Graduation is in a couple weeks and many of our students will begin their search for a job in the apparel industry. This can be a daunting task, especially with our fluctuating economy. Parents often ask me questions such as “Do you think my child will be successful in the fashion industry?” or “Will my child get a job as a fashion designer?” How does a teacher address these questions? I can’t predict the future. I am an educator who had worked as a womenswear apparel designer for a catalog company, owned a freelance design company, as well as acquiring degrees in the textile and apparel field. I can teach students the essential skills and lessons needed for working in the apparel industry but I cannot force a student to work hard and succeed in their career. That is up to each individual and how they approach their own life. If a student has the desire and drive to work as a fashion designer, their positive attitude will propel their career forward and help them to be successful. But like any student who has just graduated and is looking for a job, they will need to send out resumes, contact a variety of companies, and network. There are opportunities for students to be designers and work in the fashion industry but the truth is it is highly competitive, as it has always been, even when I was a student. One could argue that any job that is in demand is going to be challenging to acquire since many people are vying for the same position. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics: Fashion designers earned an annual mean wage of $73,930 in 2010. Also, there were a total of 16,010 fashion designers employed in 2010. It is also worth noting that there are other jobs in the apparel industry just as rewarding as being a fashion designer such as working as part of a product development team, technical designers, among other fashion related jobs. The desire to be a fashion designer is not enough. You must work hard to get ahead and to be noticed in this competitive field.
Jenna Lyons is a great example and inspiration to my students and I often use her as an example when speaking about the leaders in our industry. There are so many articles about her career at J. Crew and you can read about her everywhere from personal blogs to major publications. It is worth noting that she was able to rise to the top by working hard with the added challenges of her health issue and lack of finances coming from a single parent home. The following article reveals her past: (Jenna) Lyons was born with incontinentia pigmenti, a genetic disorder that led to scarred skin, patchy hair, and lost teeth, requiring dentures as a kid. Her gawkiness (she’s now 6 feet tall) didn’t help. As a result, she was subjected to almost constant bullying. “It’s amazing how cruel kids can be and super judgmental and really just downright mean,” says Lyons. Her nonchalant manner became her defense, and she found a refuge in art. “I searched for ways to make things more beautiful and surrounded myself with beautiful things because I didn’t feel that in myself,” she says. Her mother encouraged (her) to take art classes, where she discovered a passion for drawing and sketching and what might seem to be the unlikeliest of interests—fashion. “I felt a huge drive to make clothes that everybody could have because I felt ostracized by that world of beauty and fashion,” says Lyons. “I never thought I would have a part in it. Never in a million years.” She traces her ambition to her parents’ divorce when she was in the seventh grade. “I’ll never forget my mother standing in the tuna-fish aisle thinking, Are we going to get tuna fish this week?” says Lyons. “Feeling like I never wanted to rely on a man, I was like, I gotta work my (butt) off.”
Although Jenna felt excluded from the fashion world, she didn’t submit to that imagined fear that haunted her due to her insecurities. Many fashion designers are drawn to this industry for that same reason so she was in good company, although she did not that when she was younger. Even though she experience a life of financial instability, she didn’t live in fear of that either. Instead she used her mother’s struggle as inspiration so she wouldn’t be in a similar situation. The Jenna Lyons we know of today, beautiful, strong, confident, and fashionable was always there, even when she felt like an outsider as a young lady. And although I realize there is only one Jenna Lyons, her inspiring story is an example of success because she faced her fears and doubts and didn’t let them keep her from following her dream. My hope is that teachers and parents will inspire and encourage students to “set the world on fire” by pursuing a career that they are passionate about. Instead of living in fear and worrying about how much money they will earn or if they will get a specific job at a famous company, I hope we encourage our students to study and pursue a career of their dreams because it is what they are passionate about. After all, we only get one chance in our lifetime to try and live out our dreams.
Have you ever had parents question you about student employment after graduation? What do you tell them? Do you believe it is important for students to attempt living their dream or to choose a safe path in life? Please share your opinion in the comments below and I look forward to your response.