You’re currently reading Chapter 6 of The Ultimate Guide to Getting Your Dream Fashion Design Job
That Anyone Can Use, No Matter Your Skill Level or Where You Live
If you haven’t noticed, there are a few themes that come up over and over in this book to land your dream fashion design job.
- Going above and beyond (AKA doing the extra credit) to get noticed and stand out from the competition.
- Making industry friends and building relationships. Because at the end of the day, it often is about who you know.
And when you combine these two strategies – knowing a lot of people AND doing a great job? Your fashion career will sky rocket.
Simply put, a lot of this dream job stuff will happen for you because of networking. Now I know this networking shit is HARD. And it can feel really OVERWHELMING or just anxiety inducing.
But no matter your age, experience, or where you live, having a “network” can be priceless.
Do not discount the value of this. Do not think “oh it’s not for me”. Do not SKIP this chapter because you’d rather focus on designing and creating and the “fun” stuff!
Having a good networking strategy will make or break your career. I know it’s the boring and sometimes super hard stuff, but it is vital to your success.
Believe me…I know firsthand what happens when you HAVE good strategies in your back pocket…and what happens when you DON’T.
Which is why I’m going to share 8 specific strategies you can use to kick major ass, build new relationships, AND have fun doing it.
But First, A Quick Story About A Time I Royally Effed Up My Fashion Career
Here’s a “fun” little story about a time I flew across the country to “network” at a trade show…and then returned home without talking to A SINGLE PERSON.
After wasting my entire trade show trip? I felt like a loser, a wimp, and a total failure.
You see, I’ve not always been outgoing and confident. And sometimes? The “networking” jitters do still get the best of me.
Because like I said, this sh!t isn’t easy. And years ago, I was REALLY bad at it.
We’re talking “crawl-under-your-desk-and-curl-up-in-fetal-position-I-just-can’t-do-it” BAD.
Let’s jump back to about 2010ish when “curl-up-in-fetal-position” is pretty much exactly what I did after traveling all the way across the country to Florida for a trade show.
My trade show trip had 2 purposes:
- Face time with my biggest freelance client
- And more importantly, find more work
You see, while I was in a good spot with this client, I was also in the “lose them and you lose almost your whole paycheck” danger zone.
So while I’d been to this trade show before, this time it felt different. Because when you’re in “looking for more work” mode, the pressure is HIGH.
So while my strategy was CLEAR…
- MUST schmooze
- MUST talk to brands who could hire me
- MUST network
…My anxiety was THROUGH THE ROOF
My trip was just 2 days long and my plan was simple:
Day 1: face time with my existing client
Day 2: networking to find more work
Face time with my existing client went great. I had worked with them for a while and I was comfortable with the team. I helped set up their booth, met with the sales team and then enjoyed a company dinner at one of those gimmicky Orlando restaurants.
Then “networking” day came. And I crumbled. I knew I should get there early to make the most of my time, but my nerves were high.
So, I procrastinated anywhere I could. I slept in. I took long getting ready. I killed time at my client’s booth (where I was comfortable!). I did everything I could to avoid the exact thing I needed to do, the exact thing I was TERRIFIED to do:
By the time I finally forced myself to walk the show, I’d already lost half the day. I meandered each aisle clutching my tote bag full of mini portfolios and business cards.
But booth after booth I wimped out.
I didn’t talk to anyone.
I didn’t drop my portfolio off anywhere.
I didn’t ask for business cards for any of the design directors.
I didn’t do ANYTHING.
And I kept lying to myself that it was ok.
“Trade shows weren’t a good place to network.”
“I didn’t want to bother people there.”
“I didn’t want to intrude on their space.”
After all, they’re there to sell, not be sold to. (Actual truth: trade shows can be a great place to network.)
A generous 3 hours before my domestic flight home, I thought, “I better get to the airport! Don’t want to be late!” And I left the trade show without talking to a SINGLE new person or brand.
Why? Because “networking” felt uncomfortable and awkward and I just didn’t like doing it. All that boiled down to this simple fact: I WAS SCARED.
What was I supposed to talk about? How did I start conversations without sounding salesy like “hey! I need some freelance work!“
While I sat in the airport terminal with plenty of time to spare, I had mixed emotions.
I was relieved the trade show was over. I had been anxious about going for weeks, and it felt good to have it behind me.
