Here's How I "Made It" in the Fashion Industry
I’d like to start off by clarifying that in my mind, I still haven’t “made it.” That’s not to diminish any of my accomplishments thus far—I’m just the kind of person who will turn 65 and think to myself “what’s next?” I tend to be pretty pessimistic. It’s one of my biggest flaws, but also one of my biggest strengths. My dad would be lying if he told you he wasn’t worried about how I would make a living working in fashion, and so would I.
Actually working in this industry seemed like this unattainable dream that developed from obsessing over magazines and clothing more than most children did. (Try convincing yourself you’re special because of that reason. It’s really hard.) When I was a kid, using that reasoning to start pursuing my dream job didn’t seem like the strongest foundation, but I did it anyway. Remember, I was—and still am—a huge pessimist.
So where does someone who has zero connections in the fashion world start? How do you break into the industry? Can you really make a living doing, wait, what exactly is it you want to do again? Oh, you aren’t even sure what sector of the industry you want to get into?! Awesome. Your future is looking GREAT. Meet the inner monologue of my mind from about ages 10 to 19.
Yeah, I’m a good time. I tell you all of this because chances are, you have felt or are currently feeling the same way, and I’m here to tell you that’s actually really normal and that I am a huge proponent of using those fears or doubts as motivation to achieve what you really want most in life. Because if you don’t prove all of your insecurities wrong, no one else will.
My road to becoming a fashion editor isn’t the most glamorous or the most exciting, but that’s what I love about it. I worked hard, took risks, and kept a clear focus. Ready to hear how I tackled my future in the fashion industry step by step? Because LinkedIn can really only say so much.
I Failed Chapel to Attend My Internships… for 3 Years in a Row
That sentence probably sounds super weird, so let me clarify. I went to college at Pepperdine University located in Malibu, California, where I majored in integrated marketing communications. The school was Church of Christ, meaning every Wednesday, we had to attend “convocation” or “chapel” at 9 a.m. Pepperdine organised its class schedules so that most students got Wednesdays off… minus convocation.
Me, the logical yet defiant human I am, saw this as potential quality time I could be at an internship. So naturally I stopped going and interned for a full day instead. Were my mum and dad pleased with this decision when I failed convocation from my sophomore year to my senior year of college? No. Do I recommend failing anything school-related ever? No. But did I get some cool internships because I could work for at least one full day a week in addition to the other time slots I committed to? Yes. (PS, I graduated, so it’s all good.)
Here is me and my dad at my college graduation. He greeted me with champagne and tears in his eyes. Whether or not the tears were because he was worried about my future is unclear, as I was still unemployed.
My first real editorial internship was at a small publication called Malibu Magazine. I interned here for one semester and learned a lot about the inner workings of a magazine. This publication wasn’t solely fashion-focused, but it had an emphasis on art and culture, and incorporated fashion when necessary for shoots and such. It was a great jumping-off point for me, and I made connections there that I still have to this day.
From there, I landed a PR internship at Marc Jacobs (thanks to a connection at Malibu Magazine), assisting the West Coast public relations manager. I was his first intern ever, and we worked in his little office in the back of the Marc Jacobs store on Melrose Place in Los Angeles. While I quickly learned I did not love working in public relations, I did still have the time of my life. I got to assist with large-scale events, helped style celebrities (I met Ezra Koenig and basically died), and did a lot of runs to the dry cleaners because FYI, being an intern is not all glamorous.
Before I even took the internship at Marc Jacobs, I had a hunch the PR life wasn’t for me, but at the same time, I was 18, had never worked in fashion before, and knew nothing. There are so many avenues one can take in this industry, and the only way to know which you’ll feel most at home in is to test them out. No, it won’t be a waste of time. It’s the only practical way to hone in on your skill-set and to figure out which career path will make you the happiest.
I Knew Someone Who Knew Someone Who Got Me the Email Address
Now that I had Marc Jacobs on my résumé, I was convinced I could take over the world. Just kidding—I was still just a college kid, but it did boost my confidence a bit. Fun fact about me: Whenever I start feeling confident about something, I keep it a huge secret until I can prove I have a tangible reason to be confident. So that’s exactly what I did. It had always been my dream to work in New York, and I started wondering if there was a possibility I could intern there for a summer.
I remembered that my eighth grade English teacher’s daughter worked in fashion. At the time, she had just transitioned out of being (then editor in chief of Teen Vogue) Amy Astley’s assistant. Long story short (too late), she connected me to her daughter, who connected me to someone at Marie Claire. I interviewed over the phone and got offered an accessories intern position at the publication in New York City.
This is Hearst Tower, the building where I interned while at Marie Claire in New York. I believe my Instagram caption for this photo was something dramatic about how much I would miss my time there.
Naturally, I kept this whole process a secret from my parents until I actually got offered the internship. You know, to protect my pride in case I didn’t get it. I then had to come up with a whole proposal, ultimately convincing my parents that paying for me to move to New York for the summer to work at an unpaid internship was a really good idea. One of my promises to them amid this discussion was that if they allowed me to do this, I would work my ass off. That if I did it right, this summer could change my career trajectory.
