NY vs LA – A Design Director’s Persepective
The things no one will tell you about the fashion industry, from the viewpoint of an experienced professional.
By Oni Auer June 3, 2019
I recently read an article showcasing the highlight reel of both Los Angeles and NYC in attempts to help newcomers in the fashion industry decide where they want to live and start their career. The article started out strong pointing out that you can’t really compare the 2 cities, because you really can’t, it’s apples to oranges. But when it came down to the nitty-gritty of what the industry is really like, what you are really signing up for, I felt it was lacking information that could genuinely help guide young designers and the like make a truly informed decision on their future.
At this point you’ve just graduated design school, or you are semi-new to the industry and you are deciding which city to live in seeing that the sunshine in Los Angeles & the amazing energy of NY has not already pulled you in either direction.
The fashion industry in LA is not what you it used to be. Yes, Los Angeles has never had the glamorous affect that NYFW has had, and I’m sure some people are wondering if Fashion Week even exists in LA at all (lol) but the truth is that for decades LA has had a booming, creative and ultimately collaborative design atmosphere that goes far beyond the corporate scene. Because of the fluxing economy over the past 20 years and the fact that a lot of business are turning e-commerce only or are being purchased by huge conglomerate companies, the consolidation of LA fashion has left the industry there smaller with a few big players, and mostly leaning towards denim, active and swim. Having that said, the creative collaboration still exists and you can easily find creatives from all different media seeking partners for alliance. Obviously this exists in NYC but it is more easily accessible in LA, large in part due to the fact that days are shorter, people in fashion do not sell themselves as such high-brow untouchable commodities as they do in NY, and there are more blurred lines of media. It is also easier to get access to models, artists, photographers and so on that are willing to work with you simply for creative expression, not for a paycheck.
Speaking of paychecks, the pay in LA is lesser than in NY by about 15-30% dependent on experience, company, and title, but your cost of living will be less by about 5-15%. A lot of people in sunny LA are fine with taking a smaller salary because they get to live by the beach, drive with their top down, and enjoy the nice weather on the way to their corporate gig. The traffic is gruesome, but it’s definitely a trade off that’s worth while. Overall while the industry in LA is smaller than it is in New York there is still a good amount of creativity and opportunity.
Lifestyle: More relaxed corporate environments, shorter work days, healthy and active living, access to a lot of cross-functional networking events, collaborative and fun.
Plus’s: Good weather, easy access to beach, good bank of fashion recruiters, perfect for social butterflies and people that like to be active and one with nature.
Con’s: Lots of driving, the occasional “Hollywood” tude, lack of leadership roles due to corporate downsizing, smaller salaries in comparison to NY.
Tips: Get roadside assistance immediately, take a public speaking class and/or learn to sell yourself as a person & a professional, learn to be comfortable sharing & networking(applies everywhere but especially LA), stock up on summer clothing, and lastly if you can work your way into a specialty it will be easier for you to land a fashion job in lalaland.
New York City:
NYC with out a doubt is the mecca of fashion, and there is a plethora of opportunities at your disposal. Yes it is competitive by nature, but because there are so many opportunities it is easy to make connections, meet recruiters and expose yourself through many different channels. One thing that no one will volunteer to tell you is that a large part of the New York fashion industry is now taken over by large conglomerate companies, some of these companies are the ones purchasing brands back in LA as we discussed earlier. The larger companies that purchase brands or license them, work to maintain the integrity of the brands but develop them at a much lower cost which obviously creates a sub-par standard for a lot of the fashion quality that we are seeing in stores now a days. If you do accept a job with one of these large conglomerates your position will most likely be less creative and more so old school garmento, knocking off fashion trends and creating tech packs by hand. Another good thing to know that no one will tell you is that a good amount of licensee companies in NY are privately owned Jewish companies that are not allowed to poach or hire employees of other Jewish owned companies due to religious beliefs, so dependent on where your specialties lie this could indeed pigeon hole you into one position for longer than you realized which is something to be cognizant of. This is something that could alter the direction that your career takes, or it may take a little longer for you to position yourself within another company if that’s what you desire.
The other end of the fashion industry in NYC is taken up by direct business, meaning that you are working directly for a big brand such as The Gap or Victoria’s Secret. There are a lot of pluses working for a big brand especially in the beginning of your career; yearly bonuses, brand discounts, free coffee, discounted transportation and so on. It is nice to feel that you are part of something, and helping in the success of an already successful brand. The downsides to this are that you can get lost in the fold, you have to go through 50 people in order to do anything, and Corp. life is much more stunting than say a freelance gig or a startup.
There is a growing white space in NYC that I am personally fond of, the rise of tech and e-commerce startups as well as a huge freelance market. I personally love working for tech and startup companies because there is a family feel, it’s more hands on, and you are more involved, aka you learn and understand more than someone at a Corp. gig. Another plus is that a lot of startups are well funded and respect their employees so there is more room for salary negotiations and terms of contract.
Lifestyle: Fast pace, longer days with more excitement, easy access to absolutely anything and everything you could want to see or do, maximum opportunities to be social if so you wish.
Plus’s: NY moments: there is thrill to be had every where, art, fashion and great food literally at every turn of every corner! Four seasons to make use of your closet, amazing art exhibits and fashion events, wealth of agencies and connections to be had.
Con’s: Winter, winter & winter. Longer working hours. Many, many pairs of shoes to be ruined from walking in the rain or snow.
Tips: Work for different types of companies so you can get a feel of what you want in your career, find a mentor, get a good shoe repair guy near your apt, have at least a few thousand in savings before you move to NY & keep note that a lot of times you have to pay agency fees on top of first & last months rent. Keep an umbrella in your bag at all times, and when accepting a position be firm when negotiating terms and salary.
If you have not yet entered into design school here are some quick thoughts for you: only go to design school if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else. This is a career that requires passion, dedication and long long hours(as do most things), your unwavering commitment is what is going to get you through and help you build your career. If you are completely sure this is what you want to do I’m going to give you a tip that could save you money and time: you do not need a bachelors degree to be successful in this industry. An associates degree in design and extreme drive is what is going to get you to the finish line. Everything important you will learn once you start working, as there are some things that can not be taught in school.
Wild card: In case you were not torn enough with all of the information I provided already, I am going to throw a wild card into the mix, San Francisco. San Fran is very expensive and the weather is not as nice as Los Angeles, but if you are looking to start a company, work for a start up, work in athletics or active wear, or find investors, this is where you want to be.
If you are just entering into the fashion industry or you are still a newbie I hope this article helped you gain a little perspective on the industry holistically and in regards to which coast you would like to live on.
Good luck out there!
Oni is currently a design director living in NYC and consults regularly, helping young creatives with the direction of their careers. For more information visit her website: www.sofitsofresh.com