Archive for April 19th, 2005

Q&A: So you want to break into the fashion industry, Part Deux

How did I get started?
I’ve always Loved fashion, and it’s been a dream of mine since childhood to work in the fashion industry. However, fashion wasn’t really encouraged in my family—I have traditional Asian parents that wanted me to become a doctor or a computer programmer. I was trucking along, doing the parentally approved thing, right up until my freshman year of college.

I was studying Management Science and Engineering (optimizing Stuff—it was the closest thing to a business major that Stanford had), and I knew something was missing. Not that I didn’t enjoy the business classes, but I knew that I wanted to apply them to something more creative than say, a software company. Researched some fashion schools in the Bay Area, and found the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising. As it turned out, they had an evening program for the Fashion Design major, specially designed for people with day jobs. I then spent the next two and a half years taking business classes during the day and fashion classes at night, graduating with an AA in Fashion Design, and a BS and MS in MS&E. I’m leaving out the ugly details of what that entailed, but suffice it to say, I didn’t get much sleep.

While going to school, I was fashion consulting. Got experience in helping people choose outfits for anything from interviews to dates to weddings. After graduation, I got my start in fashion design by showing my first collection in San Francisco’s first-ever Fashion Week in August 2004. I also continued doing fashion styling work—a recent project included styling a Hair/Fashion Show for the Patrick Evan Salon. And here I am writing a fashion blog!

Shameless Plug Alert: There’s more to come—I’ll be launching a line of clothes (men’s and women’s) later this year. More on that later.

The key takeaways here?
Don’t give up, if you really love fashion. You’re bound to run into roadblocks, but find creative solutions to overcome them. Finding a creative solution is what fashion is about anyhow, isn’t it?

Get as much experience as you can, as early as possible. While in school, volunteer for projects—helping out at local fashion shows, or interning with a designer. Learn as much as you can, both in the classroom and outside. Read fashion magazines and trade publications like Women’s Wear Daily or the Daily News Record. Broaden your fashion knowledge in any way that you can!

I took an unconventional route by going startup style (I guess it’s the Silicon Valley bug…how very 2000 of me). But hey, it’s becoming more acceptable as time goes on—just look at startup successes like C&C California. A more traditional route to becoming a designer is to intern at a company, work your way up the ladder, and eventually become a designer. Or starting your own label once you’ve established yourself at a major design house (e.g. a Calvin Klein or a Ralph Lauren). As for fashion styling, you would first intern with an established stylist, learn the ropes, and eventually break out on your own.

A Word of Warning
People aren’t kidding when they say fashion is a tough industry. Part of it I think is the inherent fickleness that fashion industry cultivates, but another part of it is due to the intense competition for jobs. I have no doubt that the slim profit margins of the industry also play a role. FYI—fashion salaries can be kind of grim. Especially when you’re starting out. Internships are often unpaid (or for little pay), and entry-level salaries aren’t so pretty either.

I wish you the best of luck, and feel free to ask follow-up questions. I’m a strong supporter of fresh design talent, and would like to advise in any way as I can!

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