Categorized | Arts & Culture

Working It Off the Runway

[[fashion3]] Flipping the TV channels makes people think that having a career in the fashion world involves a lot of drama, unrealistic deadlines and an instantly glamorous lifestyle. Between America’s Next Top Model, Project Runway, and the latest competition, Stylista, fashion on TV has become more about entertainment than an accurate view into the career world. Outside of designing, the average person has probably only heard of a couple of careers in the fashion industry, if any at all. However there are aspects in the world of fashion that even some fashion students are unaware of, and most of them do not involve a panel of judges.
“There are so many other things you can do with a fashion degree other than designing,” said Amanda Briglio, president of MSU’s Student Apparel Design Association (SADA).
The Unfamiliar Jobs
The Accessory Assistant
If picking up accessories from public relations companies and organizing them for photo shoots sounds like your calling, an accessory assistant is the job for you. Even though accessory assistants do not get to make a lot of their own fashion decisions, they get hands on experience right in the heart of the fashion industry. This sometimes even means getting to meet celebrities and other important people in the fashion world. Plus being an assistant at any big fashion company is a great foot in the door. Rachel Wilkerson, a 2008 MSU alumnus, is an accessory assistant at ELLE magazine. She said that she has enjoyed being so immersed in the fashion world. “The best part about the job is just getting to be in the center of it all,” Wilkerson said. She also said that a perk of being an accessory assistant at ELLE is getting to live in one of the fashion capitals of the world, New York City. “It has a lot of aspects to it and so many different things that you don’t even realize exist until you get out here,” Wilkerson said. [dream]
Apparel Manufacturer
There are several stages a designers and their teams go through to produce a collection. The manufacturing phase is one that is relatively unheard of. The apparel manufacturer does everything from creating product concepts, which are ideas for garments, to delivering the garment to the retailer. In between those steps, the manufacturer creates a financial plan for the design and finds the perfect fabrics to use. The job may not be as dazzling as toasting champagne with Oscar de la Renta, but it is another way for those starting out in the fashion world to get the necessary experience to move up in the ranks.
“Introductory level jobs are easier because they don’t necessarily need you to be as strong creatively,” apparel and textile design professor Lori Faulkner said. “You’re going to do more of what the designer has drawn already and just interpret it.”
An apparel manufacturing firm is made up of three different departments – design, production and sales. The design department is directed by a head designer or a merchandiser and is in charge of trend research and creating sketches to produce between four and six collections per year. The production department’s main responsibility is to mass produce a collection. This department is who middle class America depends on for everyday work and casual wear. They are also responsible for the actual construction of the garment – the sewing, finishing and pressing of different pieces. The final department, the sales department, serves as an intermediary between the designer and the buyer and markets the line for the designer.
Forecaster
A fashion forecaster does exactly what you imagine. They forecast the trends. Based on the hot trends from seasons’ past, forecasters predict what stylists and buyers alike will be dying to get their hands on during the upcoming fashion season. Being “fashion forward” is to being successful in the job. Forecasters travel to fashion capitals around the world like Milan, Paris and London to keep track not of what is in style now, but what will be fashionable a few months in the future.
“They set standards for what’s going to be popular. They usually work two to three seasons in advance,” Briglio said. To make it as a forecaster, an eye for style, a sense of fashion history and a love for travel are required.
Assistant Designer
An assistant designer is a starter job for those aspiring to make their name in fashion design. Assistant designers usually work in a room with at least one head designer and other assistant designers. Their everyday tasks depend on the company they are working for, but generally assistant designers help the head designer create color stories, which involves selecting the 8 to 10 colors used in the designer’s collection. They also research fabrics and choose the best ones to make the designer’s garments out of, create or buy the printed material used in a collection and attend model fittings. [Wilkerson]
Most careers in fashion do not leave time for twiddling thumbs, and working as an assistant designer is no different. “I work 10, usually 11 hours a day,” said Mikey Novak, MSU alum and assistant designer at Forever 21. “It’s very fast paced and extremely time consuming.” Novak said she works on color specs, graphic art, trend reports and color palettes, which are all integral parts of creating a collection. But the job is not complete stress ridden and there are some non-monetary incentives, Novak said. “The best part of the job is that I have a lot of creative freedom. It’s really rewarding to see your own designs out in such a big company,” Novak said.
The Popular Jobs
When most people think of a fashion career they do not think of being a forecaster or an apparel manufacturer. Instead they think of how glamorous and exciting it would be to become a fashion stylist, merchandiser or designer. But those jobs are extremely competitive and they have unforeseen aspects that magazines and television do not highlight.
Stylist
One of the most popular careers in the fashion industry today is a fashion stylist. However, even some who put it on their list of dream jobs do not fully understand what it is.
“I get so many people who want to be fashion stylists, and when I ask them what a stylist is – they can’t answer,” Faulkner said. The main responsibility of fashion stylist is to put together looks for photo shoots and runways, Briglio said. While this may sound just as easy as picking out an outfit for a night on the town, there is a lot more that goes into choosing that perfect look than making sure your colors don’t clash. On set for a photo shoot, the stylist has to create an image that appeals to their boss but also to all viewers. There are also plenty of errands like running around the city for one scarf or that missing right shoe involved in the job. To a lot of students hoping to get into the industry, the job of a stylist sounds both exciting and alluring.
“It’s two fold. On some levels the job is easy but you definitely have to have a savvy about the industry – it’s difficult but it’s doable,” Wilkerson said.
Merchandiser
Another familiar job in the fashion industry is a fashion merchandiser. Merchandisers handle the business side of fashion in addition to some creative aspects. A merchandiser normally will work with the designer on a variety of things which differ depending on the company. Merchandisers research fabric trends, promote the line, track sales and profits and work with stores to identify best seller items. “They are responsible for buying the merchandise to sell in the stores,” Briglio said. A merchandiser can also be in charge of pulling a certain look together to display in stores. [fashion2]
Designer
Though most people are familiar with the job title, a lot of people realize that it is impossible to jump from college graduate to couture designer overnight. As the most common career in the industry, it may also be one of the most difficult to get into.
“It’s very competitive. It depends on what you want to do though – it’s going to be easier to find a job in product development than as a fashion designer,” Faulkner said.
Designers hold major creativity tasks such as planning the silhouettes, color schemes, materials and details of each garment. Their responsibilities range from sketching the original designs to working with patternmakers to make samples of the garment. As sensational as it may seem, the job is dramatic, stressful and very fast-paced.
“You can’t be lazy. It moves so fast and you can’t get burnt out,” Wilkerson said.

If you think you are ready for the challenge of Project Runway or America’s Next Top Model, keep an eye on audition times. However if competition outside of the job market is not what you are looking for, consider one of the many career paths in the fashion industry. Your dream job might be at the end of long, hard road lined with broken stiletto heels and model catfights, but in between starting off and scoring your spot lie opportunities to get some valuable and fashionable experience.

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