There’s one thing pretty much everyone working in fashion has in common: At one time or another, they weren’t working in fashion. When you’re an outsider, one of the industry’s greatest mysteries is exactly how the most successful people got to where they are.
A little piece of this mystery might have just been solved, courtesy of fashion muse Rita Ora’s longtime stateside stylist, Jason Rembert.
At only 25 years old, Rembert has styled the likes of Ora, Nicki Minaj, Olivia Palermo, Keri Hilson, and many more, and here’s the most amazing part: he did it all in only five years, after making a decision at 20 years old to drop out of college (where he was pursuing a degree in mathematics) and start pursuing his dream of a career in fashion.
We sat down with Rembert—who paid his dues interning at Elle, Harper’s Bazaar, and W—to hear his top 10 tips for breaking into fashion and succeeding once you’re there.
1. Start from the bottom.
You have to intern and learn. You have to put that time in. No one makes it overnight; this industry requires a lot of hard work and you have to sacrifice a lot. Some people think you’re going to get rich overnight, and you just don’t. You work hard, sometimes you work for free to take it to that next level. It’s okay to work for less than you feel like you deserve, if at the end of the road, you’re going to gain much more. You have to think long-term; you can’t think short-term in this industry.
When I was interning at Elle, I worked with a lot of rich girls who were buying $10 salads for lunch everyday. I brought my food from home because I couldn’t afford that. Now I look at those girls, and they’ve humbled themselves, and I think that’s from interning, assisting, and working for people who ready had to make them humble.
2. You have to overcome the fear of failing.
When I first started in the fashion business, I didn’t think it was something I could actually do. I see so many stylists who work so hard and they are really dedicated to it, and they never make it. I think all of us have that fear of not making it or not being so successful. I see fashion assistants in closets for five years. That’s hard. I didn’t know where my life would be; I knew I wanted to do it, but I just had that fear.
You have to get over your fear of failure, and you can make it in this industry. It’s getting over that initial fear of failing. You have to be okay with failing. Failure will eventually become a learned mistake; I fail every week! But I’m learning and happy to learn.
3. You absolutely must have a support system.
So many people get so close to making it, and because of lack of support, and that fear, they never make it. So you have to have someone, whether it’s a friend, it’s your mom, it’s your dad, it’s brothers or sisters, who supports you and tells you, “You can do it.”
4. You have to be ready to put in a ton of work.
This job is so much work. I don’t sleep. Sometimes I don’t eat. I’m dealing with sample trafficking everyday, every moment of my life. I have to be up by four in the morning to answer the Australia, London, Paris, and Italy markets. I get up at 4 a.m. every morning to answer e-mails, because I’m dealing with an international pop star.
I have conference calls and creative discussions all before 8 a.m.—I usually answer 200 emails before noon. If it’s a good day, I don’t have to catch a flight. All day I’m checking clothes in, returning clothes, packaging boxes, moving trunks around, picking clothes up from showrooms. And then there’s appointments and events in the evening. It’s a lot.
5. Achieving a balance is very difficult, but possible.
There’s no time for relationships. You have to be focused. You have to work really hard to balance your career and your personal life, your family. Some days I’m extremely happy about what I’m doing, and some days I’m extremely over it. But at the end of the day, I can’t see myself doing anything else.
6. Study those who came before you.
What’s not publicized about a lot of people in fashion is how they got to where they are. Really read up on the people who inspired you, and learn their journey. Find out about them, and find out how they got from point A to point B. It can be really inspiring.
7. Invest and believe in yourself.
I spoke to one of my friends who’s a really major designer and asked him how he got to here, and he said, “Honestly, I invested in myself. I had a job and I took the money from the job and all my savings and I invested in my career. I had one friend at a big magazine who pushed for me and kept pushing for me. And it worked.”
How many people in this world, when they’re stable, would take their life savings and invest in their dream? Most people wouldn’t. It’s really about investing in yourself, and knowing that you can make it and will make it.
8. Keep your integrity.
This is important. In this industry, there’s so many people who will really try to knock you down, push you down, make you feel like you’re less than what you are, and who will try to make you be something that you’re not. If you keep your integrity, people will love and respect you for you. Nobody wants someone who they can pushover. Nobody wants someone who won’t stand up for themselves. I don’t want someone like that. You really need to keep your integrity and remember who you are, be who you are.
A lot of times in this industry, you have to conform, and it’s so hard to be yourself. But I just look at the people at the top: Patti Wilson, June Ambrose, Grace Coddington. They’re all themselves.
There are some stylists who are very outlandish and out there and who have personality for days, but there are some stylists who are very reclusive and shy and they show their personality through their work. If that stylist who is very shy and to themselves came to this industry and acted fake and outlandish, they’d never make it.
9. It’s okay to be nice.
You don’t have to be a mean person to be a stylist or an editor. I think that’s the biggest misconception of the industry, like “I have to be mean to my intern and my assistants!” You really don’t. It’s okay to be nice. I’m happier being nice.
There’s much more to this industry than what is often publicized. I love the movie “The Devil Wears Prada”—I could watch it every day—but I feel like people only saw the mean and the attitude. I wish they could see that there’s people out there who will send you cupcakes and flowers [when you’re sick]. There’s actually people who care.
10. Keep learning and pay it forward.
I learn something new everyday. Learning is more valuable in this industry than the money you will make. And I’m able to then give knowledge to assistants and interns, so they won’t fail and make the same mistakes that I made. It’s important. I think in this industry, we get so much knowledge and opportunities, that one day we have to give it to someone. We can’t be selfish. It’s okay to teach someone.