Few industries have been romanticised in pop culture quite like fashion. From the glam yet brutal portrayal of fashion publishing that is The Devil Wears Prada to the more recent sinister extravagance of House Of Gucci, the business behind our favourite brands is often portrayed as both chaotic and alluring. Those currently working behind the scenes might agree with the portrayal to some extent. But, the mysticism shrouding what it's actually like is probably part of why so many people want in — on top of an undying passion for the art of design, costume and clothing, of course.
According to Ernst & Young's annual fashion business report, the Australian fashion industry is currently thriving. In 2020-21, Australia's fashion and textile industry contributed more than $27.2 billion to the national economy. In the same year, the industry generated more than 489,000 jobs, 77% of which were occupied by women — we love to see it!
Like other creative industries, getting your foot in the door can be tricky if you don't have an immediate 'in'. Thanks to social media and the wide variety of information available on the internet, a lot of traditionally withheld info about how to get into the fashion industry is now available for all to read — but there's still a lot to unpack beneath the surface. So, to get a better understanding of the basics, we spoke to Chris Clark, the Academic Course Manager, Fashion & Fashion Merchandising from Box Hill Institute in Victoria.
Chris outlined how to give yourself the best start, whether you're looking to be a fashion content creator or a design assistant (which she noted are some of the most popular roles going right now)— here's what she said.
What are the essential skills needed across all sectors of the fashion industry?
While fashion at large may require a set of niche expertise, Chris explained that universally recognised 'soft skills' like problem-solving, teamwork, and listening skills are what employers are actively looking for in candidates. "They are not related to any particular job roles, but they are essential for anyone who works no matter what positions they hold. These are vital skills which employers look for," she said.
Chris recommended not underestimating the experience working in retail can equip you with for a role in fashion, as it gives you a working knowledge about the needs and demands of customers, and keeps you up-to-date with trends.
On the other hand, Chris noted that some of the more specific skills often needed within the industry include an understanding of Excel, Photoshop, Illustrator, InDesign and PowerPoint, as well as design-specific software like Gerber and Apparel 21.
How can someone wanting a job in fashion make the most of their degree?
There are plenty of fashion industry-specific courses available to enrol in. However, what you get out of them will depend on the level of effort you put in. Chris stressed the importance of asking questions in lectures, building the confidence to present ideas and suggestions and the ability to take on feedback as an essential part of study.
"Nothing is too difficult. Aim high rather than just for a pass and be willing to learn from others. Very often, it is the attitude that'll help you gain success and support from others," Chris added.
Chris also noted there's ample opportunity to get connected with the industry through a fashion degree, as intuitions will often organise projects and presentations for industry partners for students to get noticed. She also recommended taking up voluntary work related to fashion, as well as participating in competitions as it can "help to expand the horizon and learn through hands-on experience".
How can someone looking to forge a career in fashion make the most of an internship?
According to Chris, internships provide an opportunity to get to know the expectations and standards of the industry. "It also gives you the opportunity to demonstrate the capabilities, skills, knowledge and attitude you have towards work. There are many cases where students are offered permanent positions after finishing internships," she added.
"It is important for students to understand that there are times when a company might ask them to do tasks that might seem to be below the expectations of the internship position."
How important is it to have a social following to break into the fashion industry?
"These days, establishing your credibility with an active social presence — even before starting a career in the fashion industry — can help you gain a position," said Chris. It is a good leg up — but it isn't entirely essential, so don't stress if you're not currently sitting at 100k followers.
"Having an active social presence is also an opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and awareness of current trends and development."
What’s the best way to network if you don’t have any existing connections?
Chris noted that for most young people, looking for connections that can be made within your place of study are the best ones to leverage at first. "For example, at Box Hill Institute, there are industry professionals invited as guest speakers, and there is always time to connect with the industry. In addition, there are always projects set up by Box Hill within the industry, which is another opportunity to get noticed and connected."