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designers share with i-D their advice for breaking into the fashion industry

So you think you want to work in fashion? Here's what you need to know.

by i-D Team
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28 March 2019, 12:21pm

This story originally appeared in i-D's The Homegrown Issue, no. 355, Spring 2019.

Want to get ahead in fashion? Still trying to work it all out? To set you out on your fashion journey, we’ve asked the who’s who of the global fashion industry – from fashion designers, to photographers, stylists and editors-in-chief – to share their advice on how to make it in fashion.

Think of it as careers advice from the world’s best.

“To make it in the fashion industry you need to shape your own trustable team around you – like a family, no one can be alone – and then... make sure to check everything!” Anthony Vaccarello, Saint Laurent

“People will talk, judge your ideas and your decisions. You will have good and bad advisors. Trust in your instincts, listen to what the people you trust have to tell you and then make up your mind. Sometimes it is useful to share ideas and thoughts with people you trust who are not from the industry; it is incredible what fresh outlooks you can get from somebody that is not involved with the fashion business!” Donatella Versace

“It’s not only about fashion design. Being social and networking is absolutely crucial, because you need to get your name out there.” Stephen Jones

“Be nice, work hard, and listen to your instincts even if all else around you seems to be going in a different direction.” Katie Hillier, Hillier Bartley

“The fashion industry can be daunting, so take any opportunity you can to learn from others, whether that’s through education, internships or assisting. When taking that first step in your career it’s so important to surround yourself with experts in your field that you can learn from.” Victoria Beckham

“A piece of advice given to me by Manuela Pavesi was ‘Don’t ever compromise’, which I think is a very good one because sometimes when you’re involved in fashion there are so many opinions in the process that you end up becoming jaded.” Jonathan Anderson

JW Anderson AW19
JW Anderson AW19

“Know your stuff! Jobs in the fashion industry are many and varied so think carefully about which particular part of the industry you’re interested in and get completely immersed in it. Learn everything you can about the different opportunities available and get practical experience. Throughout my career I’ve done everything from shifts in the warehouse to working in the shops, all those experiences are so important.” Paul Smith

“I would say to anyone getting into this industry to ask yourself this question ‘Why do you want to do this? And what can you offer that is unique?’ There’s so much product in the world and most is made without a perspective or without truly filling a gap that a consumer needs. We are in a time where innovation is of the utmost importance. Don’t think about how something has always been done, think about taking risks and doing things how they’ve never been done before. Then think about direct conversations with people that are meaningful and cut through the noise.” Alexander Wang

“As they say, ‘You never step into the same river twice…’ The currents of fashion are constantly changing. Your point of view is surfing that current. You need imagination to let you change adventures after five minutes or after eons… it depends on instinct, inspiration and how much fun you’re having.” Francesco Risso, Marni

“Always follow your instincts and trust yourself. Stand up for the things you believe in and don’t worry about what other people think – fashion is not about pleasing everyone, it’s more important to stand for something.” Stuart Vevers, Creative Director, Coach

“Fashion is a saturated industry. There are so many talented designers doing amazing things. It’s still a mystery to me why certain brands or designers make it and others don’t. There’s no golden rule. I guess the key to success is integrity. You have to stay true to yourself, and to others. Persevere. Keep pushing what you believe in.” Glenn Martens, Y/Project

YPROJECT AW19
Y/Project AW19. Photography Giovanni Giannoni.

