A few years ago attended a talk called ‘Thriving in the Fashion Industry’ where I decided I would be brave and speak to one of the panellists. I was looking to make my next career move and she had mentioned that she’d worked at one of my dream companies. So, I put on my big girl pants and introduced myself. Full of optimism because I just knew she would pass on all her contacts and I would be able to say deuces to my boss on Monday. I couldn’t have been more wrong, because what she actually did was stop me in my tracks. Forcing me to reevaluate my entire concept of ‘career progression’.
Let me explain; I approached her and I recited my well-rehearsed speech. In brief, it was what I did and that I would love to work for my dream company, as she had done previously. I had my phone ready for her to tap in the details of the Head of Design, the HR Director, and the code to the rooftop terrace. Instead, she listened patiently and then asked me “Aside from your current role, how else are you engaged with the creative industries?”. It may not have been what I wanted to hear, but it’s what I needed to hear. The cold, hard truth is that no one is going to just hand you his or her little black book of contacts. A book that they’ve likely worked years, maybe even decades to cultivate.
This advice gave me the wake-up call and motivation I needed at that point in my career. I had to really ask myself WTF was I doing to be visible and build a network. Honestly, outside of my day job, the answer was ‘not much’. After the event and a follow-up email thanking her for all her advice, I decided to dedicate myself to ‘engaging with my industry’. It was up to me to get off my arse and make things happen.
That’s my story but what are you doing to break out of your 9-5 bubble? Attending industry events to soak up free drinks whilst chatting with the colleagues you came with doesn’t count. If the answer is nothing, then here are my top 3 tips on engaging with your industry. All of which were inspired by my pep talk from said panellist:
Volunteer as an Alumni Member
You’ve been told time and again to find a mentor because they can help push you to be better. Case in point; Oprah was mentored by the late, great Maya Angelou. Getting a mentor is a no-brainer but have you considered becoming one yourself? Whether you have 12 months or five years under your belt, there are plenty of people who could benefit from your experience. Helping someone else with their career progression is the most rewarding way to broaden your CV. Your role as a mentor could range from helping someone navigate requesting a pay rise to something as simple as proofreading their CV. Being an informed and engaged sounding board can make a significant difference in another person’s career. I became a mentor by approaching my former university. They ran a program that set me up with 1-2 students to coach a year, some of whom still seek me out for advice. Many colleges and universities are looking for alumni with industry knowledge to support students. So get in touch with yours ASAP.
Look for ways to Become a Contributor
Don’t wait for a call from Dazed magazine to kickstart your career progression as a stylist. Make your social media platform work for you. Do some professional self-promoting rather than scrolling for hours on end. Social media platforms are pretty saturated so it’s no longer enough to simply post your work and hope someone will like it. So PYT kindly put together some great pointers for career-proofing your Instagram.
Whatever your specialism, there are a myriad of ways to find opportunities. For budding writers, Victoria’s Secret model Leomie Anderson’s platform – LAPP The Brand – has a dedicated submissions section where you can pitch your ideas for articles. If you are a photographer trying to break into the Street Style phenomena, consider your unique perspective. Instagram is flooded with womenswear looks daily. But menswear street style lacks a consistent resource for directional imagery outside of fashion week. You could fill this void by attending events like Sneaker Con in London and building influencer relationships fore fresh and regular content.
Attend Targeted Events
In all honesty, attending after-work networking events is a job in itself. More often than not, I would rather be at home in my PJs with a cheese toastie. But they really are the best place to build industry relationships outside of your workplace. To stay motivated to attend, I mix it up with talks from Fashion industry experts on subjects that will broaden my skills. The Eventbrite app is my go-to for finding talks in and around my industry. Such as a ‘Money Confidence’ workshop with the Get To Know collective and a ‘Confident and Killing It’ event from life coach Tiwalola.
TOP TIP: Go solo, wear something bold and sit front row. Going it alone will push you to strike up a conversation. Being visible will get you noticed by the panellists. Ta-dah, you now have access to the experts you most admire. So ask questions, introduce yourself and try to give them your card. I was able to build a relationship with my own industry heroines this way. Read more essential PYT networking tips here.
My whole mindset and career path changed as a result of a few simple words. I was inspired to be more consistent in supporting others, attending relevant events and networking. In making these changes to how I viewed my working life, everything finally shifted. Beforehand I would occasionally share a post on LinkedIn and comment on Vogue’s Instagram once a month. I am now a regular panellist alongside industry experts from Nike and Net-a-Porter. As well as becoming a prominent alumnus of the London College of Fashion. Through which I was able to help secure a role for my mentee with a major designer brand in New York. This remains one of my proudest professional moments. Graduates and young professionals continue to reach out to me for advice on their own career progression. Inspiring me with their own creativity and enthusiasm.
One simple question got me to where I am today. So now I’m asking you; “how have you engaged with your creative industry today?”
Words by Angela Baidoo