or packing up samples in a closet can make you feel more invisible than sitting in the high school cafeteria alone, but according to Amy Astley and Grace Coddington, you are always being watched.
When Coddington was asked about that infamous quote pertaining to some rather ungrateful interns, she simply stated, "Interns think they are just there to watch. No, we put you to work. We are watching them at all times. It's an attitude we are looking for." Baume later added, "People always think when you are interning we aren't paying attention to you, but we are always watching. The truth is, you need to just learn to never say no. Always try to do your job well, and think ahead."
Everyone likes working with people who come into work with a smile on and seem like they genuinely want to be there, no matter what field.
"When I see someone who is a force for darkness in the world I don't want to be around them because life is already too hard," Astley said.
9. Be Culturally Aware
Though the fashion industry can be a bit of a cultural bubble sometimes, it is crucial to still stay tuned in to the world around you. Reading the New York Times before your internship in the morning is just as important as reading Women's Wear Daily because the outside world does affect the fashion industry.
Keltner de Valle wishes that she would have studied abroad at a younger age. "I interned all the way through school and I was so worried about stepping outside of the industry for even a semester that I would lose ground or miss something," she explained.
10. Take the Opportunity to Slow Down
Probably the most prominent message I picked up on over the weekend was that you don't have to rush into this industry. "Take advantage of the fact that you are still a kid, that you have free time, and go and live your life," Andrew Bevan said. "Be inspired by being a kid. You will one day graduate college and you will one day be in an office. There's so much pressure on internships as if it's your only chance to make things happen, and it's not."
Yes, there's a lot of pressure to intern in the fashion industry. But you don't need to intern before you are ready. Take a moment to stop and spend time just being a college student or enjoying high school. The fashion industry and your career will always be there, but your childhood won't.
In the end, I think the clear message was to find something in the industry that you are passionate about, and work towards it. But you shouldn't let it consume you. Be professional and hardworking, and inevitably you will find success.