Education career guide

Career Guide: Education vs Experience in the Fashion Industry

Ever since we were young, our parents, teachers and practically everyone we know has been telling us that getting into college is the only option towards a successful career path. However, things have changed dramatically over the last decade and creative professions like the ones related to fashion are usually more defined by practical skills rather than the theoretical knowledge of a specific topic.

Obviously, education does matter and some of the best universities specialising in fashion studies focus on both theory and practice to equip us with the skills needed for the job. So how does one choose between opting for a degree and filling up their CV with internships? Ultimately, is it possible to combine both?

As far as I’m concerned, when it comes to getting your dream job, both education and experience are important. It’s just a matter of how you decide to put to practice what you’ve learned either as a student or as an employee. So if we look at this objectively, it’s only fair to acknowledge the qualities of both aspects:

Choosing the Right Career Path

Finishing school, you should have a clear view of what you want to do in life; or so they say. Personally, when I applied to colleges, I found it pretty intimidating and nearly impossible to decide how I’d like to spend the rest of my life. Maybe it’s just me, but I think it’s really hard to fully understand how jobs work when you’re only 17 or 18 years old. Some of you may have had a number of summer jobs by then, which might have given you an idea; but still, it’s not the real thing. It’s just a small stage preparing you for the ‘grown-up’ world.

Which brings me to my point: how am I supposed to decide what to study if I don’t know what to do with my life? (Or even with myself?!) If you are one of those lucky people, though, who already know, then by all means make that choice and apply to the college of your dreams – and maybe you should apply to some more, in case something goes wrong!

When it comes to fashion, education will certainly provide you with the technical skills needed to develop your talents. Sure, creative professions are all about inspiration, but you’ll need a boost to make it shine. Especially if you want to become a fashion designer or photographer, you must have the expertise that comes with knowledge and practice. If you’re a self-starter, then you might as well figure it out on your own. Remember, though, that professors will always have something more to offer from the specialist’s point of view.

Developing Your Talents: Education

Furthermore, life as an undergraduate can open up a whole new world for you, one that serves as a little preview of the career that lies ahead. Opportunities may even come from within the uni, giving you the chance to showcase your work and get feedback not only from professors but also from employers.

That’s why I strongly believe that education is still important in every dream you wish to fulfill. However, this doesn’t stop you from combining your studies with a three-month internship or a small placement, for example, probably through an unpaid role. You can then put your knowledge to practice and get a small glimpse of the way that your degree would be translated into a job.

But even if you realise that you haven’t made the right choice as a teenager, you can always change your career path by doing a Master’s course. Take it from me: if, by obtaining my law degree, I had compromised with spending the rest of my life writing law suits, I would have never applied for a Master’s degree in journalism. And I’m glad I changed my mind, even after four years of studying something that wasn’t right for me. You have to remember that it’s never too late; you can study whatever you want, whenever you want. And don’t think about the money too much; especially for fashion, there are countless seminars and training courses which could actually get you where you want to be without draining you financially.

Gaining Valuable Work Experience

So what about work? We’ve all heard horror stories about how you can’t find a job if you haven’t previously had some kind of work experience. I find this to be extremely contradictory and I’m sure you’ll agree with me. How am I supposed to find a job if you’re not willing to offer me the work experience?

To a certain extent, I’ve now come to understand this rule. It’s really impossible to land the job of your dreams in your first role so what you need to do is start small and apply to jobs where people would actually give you a chance without asking for any previous work experience. I don’t mean to sound pessimistic, but you’ll find that these jobs are not that many. Nevertheless, if you’ve got the skills needed for a role (and maybe the education mentioned above to back it up), then why wouldn’t you find an internship? It would probably be unpaid and very demanding but enough to get you started.

So I believe experience is important, especially in the fashion industry. If you want to become a stylist, for example, it would be useful to work as a stylist’s assistant, maybe part-time, or do a fashion cupboard internship; if you’re lucky, they might also agree to pay your travel expenses. I know it sounds harsh, which is why it would be best to start with such a placement while you’re at uni with your parents still supporting you.

Make or Break your Career: Internships

Otherwise, you could always find a regular paid job that’s not relevant to what you want to do and follow your (unpaid) dream on the side. That way, you make enough money to survive until your first big break comes up. The only thing that’s certain is that experience always pays off. Even if you don’t have a hundred diplomas to back it up, employers will value the hard work you’ve put into everything you’ve done and sooner or later you’ll find the job you desire. Of course, I’m not saying you should rule out the possibility of landing your dream (paid) job right from the start, but that’s rare, so you should look at things more realistically. Chances are your first job will look something like this:

But don’t be afraid; either way, in fields like fashion journalism or fashion design, having some work experience will open many doors for you and there are employers who will value it even more than a prestigious university.

All things considered, education does not rule out experience or vice versa. You simply have to achieve a happy medium, the one that will help you acquire all the theoretical and practical skills needed for the job. And if you have a university degree but you find yourselves caught up in the vicious cycle of ‘no experience leads to no job which leads to no experience’ and so on, don’t despair; start small, share your talents with anyone who’s willing to use them (even for free) and remain optimistic. As our parents would say, no talent ever goes to waste and that’s the way I’d like to see it myself.


For more information on finding a job within the fashion industry,  click here.

* Picture: Cara Delevingne, image courtesy of Flickr

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