The Art of the Fashion Hustle: How to Find a Fashion Job
Updated: Jul 15, 2022
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.