“The one thing you need to know is that the people who seem to know everything, don’t. They know what they know, but it usually applies to what has already happened and not where things are going. The future is yours and you can shape it any way you like. Trust in what you believe to be true and back it up with really hard work. This is how I was able to bring Noah back years after I failed the first time. I believed in it that much.” Brendon Babenzien, Noah

“I always thought, and still believe, that becoming a fashion designer is a calling. You have to feel that there is no other option for you – otherwise I wouldn’t recommend it. It’s a very tough job (not that I’m complaining) – but to be satisfied with one’s work is extremely difficult – an endless progression. You find yourself constantly dissatisfied which makes you want to keep going – keep working at it. You need to work hard and of course be lucky. The quicker you can get into the industry to learn the better – that’s how I really learnt to be a designer. The real word gives you a sense of what you’re doing – you become less self-aware and more realistic in your approach. Fashion is team work – you have to be a part of that to really develop. Your ideas become depleted if you’re too self-centred.” Andreas Kronthaler, Vivienne Westwood by Andreas Kronthaler

“The one thing I see and hear all the time is people not knowing fashion history. I think to be good at something you need to do proper research and study everything about the subject. The late Professor Louise Wilson always challenged my knowledge of fashion. She would say ‘There is always someone smarter, more talented, prettier and confident than you so be ten steps ahead and always keep your eyes and ears open.’ Inspiration can come from everywhere, so you need to be open to that.” Christopher Kane

“The main thing is to stay focused and believe in yourself. I’ve managed to show one can have a successful business in the luxury sector with my beliefs. Be informed and make conscious and responsible decisions about how you want to change the world with your work, its not just pretty dresses and beautiful bags. Be strong, be mindful and stick to your guns!” Stella McCartney

“You should have a strong personality and your own precise style.” Isabel Marant

“My best piece of advice would be to stay true to yourself, your ideals and your aesthetic. It may sound simple, but the fashion industry is a big, busy and sometimes overwhelming place – it evolves constantly! So you need to know what your philosophy and personal direction is, then you can find your tribe.” Fran Stringer, Pringle

“I think it’s healthy to not confuse ambition, nepotism, plagiarism and ruthlessness with what matters. I’ve always believed in ideas, the aim of making genuine ideas from your own point of view.” Christopher Shannon

“Stay humble and learn on the job! I started out knowing nothing and no one. I mainly learnt what I now know by listening to people I admired whenever possible. I soaked up wisdom from incredible industry matriarchs like Professor Louise Wilson and Mandi Lennard, who definitely didn’t mince their words of advice. I’m still learning all the time, whether from industry veterans or from the young designers I work with. Staying informed, relevant and agile is key.” Lulu Kennedy MBE, Fashion East

“My advice would be to do what feels right and be open to suggestions and possibilities. I think that knowing too much can be very restrictive for a young designer.” Craig Green

“There will be moments when things happen all at once and there will be moments where it feels like nothing will ever happen. The key is to be patient and to never lose sight of your vision. If you don’t believe no one else will.” Erdem Moralıoğlu

“It’s important to find the balance between creation and business. The creative mind always wins over the business side, however the business is very important in order to be able to keep doing what you believe in. So not only the creativity of your collection, but also to be creative in your business is crucial.” Chitose Abe, Sacai

“Do not place your happiness on the opinions of others. Merit your success on the joy that your work brings you, nothing else.” Jeremy Scott

“Fashion requires dedication and education, but also flexibility and the ability to keep up with the times. To those who want to work in this highly complex industry, I would recommend always being tuned in to the present, respectful of the past, and above all active – and activist – in proposing things that are positive and empowering, that allow people to express their identity and gain awareness.” Maria Grazia Chiuri, Dior

Be prepared to work hard and to make sacrifices, take risks and be confident in yourself even at low points. Treat everyone with respect and make sure you have a close loyal group you can rely on. Lee McQueen, Michael Kopelman and Marc Jacobs taught me this.” Kim Jones, Dior

“I started my adventure in fashion with such enthusiasm and with the belief of having something authentic and personal to say. Initially, I had no real expectations: success nearly caught me by surprise, convincing me that my intuition was correct. That enthusiasm is still with me: it’s my strength. Today, the scenario is much more complex. Making an impact requires maximum engagement, as the competition is fierce. To a new designer, I would suggest an in-depth exploration of people’s needs and a consistent response to these needs, whilst creating their own style. It takes patience, determination and absolute dedication, but this is the only way to tackle the industry today without giving up and being distracted by what others are doing.” Giorgio Armani