But the disappointment in myself? Washed over me like a tidal wave. I’d wasted a trip across the country and missed the opportunity to “drum up more work”.
And as much as I’ve tried to put that experience behind me, I’ll never forget the way it made me FEEL.
Like a FAILURE.
Like a WIMP.
Like a LOSER.
Writing these words right now makes me a little nauseous.
Not only because I still feel that disappointment in myself, but because until recently, I’ve never told anyone about what really went down on that trip.
And if I’m totally honest? I continued to lie to myself and justify it for years: “It’s ok, you had good face time with your client and trade shows aren’t a good place to network.”
Fast forward to today, years later in 2019, I’ve come a long way.
First? I know that trade shows actually ARE a great place to network.
Second? I’m better and more confident at networking. I’m still not an expert, it’s just something that doesn’t come naturally.
But the opportunities that I have created from having a good “network” have been priceless.
Job offers. $10k+ freelance projects. Press opportunities.
Because this “networking” stuff pays off. BIG TIME.
And once you connect with the right people? Turns out, they’re nice, fun, and awesome people. They’re real people, just like you and me. And most of them really aren’t that scary.
I’ve learned that as easy as it is to get stuck in your comfort zone and NOT put yourself out there, the rewards that happen when you do are 100x worth doing the thing you may dread the most: NETWORKING.
I imagine I’m not the only one who’s felt like this.
I imagine I’m not the only one who’s had the “I left that event without doing what I was supposed to do because I was too scared” regret.
Because the truth is? Networking really can be hard and awkward.
WTF are you supposed to say without sounding like you’re desperate for a job or another freelance gig?
Turns out? There are strategies you can use to initiate conversations with people you don’t know.
Turns out? There are tricks you can use to keep the conversation rolling and not fumble over your own words.
So that no matter where you are in your career…
- hunting for your next dream job in NYC
- trying to land your first internship (when you don’t live in a fashion hub)
- looking for a few more freelance clients
…you can meet amazing people, have inspiring conversations, and create lifelong relationships.
Because all of this stuff is what networking actually is. It doesn’t have to be icky or scary or awkward. And it’s one of the best ways to get work in the fashion industry.
Yes, it can take some practice. And yes, when you first get started, you’ll feel uncomfortable.
But know that it gets easier.
Do you have to get out of your comfort zone? YES
Will you feel a little anxious? YES
Are you going to like doing it? MAYBE NOT
But will you feel proud after? YES
And will it help advance your fashion career? BIG FAT YES
Because in fashion, it often IS about who you know.
Years ago, I would have killed for some guidance on how to “network”. I could have used every trick and strategy in the book before heading out to that trade show in Florida.
Instead? I wasted an amazing opportunity to meet new people and find more work.
Listen. Whether you’re…
- traveling to a trade show
- attending a local meetup
- striking up conversations online
Please DON’T eff up the same way I did. Please DON’T waste the opportunities that are right in front of your face.
Instead, take full advantage of meeting new people and making new contacts EVERY CHANCE YOU GET.
How do you do that? Here are 8 simple strategies I would have KILLED to know years ago.
Your Dream Fashion Industry Job: 8 simple ways to “network” your way there
STRATEGY #1: How to Remind People You’re “around” Without Being a Pest
Staying in touch with people is one of the easiest ways to maintain your fashion industry relationships. But when you’re staying in touch and reminding people you’re around, it’s easy to feel like you’re a pest.
The reason? Is because most of the time, chances are you’re reaching out only when you need something, ie a new job, amiright?
So of course you’re going to feel like a pest.
The trick? Reach out just to reach out.
One of the best ways you can do this is to start looking at these relationships as real relationships, not just people in your “network” who can help you when you need something.
This is the exact strategy I discussed with Carla Louise Stout, a senior fashion designer who’s worked for Mavi Jeans and has had her work featured in Vogue and InStyle. Throughout her 15 year career, every job she’s had has fallen in her lap.
And it wasn’t even until our interview on episode 60 of the SFD podcast that she realized this was actually how all of her fashion design jobs had “magically” fallen in her lap.
Every new job she got, I asked her to explain where the offer came from. And after she’d answered this question a few times, the trend was crystal clear. But she didn’t even realize it until I pointed it out.
Carla keeps in touch with people! It’s part of her character, and so she does it naturally. And looking back at her 15 year career, all job opportunities came from people in her “network”.
