Changing jobs can be scary: “What do I wear? Will I get on with people? How will I remember everybodies names?”. Changing career path is ten times scarier. But sometimes a career change is exactly what you need to find a role that interests and challenges you.
It’s hard to imagine any two careers that are as different from each other as law and fashion. Yet I somehow managed to make the switch from one to the other. I’d been interested in fashion since a secondary school fashion module in art class but my route into fashion was far from direct.
I had always been very academic and chose to study for a degree in law. Partly because I knew it would provide a comfortable lifestyle should I practice or transferable skills if I opted for a different profession. I thoroughly enjoyed my law degree. Learning about the technicalities of contracts, murder charges and property ownership was interesting, but EU law, not so much.
Connecting the dots…
While doing work experience, the business side of law piqued my interest. I only wished the subject matter wasn’t so dry. Have you ever tried to read a 65-page service contract? On the flip side, our lecturers insisted we build commercial awareness to secure a graduate job in corporate law. While my friends had their noses in the tech and financial sections, I was flipping to the luxury goods and retail sections to see what business moves my favourite fashion brands were making. Through reading publications like The Financial Times for my law degree I realised that my interests lay in fashion as a business. Cue my first steps towards changing career path.
Fledgeling PR Girl
The fashion industry is full of successful women who didn’t study fashion related courses at degree level. Think Natalie Massanet, Shiona Turini and Michelle Huiban. So I like to think that I’m in good company but a non-fashion background can be a hurdle in the beginning. Despite applying for jobs with many of the big high street brands, my “big break” came via a friend. He was working for a small PR firm and knew of an opportunity with an emerging luxury menswear brand. He passed on my CV and put in a good word. I was interviewed and secured a three-month marketing and PR internship. Within two months I had been made a full-time employee.
Finding My Niche
Though I loved being in fashion, I realised that finding work that you’re passionate about is a personal and winding journey. I felt like my strengths lay in the analytical and strategic skills I had developed during my law degree. Skills I just wasn’t using in marketing and PR! Luckily, working in a small company meant I was able to see how different parts of the business worked. Through those interactions, I soon realised I wanted to be more involved in planning, forecasting and analysing. I wanted a role where I could really see the impact of my decisions on the profitability and, ultimately, the success of the company. I did some research on possible job roles and discovered merchandising. It was a perfect fit!
Becoming a Master of Merchandising
I was fortunate to have made a friend through The Junior Network who referred me for my current Merchandising Assistant (MA) role. I work closely with buyers, so I’m able to be involved in the fashion side of the business but my main job is to analyse our products’ performance through sales figures and profit reports. Even at entry level, the decisions I make (under supervision, of course) impact how much profit my department and the company as a whole makes. Later on, there will be opportunities to build ranges, forecast sales targets and plan departmental strategy.
My career path seems haphazard at first glance. On a closer look, each step I took genuinely prepared me for the next. I learned how to synthesise and analyse large amounts of complex information and use that to support decisions through studying Law. During my stint in Marketing and PR, I learned how to build and manage relationships. Both experiences prepared me for the analysis needed in merchandising, except we use numbers instead of legal precedents, and liaising with suppliers as an MA.
Changing career path has already taught me so much about myself. By getting stuck into the industry and maximising the opportunities available to me, I’ve learned what I truly value in a career. It has also helped me to develop the confidence and the courage to trust my instincts and forge my own path. It really is terrifying – there will definitely be times where you feel overwhelmed and moments where you question yourself – but you cannot let fear and self-doubt stop you. It’s crazy to think that you should know what you want to do at 18, it’s even crazier to limit yourself by a choice you made at 18. So do yourself a favour and make that jump you’ve been dying to make!
Words by Martha Ngatchu