Secrets of a Fashion Insider: 5 Ways To Break Into the Biz With Style and Grace

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Model with beautiful curly hair

I am the Customer service and live chat coordinator for Hugo Boss, a part of their E-commerce team. Before working at Boss, I worked at Burberry. During my sophomore year of college, I started in working in fashion as a summer intern at a showroom. Since then, I have worked for various brands by interning and freelancing in PR, eventually making the shift to corporate fashion in customer service.

I love my job because I like to work with people. I love clothes and have a very diverse understanding of how they are made, along with considerable knowledge on clothing quality and styling. I work to provide the Hugo Boss customer service and sales associates the right tools to provide an excellent shopping and customer service experience. Understanding the brand’s customer is an important part of the job—and one that comes easily to me. I like the team I work with, my schedule, and the experience I am gaining. But working in fashion isn’t something that’s easy, per se—I have worked hard. Here are my five rules for breaking into fashion with style and grace.

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Intern, and make an impression.

The best fashion intern knows how to be everything and anything for everyone. Here are some of the tools you need to do such an all-encompassing thing: You need a GPS on your phone for navigating the trains, in order to drop off all the samples you courier from one place to another. You need comfortable, but cute walking shoes. You need to learn to be an Excel wizard. (This will either ruin or run your life.) You also need a thick skin because most people you work with and for won’t necessarily treat with with respect. They will treat you like you’re the hired help when, in fact, you are working for free. Don’t let this stop you. Instead, make the experience worth your while. Work like you want your boss’s job. Learn everything you can and always volunteer to do the harder tasks.

Interning at a showroom, a designer and a PR firm is back breaking and grueling, but it can also pay off. I know how to source fabric and buttons and  I know and understand the production process because of my time served as an intern. I can write a press release, assist with styling, and work with editors. I have assisted in fashion shows and fashion shoots immersing myself in a variety of women’s luxury brands.

You will be poor for a long time, accept it.

At my first job out of college, I made a dollar more than minimum wage while working for a designer. I lived at my parents’ house and always packed a lunch. And it’s not easy. Working in fashion—and being surrounded by beautiful clothes—creates this thing called ML, Materialistic Lust. You will literally lust over clothes. A hot guy will walk by you, but your eyes will only follow his girlfriend’s Fendi shoes as she walks away. You will open a magazine and let out a loud sigh as you gaze at silk Marni culottes that you *wish* you could rock. Your motivation for going to the gym will not only be to get healthy, but to fit into those Hugo Boss leather pants. Almost every item that you ML will be out of your reach that first year or two … or three. Because while most people working in the industry don’t pay full price for clothing, even on a discount, fashion is expensive.

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How to look good living on pennies.

The good news is that you will be purchasing items from the brand you work for at 50 to 60 percent off. The bad news? Those clothes will still be expensive and you will still be poor. In the beginning, you should purchase just one or two items from your brand—and wear the hell out of them. When I worked at Tucker, I only bought Tucker clothes. When I worked at Kate Spade, I bought Kate Spade clothes and so on. Grow your wardrobe over time. In-between building your wardrobe, Asos.com, Topshop, Urban Outfitters and H&M, padded with vintage store finds can give you that filet mignon look on a McDonald budget. One of the best and smartest things to do is to always stay friends with people at different brands you worked with or the girl you interned with that now works at Marc Jacobs. Chances are she wants something from your brand too, and you can share your discount.

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Don’t listen to or become a horrible boss.

Fashion is a materialistic and appearance-based field. It is very much about what you have and what you look like. You often end up working with or for people who are making decisions based on what you have and what you look like. It is not their fault that they drank the Kool-Aid of the fashion world. It could happen to you.

And it’s ugly. I’ve worked with my share of these Kool-Aid drinkers. I must confess that because of them, I have cried at work more than once, especially in the beginning. I have cried on the train on the way to meetings. I have cried at my desk, and I have ugly cried while eating a piece of cheesecake in the office kitchen. The only way to deal with a mean fashion diva boss is to be confident in your skills and work hard. Stand up for yourself in the sweetest way that you can. Kill them with kindness. We do not raise our voices in fashion. We do not use bad language. Instead, the meanies give shade and backhanded compliments. Always be the positive person; people will remember it.

Smiling African American Woman

Know who you are and stay humble.

I always knew that I wanted to work in fashion. I am creative, a people person and I have my own personal style. Clothes are an expression of one’s self. I need a suede blue leather dress to wear to the supermarket and I wear furs on a casual Saturday afternoon to the movies. I know what I like to wear. I believe in my point of view, and I have genuine interest in e-commerce and customer service. I am the ultimate online consumer. Half of my wardrobe has been shipped to my home. It is easy for me to ensure that our customers will receive great service because of the many roles I have played in the fashion industry.

I started out wanting to do PR, but I realized the hours and intense environment weren’t for me. I gravitated toward customer service because I excell at understanding a brand, I know quality and I work well with a variety of people. In Customer service, I started out in a call center at Burberry before becoming a chat specialist at Hugo Boss. I began as a freelancer, then after less than a year, I was hired full time as the customer service and live chat coordinator. I believe I was hired full-time because I finally started to love what I do. I worked hard, listened, learned and made an impression on the people I work with. Know who you are and stay humble. Sometimes even I have to remind myself of that. At the end of the day, we are in meetings talking about styles and fits, not hearts and lungs. I’m not saving lives!

Fashion is hard to break into and it’s hard to maintain a place within the industry. There is the pressure to stay relevant, not just with your clothes and appearance, but also with your ideas. What innovative ideas can you bring to the table? Be fabulous, have great taste, be a positive person, but most of all, be intelligent and focused.

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