8 Ways to Kick-Start Your Fashion Career

Student working on their water colour painting - birds eye view

Fashion is a notoriously difficult industry to break into. The reason is straightforward: there are far more people who love the idea of working in fashion than there are jobs available, especially at the top. However, don’t let that put you off. With the right skills and experience, and enough perseverance, you can achieve the fashion career you’re dreaming of – and you can start working towards it even as a teenager. In this article, we take a look at some of the steps you can take to get you closer to a future in fashion.

1. Study Fashion and Textile Design with Oxford Royale Academy

Image shows ORA students sketching in the Pitt Rivers Museum.
The course includes excursions to learn more about the history of fashion.

Oxford might not be the first city that come to mind when you think of travelling for your future fashion career – but perhaps it should be! If you’re aged 13 to 15, you might like to consider joining our Oxford summer school for our Introduction to Fashion and Textile Design course.

This two-week summer school course is the ideal overview of the world of fashion and textile design; it covers everything from the history of fashion, to drawing techniques, to the properties of different materials, to how top designers develop their ideas. By the end of the course you’ll have a portfolio that you can use for future university applications. Plus, our expert teaching staff can also give you guidance about how you might pursue your own particular career plans. If you’re certain that fashion is the right career for you, then this course is a great way to figure out the next steps to take; and if you’re exploring different career paths, then you can use this course to work out if fashion is good fit for you.

The course also takes advantage of the proximity of the summer school to notable museums, namely the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford and the V&A in London, to go on field trips to look at historic fashion and explore the methods used by artists and designers. As with any Oxford Royale Academy course, there’s a great range of activities and excursions to keep you having fun outside of the classroom as well.

2. Figure out what kind of fashion career might be right for you

Image shows someone weaving on an old-fashioned loom.
Maybe you have a great eye for spotting new textile producers?

You might not realise just how many careers are available in fashion – it’s not just a choice between “designer” and “stylist”, and some careers are much easier to get into than others. There are production-side roles such as textile designers, garment technologists (those are the people who look after the production line, exercise quality control and look for ways to improve efficiency), and fashion illustrators. There are sales-side roles such as retail buyers, merchandisers and boutique owners. There are roles in marketing fashion products such as models, PR coordinators and fashion stylists. Then there are also associated roles, such as fashion journalists and photographers.

As you might be able to guess from the length of that list – which only skims the surface – there are a huge number of roles that require vastly different skills. Yet all of those roles require an eye for fashion, and being able to sell the product in a boutique or style it on a celebrity is very different from the writing skills needed by journalists or the creativity required of designers. Knowing what you might like to do will help you pursue it; for instance, if you’re interested in fashion writing, you might like to prioritise work experience in journalism. On the other hand, if you’re interested in retail buying, any retail buying experience – from a bookshop to a supermarket – is going to be helpful if you can’t manage to find fashion-specific opportunities.

3. Start your own style blog

Image shows a young woman taking a selfie.
If you’re going to be taking selfies anyway, you might as well make use of them.

An easy way to demonstrate your interest in fashion, and to learn more is to start a style blog, in whatever form that might take. It could be anything from posting a photo of your outfit every day and explaining why you chose it, to long-form essays about different aspects of fashion, their meaning and importance. There are countless such blogs out there so take the time to think about your own unique selling point: what new angle can you bring to the fashion world?

Then get to writing and taking photographs! The great thing about starting a style blog is that its popularity should grow as you hone your own skills. Don’t feel shy about asking your friends to promote it on social media in the first instance – but as it spreads beyond your network, you should pick up a readership. Then you can look at things like the topics that your audience responds to best, getting feedback as you go along and using that to improve. If you’re at all interested in the marketing side of fashion, this is a brilliant way to learn about it – and hopefully you should enjoy the process of picking topics and writing about them as well. If writing isn’t your thing, you could also consider options like vlogging on YouTube.

4. Find a fashion internship

Image shows the catwalk at a fashion show.
You could go to amazing places with a fashion internship.

The fast route to learning more about fashion is to get on the inside through an internship. Don’t worry if you end up getting rejected from a lot of internships; remember that the world of fashion is very competitive, and keep trying! It can help to try different approaches – for instance, most people looking for internships will send emails, so consider picking up the phone or even asking in person instead. After all, fashion careers typically require confidence, and that’s one way to demonstrate it.

If there is a conventional application process you need to follow, think about ways in which you can make yourself stand out. Assume that you will be one of dozens, if not hundreds, of applicants. Simply put, a good but conventional CV and covering letter is unlikely to be sufficient. You’ll want to find a way of ensuring that you’ll be remembered among the stack of applications. That’s not to say you should be strange or weird for the sake of being so, just distinctive – which can be a difficult balance to find. And if you’re turned down from the internship of your dreams, don’t despair – send a polite response (which could include asking if they have other opportunities coming up or what you could do to improve your application) and apply again next year.

