What You Need to Know to Get a Job Out of Fashion School

Thousands of design students around the country graduate this month, but here's some insider info to help you stand out in your job search.
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Alyssa Vingan Klein
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Thousands of design students around the country graduate this month, but here's some insider info to help you stand out in your job search.
Photo: Getty Images

Photo: Getty Images

This coming weekend, the Savannah College of Art and Design senior class will put on its annual fashion show. Of all of the upcoming graduates, only 25 are hand-picked to present their final collections in front of parents, teachers, peers, a selection of employers and even the press. Fashionista was honored to be a part of this year's jury—a panel of industry insiders who critiqued the collections and voted on who would make the cut.

The jury included designers Eddie Borgo and Juan Carlos Obando, both CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund runners-up, as well as experts from the CFDA, Saks Fifth Avenue, and Abercrombie and Fitch among others. Aside from being extremely impressed by the SCAD students' talent, we picked up plenty of tips about getting your foot in the door right after graduation, straight from the industry bigwigs themselves.

Without further ado, here's what you need to know to get a job in fashion after school.

Take the time to learn the market. When you’re showing your portfolio and completed designs to employers, they’ll likely ask you what your price points are, as well as where you see your pieces being sold. In addition, they might inquire about what other brands you’d envision sitting on the sales floor with yours—essentially, who’s your competition? Even if they seem far-fetched, you should have answers for all of these things—no one will scoff at you if you say you see your collection sharing a rack with Alexander Wang. Take the time to learn about the entire market, from mass retailers to luxury. The business of fashion seems to be a big disconnect among students, and a little bit of research can help you to get ahead.

Show future employers your full body of work. When applying for jobs out of school, think beyond just your resume. "You need to have that library of everything: Your collection, your sketches, your inspirations, your doodles—every job interview you go on is going to be different, and you have to tailor your book," says Michael Fink, the dean of the SCAD fashion school. "You have all of these resources—things you’ve already done—to make a personalized portfolio for job interviews. It’s a key for the future, it’s not a futile exercise."

Know how to market yourself. This probably goes without saying, but if you don't sell yourself, nobody is going to do it for you. Everything from the hangers your collection is shown on to your business cards and your hang tags should have your personal stamp on it. In addition, you should be able to sell yourself (and, in turn, your brand) to anyone and everyone you meet. One of the jurors, designer Juan Carlos Obando, described a student he met as "intoxicating." "She could sell it—she had that extra little thing that can make you a star. I could see her standing in Anna [Wintour]'s office talking about her collection and killing it." And this is coming from someone who has had to stand in Wintour's office and talk about his collection during the Fashion Fund competition.

Think outside of the box when it comes to applying for jobs. Take advantage of the recruiters and alumni association at your school, as well as your professors, who likely have deep ties within the fashion industry. That said, be prepared—you may not get your "dream job" right away. 

Researching different sectors of the market (like the rapidly growing activewear sector for example) can lead you to fantastic opportunities at brands like Nike or Adidas in Portland. Also, mass market retailers like Kohl's and A&F aren't based in New York, but they heavily recruit fashion students every year. The CDFA has over 450 members, which means there are at least that many labels— many who are probably looking for help. Starting at a small company as opposed to a corporation can give you an opportunity to get one-on-one experience with a designer right after school. Most importantly, keep an open mind. "Even if you think a company’s not right for you, go and interview with them—you never know," Fink said. 

Get offline and learn the old fashioned way. While Tumblr and Google are great for finding inspiration, nothing beats the good ol' library when it comes to research, especially about fashion history. The more you know, the better off you'll be. 

Don’t be shy. Have an editor or designer that you admire? Just go for it and email them your work and ask him or her to coffee. Fashion people are not as scary as they seem—we promise. "Make those phone calls, be fearless. You’d be amazed at how many students get a job just by making a call and having an online meeting," Fink explained.

The Golden Rule: Intern, intern, intern. The experts all agree: No matter how impressive your senior collection, sketchbook and portfolio are, you’re going to have a very hard time getting hired if you don’t have at least one solid internship on your resume. The hands-on, real-life experience that working in the trenches with a team will give you is something that cannot be taught or fully grasped in school alone. 

If moving to New York or design hub for the summer or a semester isn’t feasible for you, think about getting a short (but intense) Fashion Week or market week internship with a designer. You’ll learn more in a month (or less) than you could possibly imagine. Most gigs in this industry are passed along through word-of-mouth, so getting in there and impressing someone as an intern is crucial in the beginning of your career.