One thing Carla’s done that’s worked really well is keeping in touch with recruiters. Instead of just reaching out when she’s looking for a new gig, she would periodically ping them with updates. She’d send them pictures of new pieces she’d design, press coverage she’d gotten, or just to let them know about a fun new project she was doing.
As a result? Any time a great job offer came across the recruiter’s desk, she was the first person they thought of.
Now, this “keeping in touch” concept goes much further than just pinging recruiters. Yes, that is a great thing you can do, but beyond that there are endless examples.
Here are a few things you can do to stay in touch with all sorts of people, including current or past colleagues, college friends, or anyone you’ve connected with over the years.
Invite someone to an industry related event!
Because no one likes going to events alone! Reach out say you thought it would be fun to go together, and that it’d be great to catch up too.
Say thank you for something someone did!
It doesn’t matter how recent or long ago, just reach out and say “thank you”. It could be something super simple, like an interesting article they sent you that you just rediscovered, or a supplier referral they shared. Don’t overthink this and instead, just say thank you! These simple words go very far.
Remind someone of an inside joke or a project you worked on together!
Maybe something comes across your desk or inbox that makes you think of an industry friend. Reach out and let them know! It’s a great excuse just to say “hi, thinking of you!”
Send someone a piece of value!
If you discover an interesting article, trend report, or awesome new fabric, send it to someone who you think would find it valuable. Write them a quick note and let them know why they’d find it valuable.
Bottom line? Don’t overthink this stuff, just start doing it, and make it a habit.
And if it’s been soooo long since you’ve talked to them and you feel like reaching out might be awkward? Acknowledge it! There’s nothing wrong with saying “hey, I know it’s been a really long time since we’ve talked, but…”
STRATEGY #2: The Simple Strategy to Be the Kind of Fashion Designer Brands Want to Hire for Every Job
This one is going to sound so simple and elementary…but sometimes, it comes down to just being a nice team player.
Because you want to know the interesting thing? A LOT of people don’t do this. So when you DO? You will stand out in a big way.
In episode 47 I interviewed Aileen Coyle, a pattern maker and technical designer who got her first industry job at BCBG because her friend worked there. Every job since? You guessed it…has come from an industry friend.
She reminds us that being the amazing, kickass team member who people want around is how to get ahead in your fashion career.
Take a quick minute to think about the kinds of coworkers you’ve had over the years. And it can be a coworker from any kind of job – not just fashion.
My bet is that you’ve had coworkers who fall into one of two categories:
Coworker 1: The “I’m doing what’s in my job description and nothing else” coworker
This is the kind of person who never offers to help and complains if they’re asked to do something “tedious” that may be below their skill set. They may have an “I’m better than you” attitude, or just give off the “I’m just here for a paycheck” vibe.
Coworker 2: The “I’m happy to help…even if it’s not part of my responsibility” coworker
This is the kind of person who is happy to help and contribute to bettering the team as a whole, even when tasks fall outside of their main responsibilities. They often see things that need to be done and ask how they can contribute to the efforts. They usually give off the “I’m here to make sure we all meet our goals and deadlines” vibe.
Now, let’s pretend the brand you’re at has a job opening, and your boss asked if you know anyone who’s a good fit.
Coworker 1 may have the skills to do the job, but is it really the type of person you’d want to bring on your team? No!
On the other hand, Coworker 2 is the exact kind of person you’d want to refer. And even if her skills don’t totally match the job description, you know based on the kind of person she is that she’d get up to speed. You’re happy to recommend her.
So think hard about the kind of person YOU are to work with.
Do you always do a great job and act like a team player who’s willing to help?
Are you nice, kind and supportive to the people around you?
Do you avoid complaining, talking shit, and gossiping?
Really take a good hard look in the mirror to make sure you can say yes to all of these things. If not? Do some self evaluation and proactively start changing your behavior. Your friends, coworkers or classmates will notice, and I promise you’ll feel better too.
STRATEGY #3: Why “having Conversations” Will Lead to More Fashion Design Opportunities Than “Networking”
Now, I’m going to get a little yoga woowoo on you here and talk a little bit about mindset.
Stick with me, because I promise this stuff makes sense AND works.
Because here’s the thing with mindset that I learned from a ridiculously cheesy titled book, Secrets of the Millionaire Mind, that’s actually packed with SO much valuable knowledge (beyond becoming rich) that I bought my dad a copy for Christmas. #truestory
I’ll spell it out as simply as the author, T. Harv Eker, did in the book. It goes like this:
Thoughts (AKA mindset) lead to feelings.
