The Art of the Fashion Hustle: How to Find a Fashion Job
Updated: Jul 15
I recently had the opportunity to meet with one of my former students who had just graduated from FIT. As we caught up, she asked me a series of questions about working in the industry. One of them was (and I’m paraphrasing somewhat), “How do you ‘hustle’?” We both chuckled, but I knew what she was talking about. I recall watching a talk hosted by FIT with designer and self-proclaimed hustler, Dapper Dan, and costume designer for the Netflix series, “The Get Down”, Jeriana San Juan who also referred to herself as a hustler. Both recounted stories of their unusual paths into the world of fashion and how they leveraged their resourcefulness to create a lane for themselves that would help advance their careers.
Today’s fashion job search (any job search really) can sometimes feel like a hostile environment if you don’t learn to embrace it, be flexible and become a bit of a hustler. More importantly, you have to get creative with searching for a new gig, as creative as you would be in your work because these days, opportunities lie in some unexpected places.
So how does a newbie get their hustle on in this new-fangled job market? Here are some tips that I find have worked (and still work) for me.
“I grew up in a working class family. . . . Nobody had high hopes for me. But I was a hustler.”—Mark Cuban
1) Start by developing a hustler’s mentality: Historically, a ‘hustler’ has had a negative connotation. But in more recent years, a ‘hustler’s mentality’ is equated with persistence and resourcefulness, pushing forward when others might quit, finding solutions using unlikely methods and leveraging some of today’s newer, untraditional platforms to bring attention to and promote your brand. Many of today’s ‘disruptors’ have a ‘hustler’s mentality’ in that they see an opportunity to do something differently when others are content with or can’t see past the way it’s always been. They’re innovative and think outside of the box. In fact, for some, there is no box, and they can convince you of the same.
For us, that could mean showing how your skill set can benefit other job functions or other industries. How many times have big businesses hired CEO’s and VP’s from industries that have nothing to do with theirs? But they knew that their ability to manage and grow a business would be beneficial to them no matter the industry. Maybe you’re approaching a company with a way to solve a problem. A colleague of mine recently read about some production issues a company (whose products she used) were having. She found the CEO on LinkedIn and reached out to her noting how she’d had similar issues in her last position, gave a few suggestions on how to help solve her problem, and noted that she would be happy to head up a team to put these processes in place. For me, my skills and ‘hustle’ have allowed me to work in apparel design, textile design, graphic design, product development and production. It’s also helped me establish a successful digital design training business (where I’ve trained individuals and companies including Jones Apparel, PVH, Eileen Fisher and GAP), and after many years of applying and talking to people, an adjunct position at FIT.
2) Develop your personal brand: If you’re starting a business and want to get new clients, you’ve got to market and promote the business so people know who you are, what you do, what you’re about and why they should choose you over so many other people. The same is true for your personal brand (YOU)! Yes, recruiters help to get you in front of potential companies, you are your best advocate. If you think about it, you’ve probably already done this with your signature method of design. This time, you’re developing a signature for yourself.
Put some of your work out there (see tip #4), start a blog about something with which you’re knowledgeable, write an article on LinkedIn, or use YouTube to demonstrate your expertise. I can guarantee that most recruiters and hiring managers are checking you out (at the very least on LinkedIn) before they call you, so give them some positive and informative material to help reinforce why you’re the expert you say you are!
3) Engage with your network: Of course we all know networking is important, but just becoming connected with someone on LinkedIn isn’t enough. In fact, it’s become very impersonal. But it doesn’t have to be. First off, take the time to write a sincere note to the person you want to connect with. Don’t just send the generic ‘Hi, I’d like to connect with you.’ And once you do connect, please don’t just automatically email them with a pitch. People are happy to support and help out those they like and trust, so allow them time to get to know more about you.
This also might be a no-brainer, but take some time to get offline and meet people in person. Ultimately, no matter how great the resume, people want to hire someone they like and feel they can work with. So get out and meet people in person. Let them see how great you are and why you’re not only knowledgeable but easy to work with.
One great way to do this is to find a meetup group. There are a ton of fashion specific meetup groups on Meetup.com that are open to anyone who’s interested. But don’t just stop with fashion groups. Check out some of the career and business groups, even some of the more social groups if you can make the time. Think about doing a presentation at a meetup. It’s a great way to make sure everyone there gets to know you and your background, and you can casually mention that you’re available to consult on a project or open to new opportunities. Almost everything is a game of numbers. The more people you meet and communicate with, the more opportunities come your way.
4) Bring your portfolio into the digital age: I know there was a time when it was taboo to make your work public for fear that someone will steal your ideas. But times have changed! I’ve gotten several leads for freelance gigs and new students who wanted to take class with me just by having a portfolio on Styleportfolios.com or because they liked an Instagram drawing I did. There are so many more places where you can upload an online portfolio (including Behance which works seamlessly with Adobe products), and creating a website is so easy these days, many people opt to self promote that way. Whatever you decide, you need a digital presence. And don’t worry about putting your entire portfolio up. A nice smattering of some great pieces that demonstrate your skills is enough to get someone interested.
