How to get a job in the fashion industry
Considering a job in fashion? Look no further. We’ve got the lowdown on getting a fashion job, with expert advice from Lucy Heathfield Talbot, owner of The Decorium boutique, and Anna Heaton, a freelance fashion writer and editor.
Choosing a job in the fashion industry
Jobs in fashion are diverse and can range from being hugely creative, glamorous and exciting, to clerical, administrative and businesslike. As London Fashion Week 2022 begins, you might envisage your dream job being in the studio, near the runway or negotiating with top designers and luxury brand owners.
One thing our experts agree on is that you should not restrict yourself from the outset to seeking a specific, narrowly defined career in fashion. With so much crossover between fashion disciplines, you can experience both the glamour and professional sides of the industry – and far more besides – if you keep an open mind. Focusing too hard on a particular career path might exclude you from some exciting opportunities.
“Don’t have too rigid a plan, just go with it for the first few years,” says Lucy Heathfield Talbot, who owns and curates the collections for The Decorium fashion boutique store.
“It’s amazing where you can end up if you ride the wave and take opportunities when they come your way. I worked for a big fashion brand for years and always saw myself becoming a fashion editor or stylist, but I ended up working in project management. It was the best thing that could have happened to me as I was exposed to so much of the business. It was a great training ground for setting up my own.”
Fashion writer Anna Heaton agrees.
“Don’t be disheartened if it takes a little while to find your feet in the right role or business,” Heaton says.
“Every experience is a lesson, and sometimes knowing what you don’t want to do can be as helpful as discovering that you love something.”
What fashion jobs are available?
To help you understand the different roles available in fashion, check out FutureLearn’s Careers in Fashion series, with courses available in design, styling, retail and trend forecasting and textile design.
Here’s a quick summary of the most popular fashion jobs:
Although often seen as the most purely creative of the fashion disciplines, there are plenty of jobs in fashion designing that require a more technical background. Whichever route you choose, you’ll likely need a relevant degree.
Here are a few examples of fashion designer jobs:
- Fashion designer – designs clothing and accessories for brands or their own fashion line.
- Textile designer – determines the look and structure of textiles used in fashion design.
- Fashion illustrator – creates conceptual sketches of an outfit.
- Pattern cutter – transforms the designer’s vision into a workable pattern for manufacturing.
- Garment technologist – chooses and tests fabrics for safety and quality.
Beautifully-designed garments are nothing if they don’t sell – this is where an army of fashion retailers come in. Business degrees are more useful than pure fashion degrees here, though in some cases it’s possible to enter a fashion merchandiser job or other retail role directly from the shop floor. These are the main fashion retail jobs:
- Fashion buyer – decides which products a retailer will sell.
- Fashion merchandiser – people in a fashion merchandising job determine stock levels, sales and offers, with the goal of maximising a brand’s profits.
- Visual merchandiser – designs fashion window displays and store layouts to tempt people to buy.
- Boutique owner – owns and manages an online or bricks-and-mortar fashion store.
At its heart, fashion marketing is all about raising brand awareness. You don’t need a degree for most fashion marketing roles, though it is useful. Fashion marketing jobs include:
- Fashion PR/marketer – improves brand awareness by designing advertising campaigns and working with publications and influencers.
- Copywriter – writes copy for brand websites and newsletters.
- Social media manager – manages a brand’s social media pages and designs social ad campaigns.
- Influencer – promotes a brand’s image by sharing looks with their followers through paid partnerships.
Stylists are responsible for making us look good – be that curating a celebrity outfit or the promo shoot that informs our purchasing decisions. You don’t need a degree to get a fashion stylist job, but a relevant diploma may help. The two main stylist jobs are:
- Stylist – assembles outfits for catwalk shows, TV shows, photoshoots, concerts and more.
- Personal stylist/shopper – advises individuals on personal style, be that retail customers or celebrities.
Fashion publications are trendsetters with the power to make or break a brand. You don’t need a relevant degree to work here, but you will need a portfolio of writing or photography work.
Anna Heaton worked in social media for a year before moving into an editorial role.
“My advice to anyone would be get writing! It might feel clichéd to have a blog in 2022 but the more you write the more practice you get. It also gives you a destination to send potential employers to view your work.”
Fashion editorial roles include:
- Fashion writer – captures the latest news and trends for magazines and websites.
- Editor – commissions articles and checks the accuracy and style of submitted pieces.
- Graphic designer – determines the visual appearance of publications, from layout to titles.
- Fashion photographer – photographs fashion models for a brand or a publication.