Feelings lead to action.
Action leads to results.
Just like this:
Now, I’m a firm believer in mindset (and I do happen to practice yoga 5x per week). But before I saw it presented like this, I never quite realized how or why this “power of thought” stuff really worked.
So now let’s bring it back to networking and your fashion career.
You see, when it comes to networking, one of the best “mindsets” to take is that you’re just having conversations with other industry professionals.
Chances are a lot of the people you have the opportunity to “network” with wherever you are (at a trade show, industry mixer, or even online) are also into fashion, design, fit, or whatever it is that you’re into.
So instead of approaching them with a strategic “networking” mindset where all you can think is “what can this person do for me / can this person help me get a job” (because this mindset will lead to feelings and actions that will make you come off icky and needy and pestery), approach it with a mindset of “having conversations” about things we’re both interested in.
If you do that, your vibe will be much more relaxed and people will be much more engaged. Because we all know what it’s like to get stuck in convo with the woman who just talks about how badly she needs a job…
Now, there are a couple of things to think about when you’re doing this whole “networking / having conversations” thing.
First, if you make a good habit of regularly putting yourself out there when you DON’T need a job, it will be MUCH easier to have these conversations and build these relationships. You will naturally come of as a person who is just around to engage and make friends. These naturally formed relationships can – and will – ultimately lead to opportunities down the road.
Because you want to know something? When you’re in “I need a job!!!” mode, it’s really freaking hard to trick yourself into not coming off desperate! So if you can start doing this “having conversations” thing on the regular (especially when you don’t need a job), it will work MUCH better.
Now I realize that’s a pretty big ask. And no matter how much I tell you to get out there and make relationships when you don’t have anything specifically to gain, most of you won’t do it. Because unless it’s a priority (AKA you need a job!), you won’t find the time. It’s simple human nature!
So, I’ll give you a close second with a few specific strategies and conversation starters you can use to initiate these dialogs – whether you need a job or not.
A lot of this strategy is what Marissa Borelli outlined for us in episode 4 of my Successful Fashion Designer podcast. Marissa’s built up a 6-figure freelancing career and has designed for brands like Lululemon and Athleta. And a lot of the work she has done has come through industry contacts and by “having conversations”.
First, you want to make sure not to go out there and just shove your resume or biz card in people’s face while saying, “I’m looking for work!”
Instead, spark a genuine conversation about THEM. Why? Because people love talking about themselves or their brands, so if you open with this, you’re much more likely to get them talking.
So, how do you do this? We talked about this earlier in the book, but in case you skimmed or jumped to the relevant chapters for you (which I told you was ok!), let’s reiterate this strategy.
If you’re going to a trade show, look at the exhibitor listing and pick out what brands you want to talk to. If you’re attending a meetup, check out the guestlist (often public on meetup.org or the Facebook event page) and see who you want to connect with.
Then, do some research! Get up to speed on them or their brand to see what they’re working on. Stalk their Insta / Facebook / LinkedIn feed for a quick minute to discover what they’re up to.
The point is to go in with at least one talking point that shows you’re paying attention to what they’re doing. It could be about a new collection, a collaboration or sponsorship, or even something personal (a promotion or their kid’s graduation) if you have past history together.
Whatever you do, start the conversation with something recent and relevant about THEM. This will naturally get them talking and excited to chat because hey – everyone likes talking about themselves!
From there, continue to chat like you would if you were just talking to an industry friend. You can:
- continue to ask questions (what was it like to do your photoshoot in Bali?)
- give them ideas (have you ever thought about introducing a men’s line?)
- share a new resource (have you checked out that new fabric from so and so supplier?)
Be genuinely engaged and interested and continue to think about THEM and what THEY are doing instead of focusing the conversation on YOU.
If the conversation leads to you, don’t avoid it or lie about the fact that you’re looking for work. Feel free to mention something like this:
“I am exploring new opportunities and I’d love to talk to you more about how I could help you out – would it be ok if I followed up with some ideas?”
And if it doesn’t come up before the end of your chat, you can close out with the same line as above. Grab their contact info, thank them for their time, and do what you said you were going to do: FOLLOW UP!
