With my schedule and travels this post has been delayed week after week. Thank you for following and being patient with me! I thought I would share the top 5 questions I get from readers as well as some fashion/career advice.
Fashion is an industry that attracts a lot of young people, from high school students debating on entering an art school to those who are already in a job but want to switch to a different career. It looks glamorous and fun, but it is also a hard industry to get into due to the competition. My experience is mainly in merchandising (similar to a buyer) but I worked with every department in fashion (PR, marketing, visual, designer, production, etc.). I started my career as an auditor at a big five accounting firm and had a business and accounting degree as well as passed my CPA exam. After a few years unhappy in my job, I pursued what I loved most which was fashion. I went back to school at the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) in San Francisco. They had a one-year program for those with a Bachelor’s degree. The program taught all aspects of fashion (sewing, draping, drawing, merchandising, marketing, business, etc). In a short period I knew that merchandising was the perfect fit for me blending design and business in one position. I loved being a person in charge of decisions affecting the profits of the business but also a key part of design and shopping for inspiration. I traveled to Paris, Barcelona and London to shop a couple times a year and that was one of the best parts of my job! A large part of my success with t+j Designs is due to all that I learned in my previous jobs; balancing costs, dealing with production, making marketing decisions, working with product from beginning to end and deciding on units to purchase for all stores.
So onto what you want to know. . . top 5 questions:
1) Do you have to go to fashion school in order to get into the fashion corporate business?
My biggest recommendation to everyone who is searching for a job is to get your bachelor’s degree. A business and accounting degree definitely helped me get job interviews and is actually a key component to merchandising (as half the job is financial), but if you are a designer or graphic artist I think fashion school is a must to get into the industry. Having a great education is the first step into moving into an assistant position, but if you are already at a job and want to maneuver into fashion, I think making connections, getting into fashion groups, going to fashion events or being comfortable in starting over as an intern is a key step in making the transition. Fashion school is quite expensive so if starting your career over like I did is what you decide, be sure to start networking and evaluate – do you love this industry, are you willing to start over and lug samples around, are you ok being in a debt for a period of time?
Networking, drive and motivation will get far. I gave myself a timeline of 6 months to get a job after I graduated and found a job a month before graduation. My plan was to go back to accounting if my pursuit for a fashion job did not pan out. Always have a back up plan and don’t get stuck with a large school bill and working retail. It is extremely, extremely hard to go from working retail to working at the corporate office (except for at Nordstrom where it is a requirement). It is a weird industry thing that no one really talks about but the fashion corporate world does not hire merchandisers from the retail floor. They would prefer to hire an intern with some experience. That’s not to say not to work retail at all, I worked two retail jobs and interned at Macy’s for their fashion show when I was in school. The retail experience and the internship were great for my resume, but I used it as a learning tool as a step into merchandising. What got me in the door was the fact that I had a CPA and business/accounting degree, 4.0 GPA at FIDM, and I worked three jobs while in school.
2) How did you get your first job?
If your currently in school start with your career advisor, every school has different types of advisors and typically they have good connections. There are hundreds/thousands of students trying to get jobs so I did get that it was a competitive market, but the career center is a great starting point. I spoke to certain teachers regarding their connections and then I looked up every San Francisco based fashion company. From there I found the main recruiter info. How did I do this? From calling the main line and asking for the HR person to asking my teachers, career advisor and networks for any info, I left a message about looking for an internship or assistant merchandising job. Now a days you can find the information on linked in or a retail recruiter; be sure to use both as well as any resources you can! My persistent paid off and I spoke to a key HR person at a large company and they were launching a new brand and looking for an assistant merchandiser! I interviewed and after several weeks I got the job.
3) What advice would you give to getting a merchandising job?
Network, be persistent, motivated, talk to recruiters, and be open to moving. I’ve spoken to many students and people looking for a career change into fashion but they have their heart set on staying in Chicago. If you really want to boost your career or make the change – be open to any city and decide on the job and company itself AFTER you get a job offer. A majority of merchandising jobs are in NY, SF, LA and some parts of the Midwest. BE OPEN TO ALL OF IT. It is easy to move back home or find the job of your dreams after some experience. It is not easy to get that first step into the door.
Advice I would give to everyone?
