Not only is the fashion difficult to break in to here in the UK, but also on an international scale. According to Fashion United, more than half a million people work in fashion-related industries in the UK and that number obviously rises when you factor in the number of UK nationals working overseas in the sector.
If you’re looking to make waves in the sector here or abroad, we’ve gathered what you need to know to have a successful run in the fashion sector.
An insight to the UK fashion scene
If you ever want to work in fashion, understanding the complexity of the UK’s fashion scene is essential. In 2016, the UK exported $9.2 billion worth of clothing, and across many international fashion industries, the UK labour force shows the highest percentage of employees in fashion. Approximately 1.68% of the entire labour force works in fashion-related jobs, while in the US, this figure is 1.12% and only 0.81% in Germany.
If you’re originally from the UK, you shouldn’t close doors on external work internationally. In the UK, the fashion industry has a domestic market value (DMV) of approximately £94.1 billion, while in the US, the fashion industry has a DMV of $385.7 billion, and in France, this number hits around $43.3 billion. Clearly, this industry is profitable, and you have the opportunity to be a part of it even outside of the UK.
A career outside of the UK
There’s no denying that securing a job in the UK is difficult and that work internationally could be just as hard. But, it’s perfectly doable if you have the right skillset and attitude. So, what do you need to carve out a career in fashion outside of the UK?
If you’re at university already or due to start, speak to your tutor about taking a language course — not only will this help you excel in your new job when you arrive in the country, but it will also show a potential employer that you have the initiative and dedication to take on another challenge alongside your main course. Across the fashion industry, brands and companies hold language in high regard. The British Fashion Council has stressed the importance of learning a language to help better the influence of UK designers, while the Commercial Language Training organisation claims that international fashion firms usually keep an eye out for language skills when recruiting new employees. So, could you get ahead by learning French or Italian — two countries typically associated with high fashion — or even Mandarin, considering that leading UK brands like New Look are moving, or have already moved, into the Chinese market?
Keeping on top of social media is essential too, and you should have your own profiles. Follow a range of fashion brands and fashion-focused career sites on Twitter and Facebook so that you can stay on top of new opportunities. Also, launch your own blog — this doesn’t even have to be fashion focused, but it might be wise to highlight your love of the industry, whether you upload regular articles about what’s new in the sector or create regular posts about your favourite trends. Why not start your own YouTube channel and showcase your fashion talents in a series of online videos? Some YouTubers get millions of subscribers, but even if you only have a few, being able to invite potential employees who perhaps can’t hold an interview with you in person due to distance to watch your channel will indicate your proactivity and creative skill — two essential attributes in the industry regardless of country!
There’s always study-abroad placements that you could take advantage of too. Many establishments offer these and they’re an ideal way to develop yourself in a foreign university while making relationships with other students and faculty members that may be able to help you find a job in the country when you graduate. If a whole year abroad isn’t feasible, why not try a summer school programme during your break or make a difference by volunteering abroad in a conservation or community-based programme — ideal for showing an employer your ability to take on a challenge.
You can never be too early when it comes to looking for work, even if you’re still studying at university — have you tried LinkedIn? 500 million people use LinkedIn worldwide and around four-fifths of employers search candidates’ names on Google when debating whether to call them in for an interview. As your potential new employer will be stationed overseas, using the internet and social platforms to decide on your credibility and validity as an employee will be essential — so make sure what they find is positive! A great LinkedIn profile should have a well-written summary:
- Be personal
- State your career goals
- Offer examples of work experience
- Emphasise your personal and professional achievements
- Give a call-to-action (in this case, looking for a fashion position overseas)
Always proofread any information you put out there, as this will make sure you’re making sense when discussing what great qualities you possess.
One trick of the trade is to look at fashion companies that offer international opportunities. According to Monster job site’s career expert, Vicki Salemi: “One of the best ways to get a job overseas is to do a rotational assignment.” This means the company will sort out visas, accommodation, and moving costs for you, making the whole relocation process simpler. Luckily, many fashion brands based in the UK have international offers and the potential for employment abroad. QUIZ, for example, recently launched in Spain, while Primark is currently establishing itself in the US, and Marc Jacobs expanded into new Asian and South American markets.
Some fashion companies may ask for cover letters and online assessments, while other simply want a CV. Perseverance is key, but there are many international sites that offer openings for people eager to get their foot in the door or a fashion job outside of the UK.
Fashion at home
However, you must keep in mind that the UK is still a great place to start your fashion career. In the Global Fashion School Rankings by Business of Fashion mentioned previously, four of the top ten undergraduate fashion schools and three of the top ten graduate fashion schools were based in the UK. What’s more, the UK clinched the top spot in both lists, with Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design coming first in both categories.
You could also look at companies that offer degrees and apprenticeships too. Institutions such as the Fashion Retail Academy and Fashion Enter offer a range of apprenticeship courses — like merchandising and garment technology — to thousands of students every year, while the UK government also promotes apprenticeship opportunities in this sector, if you’re aged 16 years or over.
Have you considered an internship? There are an estimated 70,000 internships on offer every year in the UK and gaining hands-on, practical experience can help you develop and learn at a quicker rate than taking a more academic, school-structured path. Although, it should be noted that unpaid internships in the fashion industry are still common.
There’s nothing wrong with carrying out work experience either, as this will look good to future employers. Researching fashion companies and requesting experience is tough, but key to creating a career in fashion. Even if you work in a clothing store, this is experience — plus, you can ask to try visual merchandising to develop your skills on the job.
Picking a department to work in is always handy too. However, there are plenty of opportunities, from making fancy sequin dresses to becoming a photographer. Once you’re in, don’t forget that you can start moving across different departments.