Which leads us nicely to strategy #4 on how to network your way to your dream fashion job…
STRATEGY #4: How to Make Sure Brands Think of You for Every New Fashion Job Opportunity
There’s a pretty simple strategy you can use to make sure you’re the one brands think of for every opportunity and that your friends or coworkers LOVE referring you for work.
You know by now that many successful fashion designers get most of their job opportunities through their “network”. But you have to do a little more than just having a network, a long list of industry colleagues, or a big group of contacts.
YOU have to be the kind of person people WANT to refer or WANT to invite to a job opportunity.
How do you do that? It’s actually insanely simple: Be reliable and do what you say you’re going to do!
But it is MINDBLOWING how many people absolutely fail at this. A lot of times, it’s the simple things:
If you meet someone at an event and say you’ll follow up? DO IT!
If you say you’ll email someone that amazing article you read? DO IT!
If a coworker asks for your tech packs by tomorrow and you say yes? DO IT!
Whatever it is, no matter how big or small, do what you say you’ll do.
I know it feels like a “duh” piece of advice, but the simple truth of it is that MOST people are flakey. And they don’t follow through.
If you’re the 1% that does, you will stand out. You will be the kind of person your friends, coworkers and industry contacts WANT to refer for a job.
If you’re the 99% that doesn’t? People will hesitate to refer you because it will reflect badly on THEM.
So take a minute to really think about this. Think about this HARD.
I know you have someone in your life who you’d refer because they’re simply just the best and are super reliable. And I know you have someone in your life who tends to be more flakey and never does what they say.
Think about what they are like, and then do some deep self reflection and think about what YOU are like.
Which category do you fall into? If it’s not the reliable one? Make some changes.
And if you do mess up? It’s ok.
I’m not perfect, and I won’t lie, I have dropped the ball before. I’ve said I’m going to do something and then I forgot. I’ve promised to follow up and then it slipped my mind.
These things happen.
When they do, reach out and apologize. Let the person know you didn’t mean to let them down, and it won’t happen again. Whatever you do, acknowledge and apologize, even if it happened last month or last year. Reaching out to say that can go very far. It shows that you’re mindful and that you care.
The worst thing you can do is just ignore it. They won’t forget, and the next time you reach out, they’ll have a sour taste in their mouth about you.
STRATEGY #5: How to Find Fashion Design Work in Your Local Community (No Matter Where You Live)
There’s common misconception that you have to live in a fashion hub like NYC, Los Angeles, or Paris, to work in fashion.
But the truth is, fashion is EVERYWHERE. Depending on where you live, you may have to look harder to find it and it may not be as robust as some cities, but it exists.
In episode 43 of the SFD podcast, I interviewed David Russon who figured out how to make a full-time living as a freelance patternmaker out of a rural town in Colorado.
At a glance, you could look at David and think, “no one in that location could ever make a living in fashion.”
But the complete opposite is true.
David kickstarted his freelance career by volunteering at a design incubator in Denver, CO. It’s about an hour drive from his home, but he makes the commute weekly to spend time giving back to his community.
As a result? His network and referral business has boomed and he’s secured new clients and contracts as a direct result.
Now, there’s a specific reason why this strategy has worked for David. And the reason is because he shows up at the design incubator specifically to give back and help his community members. He DOESN’T show up and say “I’m looking for new clients or I need a job.”
I don’t mean to say you can’t ever talk about that stuff. What I mean to say is that your tone and demeanor has to be genuine in wanting to engage with your community.
The other thing you should understand? Is that not every event or community group you get involved with will be amazing. You’ll have some duds. You’ll go to things that may seem like a waste of time, or that don’t have the right group of people involved.
It can take time, and it will take some effort. So, put yourself out there, get involved with your community, and make some new friends. You might strike out 9 out of 10 times, but all you need is 1 right relationship or 1 right event that will connect you with your next dream fashion job.
STRATEGY #6: The Two Magic Words That Can Make or Break Your Fashion Industry Career
There are two tiny words that can do wonders for your fashion career. Heck, these two words can do wonders for your life and your relationships in general.
They’re words we’re taught at a very young age, yet it’s amazing how often we forget to use them as adults.
The words are THANK YOU.
Now before you skip through this section thinking, “yeah, of course I say thank you!”, I want you to really do a deep internal dive and some self reflection on how good you actually are at this.
And the reason is because I too am one of those “always say thank you” people.
Yet I have royally $&%#-ed this up.
Let me tell you a quick story about a time I completely forgot to say thanks and it slapped me upside the head.
