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Thousands of fashion students dream about a career in the glamorous industry, but new research shows that fashion schools are failing to prepare nearly 50% of students for a job in the industry.
In a new study of 4,032 students released by Business of Fashion, a whopping 43% of graduates reported that they’re dissatisfied with the support available from their school when it comes to actually finding a job in fashion.
“Parsons tested my work ethic and exposed me to a diverse student body and resources, but poorly prepared students for the realities of job placement and career development,” a former student told BoF.
After graduation, the survey also found many ended up working in roles outside of the fashion industry, or worse, unemployed. While obviously disappointing, most of the students’ career ambitions probably revolve around becoming a stylist, designer, or editor, while overlooking the thousands of other avenues to work in the fashion industry—all of which are a whole lot better than unemployment.
The U.S. apparel market is worth more than $225 billion, so it’s a given that there are hundreds of different types of jobs that keep the machine humming along—most of which you’ve probably never thought about thanks to the fact that they’re more behind the scenes than, say, a top magazine editor.
To get a real idea about the opportunities available in the fashion industry (beyond being a designer), we spoke with three real professionals at the top of their game.
Name: Melissa Marks
Job title: Business development manager at designer shopping site Farfetch
What does your job involve? I am responsible for helping to research and identify fashion specialty boutiques throughout the U.S. and Canada. In addition I develop and assist in managing relationships with all the top boutiques in North America currently on the Farfetch platform.
I work extremely close with the account managers on strategy and communication, focusing on growth opportunities for our boutiques. I work directly with the SVP of brand and business development, assisting her with new business partnerships.
What does an average day at work look like for you? An average day will sometimes start with an early call with our London office (where our global team is located), followed by a check in with my boss in New York, where we share updates about our territories and discuss any global news.
Then it’s usually back-to-back calls with prospective boutiques and checking in with our existing boutiques, communicating important news and strategizing with them.
What were you doing before this job and what experience did you need to land this role? I was working for a contemporary menswear line , primarily working with all types of wholesale accounts. Learning to communicate with various retailers, including department stores and specialty boutiques, helped tremendously in my transition to Farfetch. I started as an account manager here and worked my way up to a manager position in business development.
My existing relationships with our boutiques, and understanding of the luxury fashion business, are extremely valuable for this role. It also helps if you have an understanding of the tech side of our business, and logistics and operations.
What has been your career highlight so far? My career highlight is being part of the tremendous growth from the beginning, that Farfetch has accomplished over a short period of time, and how this growth has positively impacted each of our specialty stores’ businesses.
What qualifications do you have? Account management and sales experience, luxury product knowledge, existing relationships with high-end/specialty boutiques, communication skills, attention to detail, multi-tasker, and self-motivation.
What did you want to be when you were in school? I was focused on being in fashion PR, so I interned for different agencies every summer while I was in college. When I graduated, I ended up taking a position in wholesale for a menswear line and quickly learned that sometimes you learn new aspects of an industry that you didn’t know you’d enjoy!
What are your future career ambitions? My manager always says I should want her job–or at least something close to it–so I’m going with that but, since being in e-commerce for the past four years, I couldn’t imagine not being a part of a fashion-tech company.
What’s your piece of advice for anyone wanting to land a job like yours? Always look for opportunities to network and relationship build. Whether it’s an industry party or a friend’s get together, you never know who you’ll meet or what opportunities you’ll find.
Name: Sigrún Eva Jónsdóttir
Job title: Fit model, Wilhelmina NYC
What does your job involve? Fit modeling for luxury brands, including Rag & Bone. A fit model’s the person a fashion designer uses to measure the drape and visual appearance of a new piece on a person.
What does an average day at work look like for you? I work with the design team as they try samples on me and make adjustments or changes to the garments. This usually involves a lot of pinning, and standing for long periods of time.
The job is actually harder than it sounds–your body gets all stiff and tired after standing still for hours. It can also be very interesting though, and it’s fun to be a part of the designing process and see all the work and thought that goes into just one piece.
What were you doing before this job and what experience did you need to land this role? I have been modeling full time for the last four years, doing everything from runway, to commercial work, but the fitting job just kind of happened organically.
The designers saw that the clothes looked great on me so they wanted to use me for fit, too. Before modeling I was at home in Iceland just finishing school and busing tables at a restaurant.
What has been your career highlight so far? Having jeans named after me is pretty cool!
What qualifications do you have? Being in the game for four years, making mistakes, learning from them and constantly growing.
What did you want to be when you were in school? I wanted to get into journalism, travel and report from conflict zones. I also just wanted to travel and see the world in general, which modeling has been great for.
What are your future career ambitions? My modeling career dream is a nice beauty contract and even to get into film more. I also decided to get a real estate license recently.
What’s your piece of advice for anyone wanting to land a job like yours? Well it’s a tough one, because when it comes to fit modeling it’s really important that your body is the specific measurements that a particular brand is looking for. The best way to start is by reaching out to a modeling agency.
Name: Michael Castellano
Job title: Senior CAD Designer at Gap Inc./Banana Republic
What does your job involve? Working closely with the menswear design team to create seasonally appropriate prints, yarn dyes, stripes and graphics.
What does an average day at work look like for you? First thing is coffee as I catch up on my blogs and emails. Then, I review all strike-offs (test pieces of fabric) that are shipped from factories to check color and print consistency and make comments.
Then I usually touch base with specific design teams (e.g., wovens, knits, sweaters) to start working on prints and patterns for the season. Later in the day I’ll start building artwork either by doodling or going straight into digital form.
What were you doing before this job and what experience did you need to land this role? I’ve been at Banana Republic my whole career. The summer after college I was mostly doing random graphic design freelance jobs here and there. Then started freelancing at Banana Republic during fall 2007 and never left!
What has been your career highlight so far? Learning from everyone in the brand–no matter how big or small the nugget of knowledge is, it all adds up. Accolades and achievements come and go. Skills and knowledge you keep forever.
What qualifications do you have? Any designer will tell you that you must have an overall good aesthetic. I also think it’s super important to not be a one-trick pony. I try to always learn new things whether it be keeping current on new print techniques or learning new design software. Basically, fill up your tool belt with as many talents as possible. You never know what you may need to lean on tomorrow.
What did you want to be when you were in school? In college a graphic designer. In high school an architect. In elementary school a navy seal.
What are your future career ambitions? All I ever want to do as a designer is work on cool garments that people feel compelled to buy and wear. When you nail that graphic or print it feels awesome.
What’s your piece of advice for anyone wanting to land a job like yours? Work hard, stay humble, fuel your creativity with new skills and approaches to working and always be yourself. You can’t go wrong.