Every year, we work tirelessly to to wrangle the fashion industry's very best designers, entrepreneurs, editors, stylists and more for our annual "How to Make It in Fashion" conferences — Cathy Horyn, Christian Siriano and Linda Rodin are among this year's speakers, for instance. But they don't show up just to promote their own projects; rather, these successful industry figures are there to share how they "made it" and provide valuable, usable career advice for attendees to absorb. Ahead of next months's event (which will be awesome — get your tickets here), we took a look back at some of the best, most helpful takeaways from past keynotes and panel discussions with the likes of Marissa Webb, Tanya Taylor, Ariel Foxman and more. Read on and get inspired to take your career to the next level.
If you can, get work experience while you're in school.
At FIT, Marissa Webb said she had "24-hour days" as she balanced school with internships, freelance jobs and waitressing. "It’s really important to take your education very seriously and get out of it as much as you can," she told the audience in 2015, "and also really being involved in the industry while you're going to school."
While still in school, Webb freelanced at Donna Karan and interned for Polo Ralph Lauren, where she went on to work full-time at after graduating.
When asked for her advice for interns, Webb said, "Work your ass off and make sure that you're giving it 150 percent. An internship is not just an internship."
Get business experience before launching your own brand.
No one on our 2015 panel of designers (all of whom had launched their own lines) explicitly discouraged aspiring designers to launch their own labels straight out of school, but all four said they are tremendously grateful that they got some industry experience before venturing out on their own. Kara Mendelsohn of Cooper & Ella worked at designer and contemporary labels big and small, including Michael Kors, Marc by Marc Jacobs and Thakoon, back when it was a team of just three. "The perspective I gained from having almost 18 years under my belt before I started my own brand was huge," she said. "Not only did I understand the customer from city to city, I understood how to do a brand from inside out — how to budget, price my goods, who the best partners were in Asia, where to warehouse my goods."
Similarly, Jonathan Simkhai's and Oak's Jeff Madalena's experiences in buying and retail helped them understand, in Simkhai's words, "what it takes to make women spend their hard-earned money on a garment," as well as the importance of delivery dates and timing. Tanya Taylor, for her part, said that her business degree at McGill helped her contribute to conversations about budgets and managing cash flow when she first worked as an assistant designer.
Social media is far more important than, perhaps, it should be —so important, in fact, that it could help you get the gig you want.
During our 2015 discussion with online editors, Ruthie Friedlander mentioned that if a hiring manager is between two candidates and they're equal in all other qualifications, the person with more social-media followers has a better likelihood of getting the job. But with great power, as always, comes great responsibility: "All of you are public people living in this world, and we all need to pay attention to what we say online and how we say it." Yet consistency, Jian DeLeon mentions, is key: "If you're the same person online as you are in real life, your followers will appreciate it. It should be equal parts portfolio, and equal parts what you're about." It's the easiest place to communicate your taste level, according to John Jannuzzi, and the best place to share what you're reading and writing. And for stalking — er, researching? — sake, DeLeon smartly said it's "a good litmus test at how well-versed you are in internet culture."
When looking for outside capital, don't accept money from someone whose vision doesn't align with yours.
"At some times, any money seems better than no money," said Katrina Lake during a panel discussion between fashion and retail entrepreneurs in 2014, recalling a time when her company Stitch Fix was "weeks away" from not being able to pay its employees. "The control that becomes involved… In tough scenarios, [investors] have control that could negatively affect you. They will always have a share in your company; it's hard to get them out."
Passion might be more important than relevant design skill when getting a company off the ground.
"It's all about passion," Lane Gerson, co-founder and co-CEO of men's footwear line Jack Erwin, said early on in the discussion between startup founders during a 2015 panel.
"Anyone can learn anything at anytime," said Julie Frederickson, CEO and co-founder of Stowaway, which offers beauty products packaged into travel-sized portions. "I have no design experience but I taught myself to sketch because somebody had to do it." Similarly, Kal Vepuri, co-founder of stylish direct-to-consumer outerwear brand The Arrivals, had no fashion experience, nor did his co-founder Jeff Johnson. He argued that when you have a mission and passion in pursuing that mission, you just figure it out "no matter how hard" it is. "It's just the step in the process," he said, even if it's a challenge that takes years to figure out.
Paying your dues may take longer than you’d expect.
Sally Lyndley explained during a 2014 panel with stylists: "When Katie Grand, who is my mentor, started giving me covers for her magazine, that’s when people started paying attention. And that was after six or seven years of working tirelessly for her and the magazine. The first cover was Stephanie Seymour for Pop. Then she gave me another cover two covers later, and that's when people said, 'OK, Sally’s here to stay.' That was a moment where people in the magazine world said, we have to pay attention to this girl."
Be respectful of everyone, especially your peers.
Tara Swennen: "There are some rough politics in this business, but if you do handle it with integrity it will get you much further... I’ve shown my resumé maybe twice in 15 years. Networking and the relationships I’ve built are what have actually gotten me work."
Sally Lyndley: "I knew Prabal Gurung when he was an assistant at Bill Blass. It’s cool to grow up with people, but also it's important to remember that today's intern is tomorrow’s PR director, designer or big stylist. That’s important, because people get caught up in, 'Oh they're just this,' or whatever. That's bullshit."
When preparing for an interview, learn the ins and outs of the brand you interviewing for.
Not only should you know a lot about the editor whom you're meeting with, you should know the stylists, photographers and writers that regularly work for the magazine. If you don't, chances are slim that you'll get a call back. "Candidates say they’re obsessed with fashion or the magazine and they can’t follow up," Ariel Foxman said during a discussion with magazine editors in chief. You should be able to name your favorite designer on the spot, as well as your favorite pieces from past issues of the magazine — not knowing the latter is a huge pitfall. "Sometimes a candidate only looked at the last issue. It’s not about wasting my time — you won’t get the job, you shouldn’t be here," Foxman said.
Want more great advice? Click here to see the full agenda for our next conference on Friday, Nov. 4, where you'll be able to book one-on-one mentoring sessions with someone whose made it in your chosen field, in addition to taking in panels about why menswear is having a moment, how to get your fashion label off the ground, what it means to be an influencer today and more.
Get your tickets here NOW — we always sell out and mentoring sessions are limited! See you there!