Question. I want to be in fashion. Can I get a broad sense of what career options there are?
Answer. There are many paths to a career in fashion whether you work for a company or are independent. Broadly, there are 6 traditional commercially focused sectors of which are organizationally structured with numerous skilled jobs; hourly, salaried management and executive suite:
- Retail (e.g., Macy’s)
- Vertical Retail and Independent designers or brands (e.g., The Gap, Zara – they produce and sell their own brand)
- Wholesale Brands (e.g., Levi’s, Nike, Patagonia) who sell to retailers and some have their own stores.
- Wholesale Sales Representation (sales people who represent wholesale brands, big or small). They can be employees of a company or work independently representing multiple brands.
- Manufacturing – the industry supply chain: fiber, yarn, fabric, garment, dyeing, and finishing manufacturers
- Media – editors, writers, creative directors, graphic designers, photographers, hair, make-up, and fashion stylists, models, agents, influencers
Q. I like the creative side of fashion. What jobs are considered creative in each of the sectors?
A. There are creative positions in all of the sectors. The most popular is that of buyer or designer. Retailers have buyers who go to the wholesale market to buy products for their store. They have to know their consumer, past data, current trends, and forecast future wants and needs. Retailers have visual display managers and creative directors whose job is to creatively present what buyers buy. Since vertical retailers and wholesale brands make all their products “in house”, product development, merchandise management, and design are the coveted jobs. Manufacturing has to procure down the channel, for example, the fabric mill has to shop the yarn market to buy yarns to make fabric. They are buyers who have to be creatively (and statistically) in tuned to what their customers want. Sales representatives visually create a shoppable showroom and have to be adept creatively in merchandising their brands for buyers to buy. Most media positions are creative, think of what you see when you look at a magazine in print or online from content to images.
Q. Besides the creative, frontline positions, what are the supportive departments?
A. Marketing, Branding, Brand Initiatives (e.g., sustainable initiatives), Social Media, Finance, Accounting, Sourcing, e-Commerce, Research, Public Relations, Legal, Human Resources, the whole gamut.
Q. As a newcomer to the industry with only an academic background, how do I get started as an independent, not wanting to work for a corporation?
A. One avenue to take is to gain some experience, exposure to the corporate world, even if it is a few years. It will always be valuable experience; at minimum you gain insight to the template-like structure and limitations a corporation has where you as an independent can use as an advantage. Starting out in anything is about connecting, networking, building value-added relationships. This will be a safety net of support and collaboration.
Q. What do you think of sustainable fashion as a career path?
A. It is the only career path to be competitive, to be relevant, and be part of a system that is moving in the direction of a circular fashion system. The industry is finally developing a closed-loop system where they project to limit the extractive production of new raw materials and decrease textile waste by implementing large-scale collection, sorting, and recycling processes. For you to be a valid sustainable brand, there are 5 principles of a circular system that should be incorporated in your practice. These principles conserve earth’s resources, reuse what’s already in the system – renewable – with little to no negative impact on the environment:
- Mitigate or eliminate air, land, water pollution. Supply chain manufacturing, finishing, packaging should use renewable energy, no toxic chemicals in finishing (such as dyeing), and no plastics (plastics are heavily used in packaging).
- Source renewable materials (pre or post-consumer waste).
- Design for longevity and recyclability with quality construction.
- Design out waste. According to Jonas Eder-Hansen, vice president & development director at the Danish Fashion Institute, Recycling International, up to 80% of a garment’s environmental impact is decided in the design phase. Engineer zero-waste patterns.
- Take-Back. Be part of or support a take-back consumer end-use system, whether within the local government infrastructure or your own brand.
Q. Would upcycling discarded goods be a path to take?
A. Upcycling is a broad term that can be approached using pre-consumer waste and post-consumer waste – both keep textiles out of the landfill:
- Pre-consumer waste is using factory overruns, deadstock – bolts of unused fabric, trims, etc.
- Pre-consumer waste using discarded factory cuttings for small items such as headwear. Timo Rissanen, Assistant Professor of Fashion Design and Sustainability at Parsons the New School for Design said, “approximately 15 percent of textiles intended for clothing ends up on the cutting room floor”.
- Post-consumer waste one-of-a-kinds of used garments can be restyled, deconstructed and constructed again into new, somehow they are given a new life.
- Post-consumer waste of sorted and recycled, reprocessed fibers/yarns into renewable materials is an emerging sector. The industry is adopting large-scale collection and sorting processes. Garments made from recycled cotton, polyester, and plastics are examples.
Q. What fashion design jobs are new on the horizon that are digitally inclined?
A. Fashion in the Metaverse is digital fashion design for a virtual universe – such as dressing avatars and creating NFTs. This new field is unfolding in the moment and is wide-open for exploration of a fashion designer’s role, compensation, and creative lead. Read more on this topic, METAVERSE Fashion: fad, FRINGE, or Future?
Q. What are examples of a non-commercially focused career in fashion and textiles?
A. A career that is not dependent on the end result as a mass-produced commodity item. Examples would be a textile artist, bespoke designer, fashion and textile curator, and costume designer. Of course, there are other design disciplines such as architecture and interior design, graphic design and illustration, design engineering, stage set and exhibit designs for institutions and performance art.
Q. What does a bespoke designer do?
A. A bespoke designer custom makes and tailors clothes exclusively for individual clients. It is NOT mass-produced ready-to-wear (RTW) fashion you can buy off the rack, it is uniquely sculpted, shaped, and designed to fit the client. Clients who seek bespoke tailors may have means to do so, but their desires for custom-made clothing are also for individuality – coveted garments made only for them, body and size restrictions that RTW cannot offer, and lasting quality construction. Sustainable fashion can represent an opportunity where the source of materials used, pre or post consumer waste, can cultivate a contemporary client base, one who normally would not seek bespoke tailoring, but whose shopping habits have shifted to a conscious means of consumption. The process is intimate, where you can build meaningful relationships with clients, and the creative engagement is interactive and rewarding for the both client and designer.
Q. Why do people choose costume design rather than fashion design?
A. Costume designers that I have spoken to say that with costume design you are not selling a product or creating something as a commodity as you do in fashion, instead you are creating for a character or an artist as part of the art of storytelling. Your work is part of a body of work, the performance production, that one can argue represents “the arts”.
The interview with Peivand Mirzaie – “Creative Power Disrupts the System”, may suggest what many, graduates or those considering fashion as a career, are feeling. Peivand, who currently is associate designer for prAna, discussed her preparedness based on her academic studies, “schools don’t prepare you to be leaders, they prepare you to be followers, they prepare you to work within a system that is already there.” As I mentioned before, working for a company may have a systematic, structural work environment (more control, less creative independence), but choose a path or company that aligns with your values. For Peivand, it was sustainable. When I interviewed her at the time, she said her studies gave her a better understanding of consumerism and the negative environmental impact of fast fashion. She said, “Until you get into a field and start studying it, you don’t have a full knowledge of what that field is about”. And I would add, until you get into a field and start to experience it, on-the-job training, you won’t have the complete picture.
Study, read, research, network, and immerse yourself in the path you want, whether employed or self-employed.
Images: Rhonda P. Hill interviews Peivand Mirzaie, designer graduate at FIDM, Los Angeles, 2018
Follow EDGExpo.com to receive stories that look at an artistic, practical, and intelligent look at fashion. Click on the button to Sign Up, located in the far-right column.