Fashion Wasn't My First Career—Here's How I Made the Change
Truth be told, I didn’t grow up, or even go to college, with the intention of working in fashion. Unlike most of the other kids in Baton Rouge, Louisiana (where I’m from), I didn’t play sports. I was a theatre kid. That’s not to say I wasn’t interested in fashion. I spent many hours at the mall and reading fashion magazines from the get-go, but given that it was the early ages of the internet back then (yep, I’m already dating myself), that was as far as my interest in fashion reached at the time. So, long story short, I went off to college in Pittsburgh, got a degree in musical theatre, and moved to New York City quickly after graduation. After doing the wide-eyed aspiring actress thing for a couple of years, I realised that my childhood dream wasn’t exactly all that I’d hoped it would be IRL. Stay with me here…
Toward the end of a 12-hour day as an entertainment industry assistant, circa 2013.
Long story short part two, I began interning for film and TV casting directors in New York before deciding to move to Los Angeles to seek full-time employment in the entertainment industry, which I felt aligned with my background and degree, at least somewhat. I landed a job as the second assistant to a talent manager and then the executive assistant to the president of a television studio. If I do say so myself, I was a very good assistant, but I was having trouble seeing beyond that. It’s beyond difficult to get promoted in the entertainment industry, especially if you lack a clear vision of what you want to do.
Taken on my last day of work as an entertainment assistant, circa April 2014.
The hours were very long at the studio, and I found myself scrolling through fashion blogs and other fashion sites any chance I could, but the first one I looked at every morning was Who What Wear. Everything from the shopping recommendations to the outfit ideas to the celebrities the site featured was just perfect to me.
During the spring of 2014, after five years as an entertainment industry assistant, I wasn’t really looking for a new job, but I knew I needed to figure out my next move. At the time, job openings at Who What Wear were actually posted on the site, right next to stories about Olivia Palermo and skinny jeans. I came across an opening to be the executive assistant to Who What Wear’s CEO and co-founder, Katherine Power, and the position also required that the person write four Who What Wear stories a week. On a huge whim, I applied. Much to my surprise, very soon after, Katherine’s then assistant, Kat Collings (our current editor in chief, with whom I was very familiar at the time from her Who What Wear stories), reached out to me to schedule an interview.
Who What Wear interview number one outfit (don’t worry,—I located the other shoe).
Yes, I documented my interview blowout.
I had never even been to an interview for a fashion job and had no idea what to expect, but I knew that my lack of experience in the industry meant I had to really go above and beyond for the interview. I wore my favorite Zara top, Mansur Gavriel bucket bag, and Valentino Rockstud shoes (it was 2014, after all) and arrived at Who What Wear’s headquarters armed with a list of story ideas that I’d be interested in writing if given the chance. Just for the record, I still remember what Kat wore too: a white graphic T-shirt with something fittingly cool printed on it, and a black pencil skirt.
Taken post-2 a.m. after many, many hours of hard work on my Who What Wear edit test, which I brought along to my second interview.
Who What Wear interview number two outfit. (I still have that animal-print Equipment shirt.)
After my initial interview with Kat, I was asked to come back to also meet with Katherine, for which I was asked to bring a completed edit test. I guess my very thorough pitches on Alexa Chung and cobalt blue were well received because I got the job that changed my career forever.
Kat, who is, I’m happy to report, my boss all these years later, recently gave me this feedback: “I knew when I interviewed Ally that she was the right candidate, even though her résumé didn’t have fashion experience. She took it upon herself to come to the interview with a binder of story ideas (something that was not requested), and her passion for the field and determination became clear.” She added this sage advice: “Look for ways to go above and beyond like Ally did because it will only help you stand out. In general, I think hiring managers are becoming more open to looking beyond a résumé, which is good news for candidates looking to make a switch.”
My situation is certainly unique, but isn’t everyone’s? It’s not surprising to me that many among us don’t enter (or leave) college knowing exactly what they want to do for the rest of their lives. I, for one, didn’t figure it out until eight years later. Aside from a couple of retail jobs during college, I had zero experience with anything having to do with fashion or editorial or digital media—not even internships, as most of my co-workers did (read the career stories of Kristen Nichols, Lauren Eggertsen, and Anna LaPlaca).
Living my best North Carolina life, circa 2018.
To add to my non-linear path, I left L.A. three years ago for Raleigh, North Carolina, for my now husband’s job. It was tough to leave my co-workers and my position as Katherine's assistant but since then, I’ve been able to work remotely as a Who What Wear editor (thanks to Kat, once again!), continuing in my non-traditional career path. I frequently get asked how I made a successful career switch almost a decade past college graduation and how to break into the fashion industry when you don’t live in New York or L.A.
To be honest, I don’t have a cut-and-dried answer, since my circumstances would be hard to replicate, but I will say that since fashion is an ever-evolving business these days, and so much of it lives online, allowing for some creativity. Although having one certainly doesn’t hurt, I’m proof that you don’t necessarily have to have a degree in it or even an internship. Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to contact people at companies you aspire to work at. Seconding Kat’s advice, I’d say it’s crucial to do something distinctive to show that you have a special skillset that you can bring to the table and be confident in, even if you lack applicable experience. You may have to be willing to make a lateral move or even take a title or pay cut, but you’ll be happier in the long run. No risk, no reward, right?
With the lovely Who What Wear U.S. and UK teams this summer.
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