One of my freelance clients, we’ll call him John, had a friend, we’ll call him Dave, who needed help with some design. I told John I’d love to get an introduction to Dave to see if I was a good match.
So, John did me a solid and CC’d Dave and me on an email. Within a couple weeks, I had a new freelance design contract with Dave!
BOOM. It was as simple as that. Work falls in your lap when you have a network and do a kickass job for your existing clients (like I had done for John).
Fast forward a few months and my new project with Dave was going great. We’d put together a men’s and women’s collection of activewear, and we’d just sent the tech packs off to the factory in China for the first round of protos.
Everything was going great until I had a phone call with John, the client who’d referred me to Dave. We were catching up and he asked me if I was working on any new projects. And I excitedly told him about the activewear designs I’d done for Dave. I excitedly told him as though he had no idea about the project.
John then kindly reminded me, “oh yeah, the project I referred you to! I was wondering what happened with that!”
Not only was I totally mortified and embarrassed, I realized I never reached out to say THANK YOU to John for the referral. I never gave him an update and let him know that Dave and I started working together.
And I realized that probably made him feel pretty underappreciated.
I’ve been on the other side of situations like this before as well. And in case you haven’t felt it before, underappreciation feels pretty shitty.
Do you know how many people I’ve given advice to via email or at an event who I never hear from again? People who reach out and directly ask for help, and don’t ever reply to say thank you?
It happens. ALL. THE. TIME.
I’ve sent people freelance referrals only to never hear back from them again (like I did with John!).
And let me tell you, I remember these people, but NOT in a good way. And I don’t want to help them again. Because they have left me with a bad feeling.
No matter the situation or where you are engaging with people – in a Facebook group, in real life, via email, whatever – say thank you.
If someone sends you a referral, reviews your resume, or shares a resource, say THANK YOU!
If someone answers a question for you via email, shares your post on Instagram, or congratulates you, say THANK YOU!
It makes them feel good, and it will make them want to continue to help you.
I’ll leave you with the famous Maya Angelou quote:
“At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
STRATEGY #7: How to Stand Out from 99% of the Fashion Competition to Make Sure You Get the Job
Let’s start this chapter with a question:
Are (were) you the extra credit kind of student?
I want you to answer that honestly. Not the answer you WANT to give, but the true honest answer.
Let’s put it out there, one more time for good measure:
Are (were) you the extra credit kind of student?
If you’re answer is yes? You’re in good shape.
If you’re answer is no? I suggest you become one.
Why? Because here’s the thing I realized not too long ago, after a decade of working as a fashion designer:
The extra credit student is also the person that gets ahead in life and in fashion.
The extra credit student who goes above and beyond in school to do an exceptional job, is also the designer who goes above and beyond at work.
And let me tell you, people (aka bosses, coworkers, your employer, etc) notice this.
Why? Because MOST people don’t do the extra credit.
MOST people do the bare minimum JUST to get by. They do what they’re told, what’s in their job description, just enough to cross their responsibilities off the list and do their job.
In fact, most people BARELY scrape by. Let me interrupt here with a quick story that landed in my inbox just a few days ago. It’s from a good industry friend, Tricia (who is also an amazing part of my “network” – we’ve both referred each other to many work opportunities!)
Tricia runs a design studio in LA called Hello World Fashion, and she emailed me this story.
I’ve marked it up so you can see what I’m talking about when I mention how hard it is to find people who not only do a good job, but who don’t complain about it!
I am TELLING you, it is HARD to find good people out there who care enough to do an acceptable job.
Finding people that do the extra credit? Nearly impossible.
So if you do? You will stand out. You will get promoted. You will get referred.
YOU will be the one that not only makes it, but YOU will be the one who advances.
Now I know we talked about this concept in the book already, but it’s so important, it’s worth reviewing again. Because to be honest, the whole “extra credit” concept is one that took me a while to figure out and for it to really sink in.
In fact, I only really first discovered it after doing 75+ interviews on the Successful Fashion Designer podcast. It was only after talking to 75+ regular people (just like YOU!) who make a living in our cutthroat industry that I noticed patterns about why most of them got ahead.
It was because in EVERYTHING they did, they did the extra credit.
What does this actually mean? Let me remind you of a story I shared earlier about an amazingly ambitious and successful young designer named Kirby.
I interviewed Kirby on episode 72 of the Successful Fashion Designer podcast to hear how he landed his dream job as a designer at Puma.