- Fashion blogger – writes about fashion on a personal blog, which is funded by ads and affiliate links; occasionally partners with brands (see “influencer,” above)
If you’re most interested in a remote fashion job, you’ll find the greatest potential for remote work in the marketing and editorial fields, though even some design roles can now be carried out remotely.
Who are the biggest players in the fashion industry?
A lot of entry-level fashion roles can involve carrying out junior-level responsibilities at some of the world’s biggest fashion companies.
- Condé Nast. This publishing behemoth owns titles such as Vogue, Tatler, Glamour, Vanity Fair and GQ. (Check out our Condé Nast ExpertTrack on the future of fashion).
- Inditex. This Spanish clothing company owns household-name brands such as Zara, Massimo Dutti and Bershka.
- Hennes & Mauritz. Better known as H&M, this Swedish clothing brand is a high street staple.
- Fast Retailing. This Japanese multinational is best known as the owners of Uniqlo, which has over 1,000 stores around the world.
It’s important, however, not to ignore independent boutiques in your hunt for a fashion job. You may find that you have more control – creative or otherwise – working for a smaller company. Plus, with fewer levels of management, and therefore the ability to change and adapt, many small companies are heading up the revolution in inclusive and sustainable fashion (see below for more on building a sustainable fashion career).
How can I get a fashion degree or qualification?
Most UK universities offer a range of fashion degrees in different fields – but if you are specifically interested in a fashion designer job, you may be better off applying to an art college. According to the Business of Fashion, the top three undergraduate fashion degrees in the UK are offered by Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Kingston University and the University of Westminster.
Anna Heaton’s degree was in Fashion Communication and Promotion. She spent summers doing internships within the industry. While in her final year at university, she interviewed the social media manager at ASOS. Once Heaton graduated, that same manager asked her to interview for a job there.
Her advice for students and new graduates is this: “Apply for as many internships as possible or reach out to people on LinkedIn and The Dots to put yourself forward for potential vacancies or mentorship.”
Online courses for jobs in fashion
It’s worth noting that many jobs in fashion don’t require a fashion degree – but you can still stand out from the crowd with courses and qualifications that display your knowledge and help you to shine in interviews.
FutureLearn has recently launched a range of fashion courses in collaboration with Bloomsbury, covering everything from the fashion business law to design ethics. We also provide a Microcredential in Fashion Business, which will help you get started in fashion management and can even be credited towards a degree.
What are the pros of a job in fashion?
Getting to flex your creativity
No matter what field you work in, a fashion job will give you the chance to get creative.
“I get to do work that stimulates me creatively and work that I feel really engaged with. I love my job and it makes it easier to thrive and enjoy my day-to-day,” says Heaton.
Strong relationships with clients and co-workers
Fashion lovers are a sociable bunch, so working in fashion – or running your own fashion business – yields lasting, meaningful relationships.
“I’ve been running online for a few years now but always wanted to open a physical location where my customers can really experience the The Decorium brand in real life,” says Heathfield Talbot.
“Meeting my customers in person has been so rewarding and I’ve built so many great relationships – some of which have turned into friendships, which has been lovely.”
Heaton agrees. “It’s a creative industry with lots of amazing people – I’ve been so lucky with the teams and clients I’ve worked with over the years, who are so often friendly and like-minded.”
What are the challenges involved in a job in fashion?
Hard work, long hours
“I’m currently doing everything myself, from marketing and social media to the day-to-day running of the shop, as well as packing and posting all online orders,” says Heathfield Talbot.
“It’s extremely time-consuming and can get quite labour-intensive. I had a baby nine months ago and only took four weeks off before I was back taking online orders.”
Going it alone has its advantages, however. Being in charge of every role, from purchasing to marketing to finances, gives you an intimate knowledge of every aspect of your business.
“I’ll be hiring my first assistant soon and found it much easier to write a job description having technically done the role myself,” says Heathfield Talbot.
“I think it’s really important to do everything yourself initially so you can then hire the right people for the right jobs and know what you want from those roles when the time comes.”
Poor pay in junior roles
“Unfortunately, entry-level fashion jobs can often be poorly paid, compared to some of your counterparts who land finance and tech jobs or graduate schemes after higher education,” says Heaton.
“This can be a huge barrier – especially for those moving to a new city and paying rent.”
Which ‘soft skills’ are required for a job in the fashion industry?
“In fashion – or any creative field – you need to be able to think creatively, but also articulate your thinking to ensure smoother process, team work, delivery and execution,” says Heaton.
“Working specifically in fashion journalism, as I do, you need great verbal and written communication skills, strategic and creative thought processes, trend awareness and an appetite for innovation. I currently freelance at a start-up, where it’s essential to be able to think quickly, prioritise effectively, be adaptable, resilient, and show initiative.”
“Be nice to everyone!” Heaton continues.
