Work Life

Tips to get to the Top in the Fashion Industry

By  | 

The following is a from a confidential user on The Schmatte, posted with his/her permission (of course). If you aren’t familiar with this new site, The Schmatte is a confidential forum for fashion industry professionals to discuss the workplace issues they can’t discuss on LinkedIn or other social media.


I’ve spent close to 20 years in the industry and thought I’d share some tips and advice on how to get to the top quickly. This thread should be able to help very junior people just getting into the industry, and also people with many years of experience. Personally, I spent close to a decade working for other brands in the luxury/designer sector of the industry; both small brands and large corporate brands. I launched my own brand and have been a business owner for close to 10 years. During this time I’ve simultaneously held roles as creative/artistic director of brands that are doing north of $100M in sales annually. I am also under 40 years old. I wanted to share some tips and hopefully create some positive discussions on this forum. Please feel free to add advice to this thread!

  1. Be Nice, the industry is small; try not to burn bridges as you may be working for your assistant sometime in the future.
  2. Never feel like you owe a company anything. Most brands have no problem cutting divisions or laying off entire departments to save costs; even if you’ve worked for a brand for 20 years. You should always be looking for a more senior role with better pay.
  3. Get a crew. Follow the Virgil Abloh model and surround yourself with your talented peers. You can all help build each other up. Virgil, Jerry Lorenzo, Matthew Williams, Heron Preston, and Kanye West have all used this to their advantage and are at the top of major brands and global collaborations.
  4. If you’re older, do your best to connect with the younger generations. In the next 5-10 years, Millennials and Gen-Z will make up 70% of the market. They shop much differently and care about different things. Spend more time on social media including Instagram, Tik Tok, and Snap.
  5. Don’t get hung up on age! I don’t believe in ageism. The best tech designers, atelier managers, and tailors come from an older generation and have skills that Millenials and gen-z simply don’t possess. If you have or work with a great tech designer, do everything you can to keep them happy; bring them snacks, cookies, flowers etc…It’s exceedingly getting harder to find great tech designers!
  6. Get on the radar of every recruiter you can, and this means GLOBALLY! The big agencies like 24/7, Solomon Page, Fourth Floor, Jessilyn are fine but they are not going to get you your dream job. The most important jobs are never posted online and rarely go through a large agency. Candidates are selected directly via the CEO, recommendation, or very private recruiters. There is a network of independent recruiters working globally and you must get on all of their radars. If they don’t know you, or know you are looking they won’t think of you for a high profile role. You can find most of them on LinkedIn; and once you know one, the whole network will open up. Be sure to ask them who their competitors are and they will happily share. They all work on separate profiles.
  7. Leave and come back. Always leave your job for a better or more senior role. It’s nearly impossible to climb the ladder at one brand. Most brands don’t respect or nurture talent. It’s best to always be looking for a more senior role. I can’t tell you how many talented designers I’ve seen laid-off from brands only to start their own labels and have incredible success.
  8. Start your own brand. Start with one product category and slowly grow. Having your own successful brand is the fastest way a designer can get to the top as a creative director. In the US look at Wes Gordon (Carolina Herrera), the Monse Kids (Oscar de la Renta), Tim Coppins (replaced Raf Simons at CK), Tim Hamilton (North Face), Chris Benz (J.Crew)…the list goes on and on and on…
  9. Work for a famous artistic director. Keep your options open and think globally. Maybe you want to leave the US and work in another country and that’s great! Go spend two years working for someone like Hedi Slimane, Maria Grazia Chiuri, Daniel Lee, Dries Van Noten, Kim Jones or Thom Browne. You could also work for a smaller emerging brand like Bode, Pyer Moss, or Brother Vellies. Any young brand would be thrilled to have an experienced production manager or tech designer on their team! After working for any of these brands you really can go anywhere.
  10. Think about the environment. The garmento brands (many are discussed in this forum) are literally killing the planet. If you’re biggest clients are TJ Maxx, Ross, Marshalls and you are cranking out polyester garments for pennies on the dollar you should think about what’s important to the next generation of consumers and it’s not this.

At any rate, this is not the be all end all and these tips aren’t for everyone. I can only share what has worked for me. Please feel free to add your tips and take or leave any of this. I hope some things in here are helpful as the industry is literally on it’s head right now!


In addition to informative and inspirational crowd-sourced posts like this, The Schmatte also has active discussions on fashion industry salary information, company reviews, interview intelligence, toxic employers, diversity issues among others.

Interested? Apply for a free account on The Schmatte today!

Avatar

Chris Kidd is the owner of StyleCareers.com, StylePortfolios.com, StyleDispatch.com, FashionCareerFairs.com and MayoroftheMall.com.