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For a successful fashion design career, do the opposite of everyone else

July 26, 2018

The fashion industry is a nasty mix of secretive behavior and cutthroat competition. We feel like the more tight lipped we are, the further we’ll get in our fashion design career.

But the fascinating truth?

Doing the complete opposite of what everyone else in the fashion industry does is how you get ahead.

What does that mean?

It means talking, sharing resources and making friends. It means being nice, giving away some “secrets” and helping people.

This is what will sky rocket your fashion design career.

In this post, I’m going to tell you 3 simple ways you can do that right now.

But first, let me tell you how I was recently reminded about the power of friendships.


Earlier this week on an insanely humid night in NYC, over 50 amazing like minded fashionistas filled the basement bar at Houndstooth Pub in the NYC Garment District for my 3rd Successful Fashion Designer industry mixer.

Successful Fashion Designer Party

And you know what happened?

“Cutthroat” fashion designers talked with each other:

“Competitive” fashion designers shared stories (and hugs, lots of hugs!) with each other:

“Secretive” fashion designers swapped resources, ideas and advice:

“Tight lipped” fashion designers made new fashion friends and contacts:

All these “back stabbing and catty” fashion designers?

They made introductions, shared fashion design job opportunities, and grew their networks.

It was REALLY FREAKING COOL! (Especially for the fashion industry!)

Everything I heard and saw at my fashion mixer reinforced what I’ve learned over the years:

Relationships are the key to growing your fashion design career.

And the key to relationships is to be a nice friend, not competitive and catty.

It’s as simple as that.

Honestly? I wasn’t that surprised I saw this happen at the recent event.

Turns out, of the 61 podcast interviews, ~200 Skype calls, and 130+ real life conversations at my industry mixers that I’ve had with fashion designers at various points in their careers, it’s the “generous / friendly / sharing” ones who I continually see getting ahead.

But here’s the even more fascinating thing:

Most of you are SICK OF the competitive fashion industry nature. You HATE it! You don’t LIKE being this way.

You guys want to talk. You want to help each other. You want to make friends.

The challenge?

Our industry tells you to be competitive and tight lipped, so even if it goes against your natural characteristics, it’s what you’ve been trained to do.

But what if we said, “Screw what the fashion industry tells us to do!”

Imagine how things could change for you and for our industry.

It’s exactly how I grew my career, and I’ve seen it happen firsthand to loads of other fashion designers.

Here are 3 simple things you can do (opposite of “the norm”) that will grow your fashion design career.

1. Stay in touch with (and always meet new) people

The industry teaches us to keep things close to our chest.

To shut out our competition.

To stay tight lipped.

But here’s the thing:

Having friends you can bounce ideas off them or ask questions is priceless.

Beyond that? This is where the best fashion design career opportunities come from.

At my recent fashion industry mixer in NYC, I heard this over and over from the successful designers in the room.

The ones who always seem to have another great opportunity falling in their lap? They have a network. Their friends get them jobs. Old bosses hire them again.

The ones who were struggling or unemployed? They have no contacts or friends. They continually apply for jobs but don’t hear back. They’ve lost touch with people or never made those friends in the first place.

Listen, if you’re not making contacts in the first place, then you need to step back and figure out why.

Have you not put yourself out there?

Have you not been friendly with your coworkers?

Have you not made a bond with student designers at fashion school?

I know it can feel lonely or scary out there, but you know what? Everyone else feels lonely and scared too, just like you. I promise, they want industry friends and contacts just as badly as you do.

Now, once you make those connections, it’s your job to stay in touch, maintain your friendships, and reach out just to say hi.

How do you do that?

Here are three podcast episodes full of tips from people who have built their fashion design careers by maintaining friendships:

  1. Every job Carla has ever gotten in her 15+ years working as an international fashion designer has come from an industry friend. In this interview, she explains how she authentically maintains relationships so opportunities “fall in her lap”. 
  2. David has more freelance pattern making clients than he has time for, and they’ve all come from referrals or friends of friends. Here’s how he built these relationships and created a freelance work generating machine.
  3. Malie grew her career from the ground up by making and maintaining friendships. In this interview, she shares her simple strategies on creating and building your network. Best part? They’re easy to implement into things you already do every day.

2. Be generous, kind and don’t reach out only when you need something

You know that friend that only texts when she’s going through a breakup and wants to complain?

Don’t be that friend.

The same is true for your fashion design career.

People will start to think of you as the person who they only hear from when she needs something.

And guess what? No one wants that kind of “friend”.

So, how do you reach out if you don’t need something?

It’s simpler than you may think.

Here are 4 ways you can be generous and kind and reach out to the people you know…or even the ones you want to get to know better.


1. Follow and engage with them on social media.

You don’t have to spend hours on LinkedIn or Insta, and you don’t have to reply to every post, but ping them periodically to let them know you’re paying attention. When you do engage, make it authentic, genuine and personalized.

EXAMPLE: “Congrats on the new job! I remember you always talking about wanting to break into men’s and I wanted to let you know I’m really happy for you! Can’t wait to see how much you love this job!

Why this works: People love to feel like they’re heard and cared about. When you do this, you show them that you really value the friendship and you care about them doing well.


2. Keep them updated on what you’re doing!

I know a designer who kept recruiters in the loop on her job status instead of just reaching out when she was looking for work. As a result? Those recruiters continuously sent jobs her way to see if she was interested. It worked like magic.

