What it’s like working in fashion

It’s no Devil Wears Prada, sorry guys.

When I meet someone new and tell them what I do for a living, I am often asked: Is it like working for Anna Wintour?

Nope.

In fact, I don’t work for a fashion magazine and uber fashion editors, I design clothes, artwork and patterns. I often describe it to people like this; there are the fashionistas who help with making fashion look good, the ones who help create the glossy ads in magazines and ones who go to fashion benefit parties and then there’s the other group of fashionistas, the group I’m in…we make the stuff behind the glitz, glamour and glitter. I don’t even design for the Haute Couture culture, I design stuff for you at La Senza,  Dillard’s, Costco and several other chain stores. I guess that’s not what you expected, huh? Well, that’s what being a fashion designer is like for most of us.

If you look through my grade 6 year book, I said I wanted to become a fashion designer when I grew up but throughout my high school and college years I was pursuing animation and graphic design as my career choice, not fashion. Funny how the universe works, right?

How did I get here? Not with a graphic design degree, that’s for sure, but a contact who was in the fashion industry who took a chance on me (and because my parents told him too and he was their tenant). Yup, it’s sometimes about who you know rather than what you know and sometimes your parents push to make it happen. Hey, whatever, it worked for me and I’m thankful.

I’ve been living in Montreal, Canada for about 13 years and have been a fashion designer for about that long too. I moved from my lovely city of Toronto to embark on a new career in fashion because I thought it would be cool. And it is, for me anyways, don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t be doing this is I didn’t like it.

In the beginning though, I was shit. I was shit with choosing color, with designs, with IDEAS, with everything. I was so bad at my job that the contact, who got me in because my parents told him to, threatened to fire me a couple of times if I didn’t improve. I worked with fashion designers younger than me who graduated in fashion, who were better at it than me while I struggled. Oh, and some people are just not nice to you when you’re not part of some type of fashion squad. Ugh, awful. Props to all the underdogs out there, I feel you bro.

Due to my lack of experience. my boss had me do the grunt work; packaging, preparing digital files for production and assisting all the other designers with whatever they had to do. It was a horrible time for me because I knew I was creative and I knew I wanted to give this fashion thing a chance but my environment sucked and so did my skills. How I managed to survive 2 years there is beyond me. I left that place of work for another that was a better fit for me; a lot of fashion designers at this new place had also started out as graphic artists and so a lot of them were empathetic with my struggles and helped me.

The pace in this industry is fast, like really fast. If you’re given a project to do, the deadline was 2 weeks ago and you have to hustle, hustle, hustle. Most of us in the industry don’t wear heels because we run back and forth so often; sorry, no Prada shoes here. If there’s a problem, and usually there are several last minute problems, we use the famous Tim Gunn saying, “Make it work” and we, mostly, always do.

It’s busy, chaotic sometimes but I love it. There’s something about the rush that gets your blood pumping and your problem solving skills comes out like a beast with overflowing solutions. Sometimes my best ideas happen at the 11th hour even though I had a whole week to come up with something fresh.

You have to be tough too. Some people in the industry just suck; sometimes it’s people or it’s the rush of the job that can easily put you in a bad mood. I know several people who have left this industry because they didn’t want to deal with the impossible deadlines and stress anymore. If you don’t take constructive criticism well or if you take things too personally, I can’t see you surviving in this field for more than 5 years; it’s not a glamorous job but there is competition and there is stress to be the best at what you do. I remember an old boss said to my coworker when she was hired, “This isn’t a job to become a surgeon, but the stress is the same”. Suffice to say, she left soon after to go back to school and study anthropology. See? Not for everyone.

Has this helped give you a little insight at what I do in the fashion industry? Not quite as dramatic and exciting as it is portrayed in the movies, huh? I think if you love what you do, like I do, everyday will be exciting. If you like a challenge and are a creative person, you can make it in this industry with flying colors. Just don’t think it’s all sushi lunches and fruity cocktails in the evenings with Vera Wang, coz it’s ain’t.

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