HOW TO BUILD YOUR NETWORK IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY
Image c/o Topshop Unique Fall 2017
Fact: the fashion industry loves nepotism. For those of us who have attended fashion schools or had internships and jobs in the business, it's uncommon not to run into someone who landed their position because they are somehow connected through Anna Wintour's son-in-law's dog walker's neighbour, or their parents who own a major PR agency, or had been famous for being good looking in the 90s. It can seem like a complicated path to navigate if you aren't born into the industry from the get-go, but it's definitely not impossible. In fact, learning to network and build connections by your own merit will probably land you further in the long run. And the good news? It's never too early to start. Building connections is crucial in the formative stages of your career and you never know when a simple coffee meeting, DM, or inquisitive e-mail can land you with some life-changing advice, or better yet, a job of your own!
1. What is your angle?
In other words, what sets you apart from the thousands of your peers who are also hustling for fashion jobs right now? Are you a designer who specializes in, for example, sustainability? Are you a more advanced writer than most people your age? Do your photographs have a style that is distinctly (and consistently) your own? For many busy, senior members of the fashion industry, mentoring a young person is a two way street - sure, it feels good to give back to the community and nurture the next generation of talent, but it's even better when they have reason to believe that knowing you will benefit them down the road too. Have an angle - why should they pay attention to you versus ever other aspiring kid out there? Thinking this through may also motivate you to refine your skills in the process too.
2. Reach out
The answer will always be 'no' if you don't ask. E-mail someone you admire and ask for an informational interview - this is basically a short conversation (usually around 10 minutes) over the phone or coffee where you can pick someone's brains with your questions about their career. Make the most of these opportunities by not just asking them about their career, but also seeking advice tailored to you; remember that everyone's journey is different and that the fashion industry looked very different when many senior level designers and editors entered in the 80s, 90s, or early-2000s than it does today. Be realistic with who you chose to contact, and don't ask for too much of their time. It may seem daunting at first, but you never know where a friendly message can land you - our Editor in Chief once interned for a Vogue editor simply be e-mailing her to ask!
It's also worth building horizontal connections to people who might still have a small following but also have a lot of future potential - think emerging designers, junior editors, PR staffers, and assistants. These types of people may have more time to talk with you and can often be more candid about their experiences and roles than someone higher up at a company or magazine. Likewise, they'll probably be the ones who someday replace that editor you admire, and so knowing them now can seriously pay off in the long run.
3. Assistants are the backbone of the industry
Trust us when we say that assistants make the fashion industry go 'round. These small but mighty individuals are on the front lines of the industry and interface with just about everyone in every facet of the fashion industry, from PR reps, to editors, department heads, designers, photographers, casting directors - you name it. They have a critical role to play and as such, their networks are incredibly wide. Job-shadowing or even filling in for an assistant can be a great way to get your feet wet and witness a real account of how everything actually comes together to create the final vision of a fashion show or photoshoot. Similarly, lots of fashion weeks recruit students as volunteers - this is another great way to get in on the behind the scenes action in a slightly less direct capacity.
4. Be nice - it's refreshing
It can be easy to focus a lot on what you will wear to a meeting or job interview, or how much past experience you have had, but your attitude is likely to be what people take away from the experience the most. Kill them with kindness - even if they are rude to you - and you will leave the right impression. Don't be passive though, and speak clearly and confidently. Introduce yourself to as many people as possible with a handshake and a smile; professional communication is often an area that millennials struggle with, so train yourself to be the exception.
5. Social networking Social media is also referred to as social networking for a good reason. If necessary, start a second Instagram account for 'business' purposes; instead of posting pictures from your friend's houseparty, use this one to show off your work. Follow as many fashion professionals as you can - both those that you admire and are inspired by, as well as the less famous accounts that do a lot of the ground work (again, assistants and behind the scenes gurus, like PR directors). Maybe you'll get a follow back and end up on the radar of someone who could hire you down the road. It's also a good chance to slide into someone cool's DMs to ask for advice or even feedback on some of your work, too. Start a conversation and be courteous and confident - be respectful and knowledgable about their work, but don't fawn over it too much. You want to be treated like an equal, so act like one. LinkedIn is also a good way to reach out to people, or figure out who plays what role in a company you'd like to be connected with.
6. Make yourself memorable
Send thank you notes and follow up's to people you connect with. Even if it's just someone you meet at a party who works for a PR agency or a magazine, send them an e-mail or toss them an Instagram follow; don't let them forget you, basically. The hard truth is that with the volume of people that fashion professionals interface with everyday, it isn't likely that they will remember you unless you help them out.
7. Start NOW
It's never too early to start building your portfolio and building your network. People often assume that that is something you do after you graduate from university or when you have your first internship, but in this fast-paced, over-saturated market, that can easily be too late. Chances are no one is going to call you out the blue and "discover you," so introduce yourself before somebody else does!