5) Keep your LinkedIn profile up to date (with a picture) and then use it! For some people, I have to even take it a step further back and say, “Sign up on LinkedIn and create a profile.” LinkedIn has become one of the best and most used business, social networking sites on the internet. So if you’re not using it, you’re losing out. I remember I was following up on a referral I’d gotten, and I was trying to setup a meeting to speak to HR to come train their staff. When she finally called me back, I didn’t even finish my pitch about myself and my company before she cut me off and said to me, “Yeah, I looked you up on LinkedIn to see what you were about. I liked what I saw. Why don’t you come in next week?” Is it possible I would have gotten that meeting without my profile? Maybe. But I’ve always believed I may not have even gotten a callback without it.
6) Put as much design into your resume as you do your portfolio: I was debating this one a bit with a colleague, but I strongly believe in a visual and well designed resume. She felt it was just a way for people to distract from how little experience they have, but I disagree. I mean, you have to find ways to standout from the crowd and what better way to do this than with a resume that’s as beautifully designed as your portfolio. Plus, let’s be honest. We all like to see pretty things, and a well designed portfolio AND resume is eye catching. And we’re creatives, so why wouldn’t your resume look like a work of art? Keep the old one (the text-only version) in case it’s requested to upload to a database, but make sure you have your visual resume ready to email and/or to hand out when you’re meeting a recruiter or in your interview.
Check Pinterest for some great ideas for formatting or download a template from Adobe Stock.
7) Remember your existing connections, and I don’t just mean your colleagues: Yes, of course, you should reach out to existing and past associates but think about other people or institutions that could be helpful. Does your school have a career or alumni office? For example, if you’re an alumni of FIT, they have a career office that you can visit (as well as free job boards), and it’s available to you no matter when you’ve graduated.
Many schools not only have alumni groups thru the institution, but they also have a LinkedIn Group. I know my school does, and I have seen people posting job openings as well as looking for job leads. Are you a member of a sorority or fraternity? They’re also great ways to get leads. My father told me when he first moved to NY, he had just graduated from college with a degree in education but no connections whatsoever to help him get into a school. He got his first teaching assignment after meeting another teacher at a fraternity meeting who put him in touch with the right people.
8) Do your own thing: I have always been a proponent of spending time in the industry and learning all you can, making connections with whomever you can before you go off on your own. But with the resources available to designers today and the opportunity to learn and reach more people thru social media, who says you can’t step out and do your own thing? I remember speaking with a co-worker who once did sales for Fubu when they were just starting out. He talked about how great of an asset it was NOT to have someone there saying, ‘You’ll never be able to produce that!’ They didn’t know any better, but it allowed them to partner with their factories to figure it out and to do things that no one else was doing at the time. When nothing else seems to be working, it may be time to step out and do your own thing, OR
9) Do something else creative: Here’s where you get to not only be a creative but also get creative about what your role can be. Often we get stuck on titles or what a Creative Designer is supposed to do, but who’s to say you can only design apparel or that the skills you use as an apparel designer aren’t beneficial in other areas and can’t be as equally creative and fulfilling?
Do you love designing trims or adding functionality to your garments? Maybe you should also be looking for a job in Innovation? Love the process of research, shopping and watching the runway? Maybe you need to be in Trend or Forecasting. There are a plethora of other creative fashion jobs that we often don’t even think about, but they’re necessary and need people to fill those positions. (Watch this to hear about others.)
Or how about designing the look for a new luxury or lifestyle brand, or revamping an existing one? The possibilities are endless if you can think past what’s been done and see your creativity in a different light. And let’s not forget that other industries regularly hire people from outside their own, so think about how you can carve a niche for yourself in Tech or some other growing business.
10) Never stop learning: There is no guarantee anymore that you will get a job, or if you do, keep that job. But what you can do to help solidify your ability to keep working is to stay relevant, and the only way to do that is to continue to learn, grow and keep up with the current technology.
My husband has a phrase that he likes to use: ‘Forever the student.’ Your education doesn’t stop once you’ve left school. In fact, the real education has just begun. School lays a wonderful foundation, but you’re constantly learning once you’re working in the the industry: how it works, how people work in it, and the constantly changing technology that’s being used within fashion. And now that AI is here, one of your next challenges is learning how to solidify your creative place in a newly developing fashion tech world. That may mean going back to school or taking a class to learn new software. Whatever it is, stay abreast of what’s next, and don’t wait to embrace it.
I know this was rather lengthy, but companies work and hire people so differently now, it’s important to have options for approaching your job search. There’s no one thing anymore that works for everyone or every company. You don’t need to use all of these tips, and I’m sure each of us have our own tricks of the trade that work, or you’re developing some new ones. What I do know is that I’ve kept all of these tips in my arsenal over the years, consistently followed them (maybe not all at once, but always at least one tip), and I’ve never NOT been able to find work when I wanted it. I hope they’ll be as beneficial to you as they’ve been to me. And feel free to share your tips that work or some ‘out of the box’ ideas that we can all try.
This blog was originally published on July 6, 2018.