Sarah Says: So…Your Teen Wants to be in Fashion.
"Hi Sarah, my teenager is graduating high school next year and has expressed wanting to go to fashion school after. From your experience in fashion, and as a mother, what advice can you give me? Is this a wise choice?"
“On their first day, I asked my class who their design influences were, and nobody, not a single student, could come up with a name.”
This, from an exasperated friend who teaches the history of design at a well known fashion school. It is but one of several anecdotes I’ve heard from industry veterans, alarmed by the insurgence of seemingly ignorant youth into the fashion field. To be fair, not being able to single out a design influence is not a precursor to one’s inability to become a designer, but with the gift of the internet, shouldn’t a student who has chosen to enter a specialized course have at least one household name to offer?
Another colleague in Manila shares a similar story, but in this version, the students are asked to name their favorite local Filipino designers. The only name that comes up is that of Rajo Laurel. When asked, “Why is Rajo your favorite?” the students bring up Project Runway Philippines, a show on which Rajo was a celebrity judge. When asked, ultimately, why they want to become designers, the reasons are often similar: they want to dress up local celebrities Kathryn Bernardo, Liza Soberano, Kim Chiu.
It turns out that for many, becoming a designer or stylist is a plausible path to becoming famous—by association.
My advice, therefore, is, if your teen wants to pursue fashion — FIGURE OUT WHY.
Why fashion, and why now?
For some, the path is a clear and unsurprising one; an interest in clothes or sketching may have been evident from an early age. Some teens find fashion to be a cross-section of artistic and technical skills, which can be exciting for someone that shows an inclination for both structure and unbridled creativity. But if the interest seems relatively new, and you have a feeling it may be a phase, let’s take a moment to consider your child’s influences.
The world of Instagram allowed celebrity gazers across the globe to zero in and click their way through to their idol du jour’s entourage, catapulting many figures in fashion out of the depths of their ateliers and into the spotlight. The once glory-less job of stylist, for example, has emerged as a seemingly glamorous position to aspire towards (having worked with stylists for twenty years, I assure you that the glamor accounts for a mere 10% of the total work experience).
Another possibility is that the world of fast fashion has created in-roads for your teen to be exposed to more trends than ever before, piquing an interest in considering clothing as a thrilling career option.
Who does your child follow online? Who does your child spend time with in real life? When they dress up themselves or others, is there an element of imagination and creation there or is it more of a replication of current trends? If the desire to pursue fashion has telltale signs that this might be purely revved by external inspiration, listen up.
Trends are a function of the industry, so adhering to them, or drawing inspiration from them is not ultimately an issue. There is, however, an element of needing to draw power from the inside. Fashion, in nearly all of its iterations, is a grueling and often thankless job. The amount of internal motivation and passion it takes to make it past year one, year three, and year five (about how long it takes to actually properly establish a presence and become lucrative in the industry) is no joke. If your child is excited by the prospect of being in fashion full-time, try to gauge how they’ll fare for half a decade of close to zero income and some really tough competition. Is the passion there? Because when things get tough, and they will, that love for designing, or styling, or buying, or selling, absolutely has to be present to make it through.
That being said, there are many jobs in and around fashion that maximize all kinds of skill sets, from technical, to creative, to managerial. Here are a handful of definitions and branches of the industry that might help you figure out if fashion is the world for you.
Designer — The creative mind behind a collection, the designer has to often balance being a visionary, having the technical skill to construct their vision, and possessing enough business acumen to properly price their creations and remain profitable. Designers can be independent, or engaged by bigger brands to design for them.
Design House — Also referred to as the atelier, this is the organization that surrounds an individual designer. Departments may include individuals or groups dedicated to creating the garments (production), distributing the garments (sales and marketing), and keeping the whole ship running (administration). A design house may or may not be a business invested in by outside financiers.
Stylist — An individual who is responsible for creating a total fashion look, using garments that they have sourced (i.e. bought/borrowed/had made by designers, brands, or stores). A stylist is often engaged by a celebrity, an advertising or production house, a brand (for in-house purposes, campaign shoots, or fashion shows), or a publication. Many successful stylists establish a roster of junior stylists that work with them, to be able to cover more ground. These style houses are run similarly to an agency, often with a booker or in-house manager keeping things flowing smoothly.
Retail — Once garments hit stores, they fall into the realm of retail. Jobs in this branch of the industry are similar to that of an atelier, but often with more positions and more accountability. Working, for example, for a brand like Michael Kors in the Philippines will mean you are responsible for fulfilling duties for the local franchise holder, as well as your international principal. Merchandising, accounts, marketing, logistics and administration are some of the fields within retail.
Editorial — Pertaining to publications, print or digital, joining the editorial world of fashion often falls into the standard positions within a magazine; from editor to creative director, art director to publisher, the jobs in this sector of fashion are often dedicated to telling stories about fashion and her personalities, or using fashion creations to tell those stories in photograph form.