Are you dreaming of being a #boss in the fashion industry? Me too. And like me, there are probably a number of fashion movers and shakers that inspire you. No doubt the social media pages of your idols are littered with appearances from their similarly influential friends. Looking from the outside in, it is easy to think that these influential people owe their success to the connections they’ve made and mythical amounts of good fortune. While I won’t deny the value of networking and good old fashioned luck, successful people also possess a strong work ethic and a multitude of skills that make them the leaders they are. So how do we ascend to the dizzying heights of fashion’s elite? I don’t have all the answers, but I have taken note of how some of my idols made it to the big time to give you some key lessons from fashion leaders.
Dream big and know that a positive attitude goes a long way
Natalie Massenet started her e-commerce phenomenon, Net-a-Porter, from the kitchen table of her Chelsea flat. So it definitely wasn’t a reliance on resources that led to her business success. Massanet credits her success to being a positive person. “Success begins at that magical moment when you declare to yourself, your friends, and the universe that you believe you can do something different.”
So having a goal is only the tip of the iceberg. You have to believe you can actually do it. Whether you’re working your way from menial admin tasks in the fashion cupboard or managing fashion week work schedules, be positive. It will help to push you through the tough times on your way to realising your goals. And that’s one of the top tips from fashion bosses.
Know your strengths and understand the value of collaboration
Regardless of whether they are the creative mastermind or the business brains. Successful leaders know to focus on what they’re good at and at the same make effective use of the skills of their team. When Suki Larson left Mckinsey & Co to join Mario Testino+ as CEO, she quickly learnt to trust and depend on her team, having recognised that each member brought a variety of skills to the table. (https://www.businessoffashion.com/articles/careers/4-management-consultants-broke-fashion).
At Joseph Altuzarra’s eponymous label, CEO Karis Durmer steers clear of the creative processes. Instead, she uses her background in financial consulting to project manage and ensure everyone is on the same page. Successful leaders know that they don’t have to do it all. The key is to recognise the skills and talents of others and then to manage all your resources. This will ensure that everyone is working towards the common goal. This is especially important in the fashion industry, where creativity and strong business acumen are needed to create successful commercial enterprises. Knowing where your skills lie and focusing on being great in that area whilst respecting and collaborating with other members of the team will allow you to truly add value to your organisation.
Be prepared to take risks
Successful fashion leaders know that high risks can bring higher rewards. Even in the face of opposition, they are able to envisage the bigger picture and stand by their decisions. Following his appointment, Edward Enninful spearheaded one of the biggest shake-ups in Vogue’s history. His inaugural issue featured Adwoa Aboah on the cover and included pieces on Skepta and John Galliano. On one hand, his decision was met with anger and outrage. On the other, he was applauded for introducing greater diversity and accessibility to one of the icons of the fashion industry.
Caroline Issa left her stable, well-paid job as a management consultant and moved to a whole new city to work for an independent fashion magazine. She didn’t let the uncertainty prevent her from pursuing a career where she could use business knowledge to call the shots in an industry she loves. It’s always difficult to go against the grain, but giving in to fear of criticism or self-doubt will only stand in the way of your achievements.
Self-care is often the first thing to slip when things get hectic. But in looking for lessons from fashion leaders I learnt that you can only give from a full cup. Victoria Beckham manages to squeeze in two workouts before starting her day. Even Anna Wintour gets in a daily workout on the tennis courts as a way to unwind (or in her case, prep for the day. It’s so easy to get lost in the chaos of life, especially when you work in the fast-paced fashion industry. But carving out some “quality me time” is key to keeping you operating at top form. Get started now with our guide to practising daily self-care.
The fashion industry can be a tough landscape to navigate, especially when you’re just starting out, and making it to the top is no walk in the park. Building your network and working hard will take you part of the way. However, being a powerful, strong and savvy leader is about following your instincts, building strong teams and employing your unique skills to forge your career paths. It won’t happen overnight, but these lessons from fashion leaders may get you started. See you at the top!
Words by Martha Ngatchu