5. Get work experience in whatever form you can find

Image shows a mannequin in a tailor's.
Working on clothing alterations might not seem exciting, but it could teach you a lot about fashion.

Can’t get a fashion industry specific internship? Then get work experience. Your ideal fashion work experience might be just as hard to come by as an internship, but think creatively. Could you be honing your knowledge of fabric and construction techniques at a tailor’s or even an upholsterers? Could you be learning more about photography and fashion sales running the eBay account for a charity shop? Could you be getting sales and styling experience in a wedding boutique? Maybe you could be learning about costume design at a local theatre.

All of these should be easier to access than a fashion internship, and though they won’t provide such a direct potential route into a fashion career, they can teach you invaluable skills and add to your CV all the same. If those don’t work out, look at other related options; if you’re interested in journalism, maybe look for work experience with your local newspaper. If you’d like to learn about photography, see if you can shadow a wedding photographer for a few days. Many fashion skills are transferable from other fields; you don’t need to look exclusively within the fashion industry to find them. If you’re too young to get real work experience, see what you can do within the context of your own school – could you organise a charity fashion show, or get involved in costuming for your school play?

6. Learn relevant skills

Image shows someone sketching a geometrically detailed cat.
Honing your sketching would be time well spent.

There are lots of skills that would look great on a fashion CV that you can begin learning right now. For instance, you can work on your drawing skills at any time, from practising independently, to joining a life drawing class – which might seem at odds with fashion drawing, but helps to improve your technique.

You could alternatively, or additionally, work on your software skills; this can be easier to do in school rather than later in life because your school may have software licensed that would be expensive for you to buy. A key example of this is becoming proficient in Adobe Photoshop. While Photoshop has a bad reputation for being overused and removing natural flaws to create unrealistic images, retouching of one kind or another has been part of photography for a long time. Even if you’re not inclined to photoshop away a model’s moles or stretch marks, there are many more tools in Photoshop that you might well want to master, such as adjusting colour levels or removing distracting background details.

And these are just a couple of examples of the skills you can start developing now. There are many more general-purpose skills with particular utility for fashion. You could think about learning photography; honing your sewing; practising your writing, editing and proofreading; learning web design; getting better at handling money and accounts; shooting and editing videos, and more besides. And don’t neglect soft skills either – getting better at networking, for instance, will undoubtedly be of benefit to you in a career like fashion where making contacts is very important.

7. Follow the fashion world closely

Image shows a display of fashion magazines from the 80s or 90s.
Image shows someone sketching a geometrically detailed cat.

Of all the items on this list, this is perhaps the easiest one; if you’re dead-set on a career in fashion, you’re probably doing it already. Fashion magazines can be alarmingly expensive, but thankfully, a lot of what you might want to follow is online anyway – in fact, the difficulty is not so much getting the information, as figure out what to read or watch, and what to ignore.

You should be aware of the biggest events in the fashion year; that’s also important if you’re applying for internships or requesting work experience, as you don’t want to get in touch when everyone is rushed off their feet. You should know what the trends are, both overall and in any niches that you’re particularly interested in exploring. You should develop some skills at trendspotting yourself.

Plus, you should be getting to know the fashion industry from different angles. You can follow fashion like it’s a sport: who’s up and who’s down, who’s winning and who’s losing. You can follow it like business: what’s selling well at the moment, and who’s in financial trouble. You can follow it like art: what does what’s fashionable now say about the world we live in, and what impact are those statements having. Depending on your interests you might be naturally inclined to one of these approaches more than others, so make sure that you get some balance in your view.

8. Think creatively about what you could achieve

Image shows a display of jumpers with bright prints.
Don’t wait to go ahead with your great idea.

For nearly any career path, there are different routes you can take; chances are there are some routes that are slow and reliable, and others than are much faster, but less likely to succeed. For fashion, in the latter category there’s having a brilliant idea that makes you stand out from the crowd. If you can think of a new and exciting fashion product – bearing in mind that there’s a multi-billion-pound industry working all the time on doing the exact same thing – then you can skip the slow route and go direct to the top.

Some of these ideas may be a struggle to do as a teenager. In all likelihood you won’t be able to launch your own brilliant, innovative clothing line that makes everyone sit up and take notice of you. However, you could work on something like a website, or an app, or something easy to produce such as custom-printed tees or badges. However, if you do have a great idea that you could pursue without throwing off your studies or eating up all of your free time, then don’t just sit on it until you’re older. See what you can do about getting it underway now, and if that doesn’t work out, then you can always pick it up again in a few years’ time.

Image credits: weaving; selfie; catwalk; mannequin; drawing; magazines; jumper; fashion painting.