The fashion industry of the 21st century is as diverse as the wears it peddles. Alongside historic haute couture houses, customers can now choose from aspirational start-ups, disruptive e-tailers or cultural vintage brands. As a consumer, it’s liberating to mix-and-match your Cult Gaia Lileth bag with a circa 1995 Naf Naf bomber from Wavey Garms. But if fashion is your career, all that choice can be overwhelming.
Transferable skills are the number one currency when job hunting so it is possible to move from niche start-up to global powerhouse. But you need to be mindful of the skills and experience you’re gaining to ensure that your career goals, work style, and personality align with the companies you are applying for.
So, when it comes to small brand vs. big brand, which should you go for?
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – Flex your skillset
Working for a smaller company allows you to get a 360-degree-view of how a business operates. Smaller teams often need to mobilise the entire workforce to meet a deadline so there is likely to be a lot of cross-pollination across departments. So, if you are a design assistant that has an interest in social media marketing, you could get the opportunity to flex these and help in the running of the social platforms.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – Tighter Teams
These are a big plus, as you can get to know everyone in the company and make some great connections for the future. There is also a strong likelihood that you will be working alongside the leadership teams – whether that’s the founder or the Studio manager. In a Hollywood film, this means that you will get to pitch your million dollar idea to and save the day. In reality, the value is in being able to observe all that they do.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – Autonomy over your work
With fewer management structures in place, the bulk of the responsibility will fall on you. You will have to self-motivate and organise. So you’re more likely to get recognition for your successes. On a small team, you can make a greater impact as you work more independently and will be able to see the direct effect of your role in growing the business.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – Traditional Structure
Linear management and colleagues doing the same job as you. For some people autonomy at work is the ultimate freedom. For others, it’s comforting to share responsibility with a team. Smaller companies offer greater autonomy but you will also be culpable for any errors. Something your line manager would likely deal with in a bigger team.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – Training
Structured training programs can enable you to learn new skills, and in some cases gain a qualification. One of the most common, yet invaluable skills you should take advantage of, if it’s available, is the opportunity to learn a language. During my time in the industry, I have been offered the chance to learn Italian and Swedish, and these are languages that could have seen me at a significant advantage when applying for roles at international brands.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – The Perks
If you’ve never visited a Google head office before, get on LinkedIn now and make friends with someone employed there. From London to Tel Aviv, Google’s staff can enjoy a free staff canteen serving lobster fish pie, or Pad Thai made-to-order, an on-site fitness centre, library style reading room and most importantly the infamous sleep-pods. Most companies may not be as generous, but you can expect they will have the funds and resources to provide benefits that can range from a day off on your birthday, to discounted packages at the local gym, and the all-important annual bonus, that can mean that holiday to Dubai with your girls can be more Burj Khalifa than Airbnb.
Small Brand vs. Big Brand – What’s in a name?
The Power of a well-known global name on your CV can make all the difference. The fashion industry can be a cliquey business, and yes, whilst it should be your experience that shines through, it’s sometimes about the ‘Where’ rather than the ‘What’. Working for the right blue-chip brand could open doors for you even when you are 10 years into your career. It also means less explaining when it comes to recruiters contacting you, as they will have already done their 5-second scan of your CV and it will often be that ‘name’ that made them get in touch to help you move your career to the next step on the ladder.
The rise of social media, online-only retailers and brands selling Direct-to-Consumer have all played a significant role in the democratisation of the fashion industry. Yet, the name still matters, and bigger brands continue to wield considerable clout. So how do you decide between a well-known big brand that you can name drop to progress you through your career in half the time, or a small start-up that can nurture your talent and expedite the growth of your skills base? Take the time to assess what kind of working environment brings out the best in you.
Words by Angela Baidoo