On Teaching Fashion: Job Opportunities After Graduation

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. St. Catherine of Siena Quote 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.

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  • Isabella May 14, 2015 11.22 am

    I admit, I chose the safe path and regret it every. single. day. When I was getting ready to go to college, I said I wanted to get a degree in Fashion Design to which my Dad responded that there was no way he would pay for that. I had no clue about student loans or how to pay for college (my parents unfortunately kept me VERY ignorant of finances and I only really began to understand more than “you pay cash for object” a few years ago). When I asked my Dad why he wouldn’t pay, he stated “That’s just for southern belles lookin’ to get a husband!” Well, considering I’m now in my late 30’s and still not married, I think he would have preferred that. Also, when my great Aunt found out he told me that many years after the incident, she chewed him up and spat him out – of course, by then, it was too late. I was already in my mid 20’s, had a degree, and was just starting a full time career in analytics.

    So, anyone who is actually in a fashion degree class has gotten further than me. 🙂 I still sew like crazy and have a decently successful blog. I’d love to go back to college to study fashion – something that won’t happen until I get rid of my house- just to have the career I always wanted and not the one I have.

    I do get to do some things in my current career – for instance, I sew almost all my work clothing. Even my Dad was impressed with what I wore this week to a work conference (he was hosting it. I ended up in the same career as him…he wanted one of his kids to follow his footsteps and I’m the one that got dragged into it. Not that it’s bad, it’s just not my passion). Because I get to use my skills I’ve developed outside of an academic setting in a work setting, I actually get some of my colleagues calling me to help them create proper work outfits or sew up older garments that need repairs. It doesn’t mean a lot of money but it often pays for snacks that month. I would have preferred to go and work at a theater or in TV for costuming – I actually had a chance again a few years ago to switch to a fashion focused job. It was for a fashion design teacher at the middle and high school level – part time.

    Again, my Dad whined. However, this time, I was old enough to explain to him what I would teach exactly – how fashions are influenced by culture, the math that goes into creating a garment, how technology improvements can be seen in the changes of fashion, ect. That hushed him up quickly. 😉 I ended up not taking it because it was part time and I was offered a full time position in analytics that paid much more. (Stupid mortgage. Forcing me to make money!)

    I’m not sure if any of that will help since your students are already much further than I made it but , if nothing else, the safe path doesn’t work. You will always wish you tried for your dreams.

  • Olga May 23, 2015 03.32 am

    it’s so interestig what you posted and hats off to your successful carrer, even if it is not in fashion! Actuallly, my dad influenced my career choice aswell. Only he is the exact opposite of yours! He didn’t want me to follow in his footsteps and be successful. He always told me I am mentally retarded and would end up a cleaning lady at the best or sleeping rough at the worst. Secretly, he always wished for that and never allwed me to study business. Anyways, he did allow me to study fashion in London – a career which needs alot of support after you graduate – and 6 months before I finished my Masters, I received a letter from his lawyer that he will no longer fund me and I sould find a job immediately. (Needless to say that I failed the Masters exam and had to retake it later, as I was emotionally really shook up).
    When I finished the prestigious MA, I found myself in very expensive London, swingin from one freelance project to another and barely making ends meet. It was terrible. Just awful. I was poor and helpless.
    Although I always stayed with fashion and worked hard in the field, even when I took up other jobs to survive, I was very much disenchanted with this life that I was pushed into. Now, I am a lecturer at university and things look brighter. However, I would never suggest for anyone to take up fashion, acting or dancing as a serious career unless that person is 100% obsessed and determined with it. It is a rough path and there is no guarantee that you will be renumerated for all your hard work. Very often you work for free and need a good sponsor.
    So I think your analytics job is something you can be roud of, and I am sure your dad is proud of you, too!


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