“It makes for a much more enjoyable work life, and you never know who you’ll work with again in the future – it’s a big industry, but you’d be surprised how small it is sometimes.”
Going it alone – how to set up your own fashion business
After some time working in the fashion industry – or even right off the bat – you may want to set up your own fashion business. We asked our two experts for their top tips for success:
Keep an eye on your budgets
“Budgets are important,” says Heathfield Talbot.
“As much as it doesn’t really feel like work, it’s still a business – it needs to make financial sense and make money. So budgeting and fiscal management are vital. That was a steep learning curve for me!”
You’ll need to budget for your stock and for marketing – whether it’s traditional, social media or influencer marketing. Don’t forget your overheads, which can quickly add up: rent and utilities for brick-and-mortar stores, hosting and e-commerce services for online businesses.
Keep your finances organised – in the twenty-first century there are plenty of alternatives to tracking your expenses on Excel spreadsheets. Use an online accounting service such as Rounded (free for UK customers) or Freshbooks to make everything easy at tax time, and avoid running into difficulties should your business ever be audited.
How to find (and keep) clients
Social media is important. Fashion is one of the most social media-reliant industries out there, so you’ll need active accounts on all the major photo and video-based platforms – Instagram, Pinterest, TikTok and Facebook. Many bricks-and-mortar fashion businesses don’t even have a website these days, relying on Instagram as their main port-of-call for customers.
But still, for many customers, having a website will legitimise your business in a way that Instagram cannot. Unless you’re a coding whizz (and we have courses for that if you’re keen!) we recommend using a website-building service such as Wix or Squarespace, rather than building one from scratch. It’s more expensive, but it’s easier and you’ll have their customer service team on hand should things go wrong.
Once you’ve got the clients, though, you need to know how to keep them.
“I think that lots of small businesses make the mistake of only focusing on customer acquisition when retention is probably even more important,” says Heathfield Talbot.
“Building customer loyalty through good customer experience has really helped in building the business and attracting new customers through referrals.”
Getting clients as a fashion writer
“If you have ideas – pitch them!” says Anna Heaton.
“Lots of publishers and media brands have guidance on what they look for in a pitch. Social media accounts like @thefreelancesessions post call-outs for pitches from commissioning editors and have some great advice on how to approach them. Don’t’ be disheartened if you don’t hear back. Keep going, it happens all the time – even to professionals.”
An editorial pitch requires three basic components.
1) A hook, or lead, which grabs your editor’s attention and gets them interested in your idea
2) A technical breakdown of how you’ll structure the article, including possible sources to interview
3) Why you should be the one to write the article, followed by a short bio about yourself.
And remember: keep pitches short – under 300 words!
Sustainable and ethical fashion: how to effect change in your new fashion job
The fashion industry is responsible for 10% of global carbon emissions – more than international flights and maritime shipping combined.
Fast fashion fills up our landfills, taking decades to break down. On average, we wear a garment only seven times before discarding it. Of our discarded clothes, only a small fraction end up in charity shops or are sent to developing countries – the rest end up in landfill.
Starting a fashion career today gives you a chance to improve the industry. Rather than walking straight into a fast-fashion role, seek out companies that are driving change. If you make enough progress, you might even be able to take a senior role with one of the bigger players and effect change from the top.
“The amazing thing about graduating now is that the industry is changing and so many companies either exist to help this issue or are pivoting to change it,” says Heaton, who edits the blog of the sustainable fashion rental company HURR.
“There are loads of amazing small businesses practicing sustainable processes and agencies seeking to work with conscious brand partners. New initiatives – such as renting clothes instead of purchasing them – are shaping change.”
“It’s hard to be picky as a graduate, but the more you seek work that aligns with your values, the happier you’ll be and the more likely you are to reach your goal – enthusiasm is key to landing a job.”
How to retrain for a job in the fashion industry
The exciting thing about the fashion industry is that in many roles, you don’t need a formal degree to get started. Even for a job in fashion designing – which normally need a fashion degree – you can still land a role if your portfolio is good enough. Learn the foundations of fashion design, including colour theory and fabric sustainability, on our Beginner’s Guide to Fashion Design course. Our Introduction to Careers in Fashion Design course also covers portfolio creation.
And to get a further steer on the diverse jobs in fashion and, work out your on your desired specialism, check out our Careers in Fashion series, which will teach you everything you need to know in just four weeks (two hours per week). The courses are easy to fit around your day job, and you can follow up with more specialised courses on the business and ethics of fashion.
With so many opportunities available, there’s never been a more exciting time to be in a fashion job. It’s a competitive field – but with the right start, you’ll be on your way to building a creative and fulfilling career.