I interned five days a week that summer for about three and a half months. It was the hardest summer of my life but also the absolute best. I have never worked so hard to prove that I was different and deserving of some sort of life in this world. In my mind, I had one summer to make connections, absorb as much information as possible, and stand out among a sea of other extremely deserving interns. No pressure, right? I wanted to prove that my parents sacrificing so much for me that summer was worth it, and I wanted to prove it to myself too.
I Clung to the People Who Took Time to Invest in Me
I was also so desperate to prove myself to my boss at Marie Claire, and why wouldn’t I be? I came in early, stayed late, was resourceful, and tried to be as reliable as possible. I used every opportunity I could to ask about her story, whether that meant taking her to lunch or staying late and chatting with her after hours.
My boss was this incredible resource I had right at my fingertips, and she was so willing to help me. Not taking advantage of that would have stripped me of invaluable advice I took with me into my first job and beyond. It’s easy to get intimidated by your employer, especially in an internship setting, but you’d be surprised by how much people want to help guide you, so let them guide you. Absolutely no one is above guidance.
True life: These were my intern friends, and we thought we were really cool. This was outside of 1OAK NYC (important side note for maximum embarrassment). The second girl on the left is now my roommate, and most of them are still my closest friends.
Before moving to the city that summer, I knew no one. Truly, not a single soul. I remember googling “what to do in New York for a whole summer by yourself.” Much to my surprise, I left with some of the greatest friends I could have asked for. Most of those friends now work in fashion, doing everything from PR at The Row to working for one of the biggest celebrity stylists, Erin Walsh, and we’re closer now than we were then.
I tell you this because connecting with people is something that I think can easily be overlooked in this industry, and I can tell you for a fact that I would be nowhere today if I didn’t take the time to build genuine relationships along the way. Not to scare you, but beyond your work ethic, your character follows you wherever you go, and if you screw something up in that department, you’ll have a hard time repairing your reputation.
I (Gently) Pushed to Turn My Internship Into My First Job
I returned from that summer on a total high, wondering what was next. Another I knew someone who knew someone situation unfolded, and I quickly started interning at The Zoe Report. I interned there for about a year and a half while in school, and for a short time after graduation. The mental jump from working for a print publication to working for a digital one was odd. At the time, I felt like I was taking a step backward, but it ended up being the best decision I could have made. By the end of my time at TZR, I had gone from an unpaid intern to a paid one to its editorial assistant right out of college.
Turning your internship into a job is awkward and unsettling, but confronting the situation at hand (i.e., you’re graduating and need money) is so necessary. Luckily I had an amazing boss and mentor, Nicky Deam, who I still look up to and value more than she probably realises. I knew she cared about me and wanted to see me succeed, and instead of doubting that, I chose to trust it and discuss a future at the company with her. I remember that day like it was yesterday. Mainly because I felt like I was going to throw up the entire time due to nervousness, but with her on my side (remember my point about making genuine connections?), I was offered my very first job.
I Took One of Those Leaps of Faith Everyone Talks About
Pictured above is the lovely Who What Wear team. It’s not a true editor bonding experience if we don’t take millions of pics along the way.
“Sometimes you just need to take a leap of faith” is a sentence I hate hearing, but funnily enough, it’s exactly what I ended up doing. A job opportunity at Who What Wear was brought to my attention shortly after working at TZR, and after struggling with the decision to take on an entirely new job (I hate change), I made the jump. At 23 years old, I still felt like I had no idea what I was doing, therefore doubting every inkling of discernment I had in the matter. I was abnormally scared to start a new job, but yet again, taking the risk paid off. Transitioning into my role as associate editor at Who What Wear was the challenge and change I didn’t know I needed.
Selfie of me in NYC while trying to remember why I left sunny and warm Los Angeles.
Thanks to that scary shift, I’ve since been promoted to Who What Wear’s fashion editor, moved to New York to work out of our office here (because the number of dreams I want to chase in my lifetime are never-ending), and gained a work family I value immensely. Moving here has vastly expanded my network and exposed me to an aspect of the industry that wasn’t as readily available to me in L.A. I now get to attend fashion weeks, market appointments, and, oh, did I mention I’m insanely happy? Yeah, that too.
Proof that I’m definitely not a street style star, but I sure can frame a photo of Jenny Walton!
I Made Friends Who Keep Me Sane (and Other Practical Advice)
I don’t care what profession you’re working in—even when you’re obsessed with what you do (which I am!), you can get run down and feel overworked, and without the right support group around you, those feelings can eat you alive. My advice to you is to make friends who keep you grounded, friends who make you laugh when you’re unnecessarily stressed, and friends who motivate you to show up to work on those days when “you literally can’t.”
I’m constantly getting messages on Instagram, LinkedIn or emails from other people who are striving to hear a real story about how someone “made it” in this industry. I love these messages and actually envy most of you who have reached out to myself or others because networking is so much more readily available to you now thanks to social media. Take the risk and reach out to someone you admire, ask the questions you want to ask, and be bold in your pursuit of your dream career.
No one else cares as much about your career as you do. My dad told me that once, and it’s something I’ve taken to heart throughout the years. If you don’t go chasing after what you want, it’s not going to happen. Once you land the job (and I have faith that you will), push yourself even when you won’t get credit for it, be a kind employee and co-worker, and know your worth. Do these things and you’ll reap the benefits of a career that’s fulfilling and gives a meaning to the word “success” that no amount of money will be able to define.