SPELLCHECK YOUR RESUME AND COVER LETTER AND WRITE AN INTERESTING COVER LETTER IN GENERAL NOT A GENERIC ONE. The minute I discover a misspelling in any documents (email, cover letter, resume), I delete. If you don’t take the time to check your work that means you aren’t detailed or care enough to do a great job. In addition, we can all tell when the cover letter is not focused on the position itself but just a cover letter sent to everyone hoping someone grabs it. Take the time to write an outstanding email or cover letter, it stands out. And an even bigger plus, look into the company, know their products, background, and have questions about the company. This is just interviewing 101 but I’ve interviewed tons of people that knew nothing about the company I was working at and had no questions!
Send a thank you email or letter after the interview reminding employers why you are qualified and how interested you are in the job. I’ve interviewed a lot of people who didn’t take this extra step and I felt that maybe they were as interested as I thought. Someone who extends a bit more gets remembered.
AND ESPECIALLY IN FASHION, look the part! Show up looking stylish and fresh. You would be surprised by the number of people who wore jeans, didn’t do their hair or taken a shower. There’s no need to wear designer goods or look overdone, but look like you care and you do love fashion.
4) Is doing an internship where you don’t get paid worth it?
I’m a big fan of networking so if an internship gets you in the door and meeting people, of course you should do it! But I also understand that being financially capable to live is very important. Most companies understand this – so limit your internship to 2 days and get a part time job for the other 3 or 5. If your super passionate about your career – talk to whomever can to support you to take a 3 month living loan and feel secure that you can pay them back when you land the job. It all depends on how passionate you are and motivated to land that job, if the change in career or a preliminary job in fashion is what you want to do, go for the internship. Jobs are hard to come by so why limit yourself if the opportunity comes? Work the extra days to be able to do it.
One key thing to note though, make sure the internship is worth it. Interview the job also – will you learn anything, who will you work with, are there any long term opportunities if you do well, have they hired interns as assistants before, ask any questions regarding the company and the position. It ensures you are interested and excited to grow. But don’t come off like it’s not worth it, overall you are really excited about the opportunity and how to stay in the future. There are internships out there that don’t have the intention to teach or just looking for free work so be aware of those. Be smart and ask questions.
5) How did you make the decision to start t+j Designs and is it easy to do?
I moved to Chicago to be closer to my husband’s family, settle down and start a family. What was unexpected was the lack of fashion merchandising jobs, the decrease in pay and the commute if I wanted to work in a corporate fashion. I did work for a local company for a short period of time. They mistreated us (employees) for very little pay for the amount of hours we all worked. Through that experience I had been in talks with my family in doing something on our own. We all had talents that could be collaborated to be successful and my sister introduced me to blogging. I started blogging in May of 2011 and launched t+j officially online in August of 2011.
I’ve had many friends and readers email me about starting a business and asking about work life balance, how to start, etc. I could go on in much detail about owning a successful, profit making business, but the main thing I tell others is you need to work ALOT. I work very long days – from morning until night and especially after my little one goes to bed because my factories open in China when it’s night here. I’m on email all the time. In addition, my style blog is an additional work load on my list to complete in which I try to post 3 times a week. My style blog enables me to showcase my jewelry but to network and also meet fantastic people. I do consider it part of my job although enjoyable.
What needs to be done in owning an e-commerce business?
Development of product
Factory inspection – making sure products are correct
Tracking shipments to our warehouse from China
Accounting for costs out, sales in
Marketing & promotional calendar
Marketing outreach (bloggers, press, articles, instagram, Facebook, twitter, pinterest)
Receiving merchandise – counting inventory, reconciling to order sheet
Website management, uploading new collection, markdowns
Shipping, managing shipping costs, ensuring shipments are made promptly
Customer service questions/issues
Photography of new merchandise/line sheets
Management of wholesale accounts
Reorders of fast moving stock
Graphics for website and email
I’m sure there’s more but my family works together to manage all aspects of the business.
Financially we wouldn’t have been able to do it without other support. My husband has been a fantastic supporter and cheerleader of my company and the rest of my family had other means of finances in order to get started. We all took the plunge to work with no pay for a while. This is the part no one openly talks about. But for those wanting to start a business there are a couple of choices in this, take a loan from a family/friend/bank or giving a % of business to an investor for funds. It is truly hard to own and open a business without some kind of support. Be smart about how you spend your money, not only love what you are doing or selling, but don’t make emotional decisions. And if your first couple of months are going well I think it’s always smart to invest in yourself and start paying yourself later if you can. If you aren’t great at the financial business part – try to have a partner who is involved and you’ll grow from there.
Well, the post is finally here and I hope it was informative. Good luck with your career ventures and pursue your dreams!