And if you recall, Kirby applied to a job at Puma SEVEN times before he got accepted.
So, how did he finally get a YES on lucky try #7?
He did the extra credit.
The first 6 times Kirby applied, he filled out the basic application and sent his generic cover letter and resume (like most people do). The seventh time? He customized it and showed Puma what he loved about their product, why he cared about the same initiatives as they did, and how he could help their brand.
THAT RIGHT THERE got him the job.
Now again, if you remember, this “foot in the door” was actually as an unpaid internship. But as we already discussed, he turned that unpaid internship into a full-time paid job by, again (!), doing the extra credit!
Unlike the other interns, he offered to help on extra projects, took short lunches, and answered email for team members who were out of town. At the end of his unpaid work with Puma, he was the only intern they asked to stay on for a paid position.
Kirby’s not the only podcast story who got ahead by doing the extra credit. Most, if not all, of my guests who’ve seen success in their fashion career are the types of people who go above and beyond.
And I’ll tell you one last thing. Now that I’ve been running SFD since 2010 and have hired (and fired!) various freelancers and service providers, I know firsthand how hard it is to find people like this.
People who show up and do what they’re going to say!
People who go the extra mile because they care about doing a good job!
People who have a good work ethic that extends beyond “I’m just here to collect a paycheck”!
Those people are really, REALLY, REALLY &$^%-ing hard to find.
Listen, there are jobs out there. There are amazing opportunities. There is work in the fashion industry waiting for YOU.
But you have to show up, prove you are worth it, and DO THE EXTRA CREDIT.
No matter what it is – during the application process, on your interview, or even once you land the job – think about how you can show you’re the kind of person who puts in an A+ effort.
Because THAT is the kind of person brands are desperate for. THAT is the kind of person that gets the job and the promotion.
Can you be THAT kind of person? I KNOW you can.
STRATEGY #8: The Easy Way to Maintain Your Fashion Industry “Network” and Have Fun Doing It
There are a lot of fun and easy ways you can maintain relationships in the fashion industry. And it’s a really good idea to get in the habit of this as early as possible. Because it is these relationships that will help you land your first – or next – dream job, whenever you need it.
But I know that “maintaining a network” sounds like a terribly unsexy and arguably even painful thing to do.
Good news? It doesn’t have to. Maintaining your network can be an easy, and dare I even say GENUINELY FUN, thing to do.
When I interviewed Malie Bingham in episode 29 of the SFD podcast, she shared the simplest yet most brilliant strategy I’d ever heard to build fashion industry relationships that lead to jobs.
Now, Malie works for a behemoth of a company: PVH (the multi-billion dollar fashion empire that owns brands like Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger).
For her entire decade + long career, all of her fashion design job opportunities have come from industry friends and past coworkers.
And the reason is because she is strategic about building these friendships. How? She regularly asks her coworkers out to lunch. But she doesn’t do this just for the people she works directly with, she does this with people she works indirectly with in neighboring departments.
At lunch, Malie asks them how she can do things differently to make THEIR job easier. As a result? These people LOVE her! Because if you can make someone’s job (or life) easier, they will not only LOVE you, they will always remember you.
Which means when they take a job at a new brand and there’s an opening, you’re the kind of person they want to refer.
You build enough of these relationships, and your network magically spiders into a mega web. When you need a job, or a dream opportunity opened up, you have the contacts and friends to land it.
Another example comes from episode 11 when I interviewed Sheena Schoolcraft who’s worked for brands like DKNY and Oshkosh. Throughout her entire career, all of Sheena’s jobs have come from fashion industry friends and coworkers.
Her strategy? Is much less of a strategy and genuinely more about having fun and making friends with her coworkers. Sheena initiates casual happy hours or post work dinners to spend some time off the clock with her colleagues. And it works beautifully.
Because as I’ve said before, it’s not always about “icky” networking. It’s about making friends and having conversations. And sometimes the best relationships are built when we talk about things other than work. It’s good – and fun – to get to know people on a personal level.
So don’t overthink this. Don’t think that “networking” always has to be about going to industry mixers and trade shows and approaching strangers. Yes, this stuff can be good. But it can also be priceless to connect with the people who are right in your backyard, whether it’s your coworkers or classmates.
Stop thinking about them as competition and start thinking about them as friends. Not only will your career boom, you’ll have a much more fun time working in our wacky industry.