EXAMPLE: “Hey! Hope you are doing well – I saw on LinkedIn that you just celebrated 10 years at your company – that is so awesome and huge congrats! Anyway, I wanted to reach out with a quick update. I just got a new job at XYZ brand as a senior designer. It’s a great step in my career and I’m really excited, so wanted to let you know. Thanks for being so awesome at what you do and talk soon.”

Why this works: Notice how the beginning starts with talking about them and shows that you’re paying attention. It can be anything from congrats to a thank you. Updating recruiters and other industry professionals on your job status shows that you’re growing your career and still actively engaged in the industry. When they have or hear of an opportunity, you’ll be the first person they think of.


3. Thank people!

Probably one of the easiest but most underrated things you can do. No matter how tiny the thing is, a thank you goes really freaking far. Whether it’s because they sent you a contact for a new job, gave you feedback on your portfolio, or left words of encouragement on your recent Facebook status update, acknowledge them and say thank you.

EXAMPLE: “I don’t know if I ever told you, but years ago you told me to keep my portfolio focused on one niche. I wanted to let you know that advice has stuck with me ever since, and it just landed me a new job! I wanted to say thank you and let you know how much your help has meant.”

And even if you don’t get the job or opportunity? Still say thanks: “Thank you so much for referring me to the opportunity at XYZ brand! It wasn’t a perfect match, but either way I wanted to let you know I appreciate you thinking of me :).”

Don’t underestimate how far a thank you can go. Just yesterday, I received a lovely one via DM on Insta from Kayla, who was at my NYC industry mixer:

Fashion Design Career Success

And you know what happened because of this?

I appreciated her thank you and admired her ambition so much that I invited her on the podcast:

Fashion Design Career Success

Bam, opportunity and exposure just fell right in her lap (and it wasn’t a coincidence).

Why this works: Guess what? People LOVE to be thanked. The problem? Most people forget to say thanks. If you become that person that always says thanks, people will remember that and want to help you. It’s like pure magic.


4. Send them something valuable or helpful.

Whether it’s a new trend, a great podcast (hint, hint), or an article on sustainability, share something of value or use with people!

EXAMPLE: “I just tripped over this episode of the Successful Fashion Designer podcast on how to structure your resume and thought of you. The guest talks about what to include at the very top to grab a brands attention, and since I know you’re working on yours, I thought you’d find it really helpful!”

Why this works: People love getting recommendations from friends and new tools or resources that can help them with exactly what they need help on.

Here’s the one trick about this though: make sure you send things that are relevant and personalized to them, and tell them why it’s valuable. Don’t just blast out “hey here’s a cool article you should check out” to all your friends.


One last thing about being generous and kind?

Do it without the expectation that you’ll get anything in return.

The idea is not “generosity in exchange for a job or opportunity”.

The idea is “generosity for the sake of generosity”.

I promise, it’s such a foreign mindset in the fashion industry, you’ll blow people’s minds and it will come back to you ten fold in ways you’d never expect.

3. Stop complaining and bad mouthing. Instead be positive and optimistic.

I know, I know. Misery breeds company. It’s easy to get together and gossip or complain about things.

But what if you could flip your script?

Here’s an example from a conversation I had at my fashion industry mixer earlier this week:

Designer: I’m doing the work of a junior designer but my title is only associate. How do I communicate to another brand that I am capable of a junior role when I don’t have that title yet? Should I lie on my resume?

Me: Never lie on your resume….and why would you need to?

Designer: I’m not sure how to tell them I’m capable of being a junior designer without bad mouthing my last job and saying they made me do the work of a junior but only gave me the title and pay of an associate.

Me: What if you flipped your mindset and positioned it like this:

“At my last job, I was lucky to get to take on additional responsibility above and beyond my titled role as an associate designer. For the last year, I was in charge of [thing 1] and [thing 2] that helped our team develop on trend styles, some of which became best sellers. With this experience and my proven track record for results, I know I could fill the junior designer role at [brand name] and help get you the same results.”

Put yourself in the shoes of a hiring manager. Would you rather hear someone complain about how much they’re being abused? Or hear them say they’re grateful for an opportunity to do projects beyond their title?

Now listen, I know there’s a fine line here. Abuse is real in our industry, and I’m not saying you just lay down and take it. But think about how you can flip your position to come across in a more positive light. Those are the people who brands want to hire!

For fun, here are three other examples:

Instead of: “No, I can’t get to it, I have too much work to do.”
Try: “Yes, I’d be happy to get that done. My deadline for these tech packs is tight, I can fit it in next week unless you’d like me to prioritize?”

Instead of: “The people on my team never carried their weight and I had to stay late to pick up slack.”
Try: “Our team juggled a lot, so I always jumped in when I could to help my coworkers meet their deadlines too.”

Instead of: “My boss was controlling, yelled a lot and the energy in the office was toxic.” 
Try: “I learned how to work with different personality types and get my work done even under extreme pressure.”


Listen, I know this may seem like a totally weird mindset shift.

Being nice in fashion will help my career be more successful? Whaatt?

But I promise, it works.

I have heard about it working firsthand.

I have seen it working firsthand.

I have experienced it working firsthand.

And below, I’ve included a few more photos of it happening at my NYC fashion industry mixer.

Thank you to each and every one of you who came out to meet new friends, support each other, and be nice!

I am truly humbled by what this Successful Fashion Designer community has grown into, and cannot wait to see it continue to develop over the years.

I appreciate each and every one of you.

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