How Working at a Small Company Opens Big Opportunities


How Working at a Small Company Opens Big Opportunities

Hannah's internship experience helped her select the right company over the biggest name.
How working at a small company opens big opportunity
Image: Style Counsel

Working as a Fashion Editor and Community Manager at the age of 22, the age old adage ‘Experience is the best teacher’ is an accurate depiction of Hannah Rafter’s career journey. Having completed over 5 internships and worked freelance within the fashion industry before graduating from University, Hannah approached her career goals in a tactful and strategic manner whilst on a journey of discovering her true potential and developing a strong sense of self. Here she explains how her experience at the world’s largest brands and agencies landed her a big role at Style Counsel, a small fashion tech start-up.

One year of internships

I studied Fashion Management at Nottingham Trent on a BA sandwich degree, allowing me the opportunity to complete a year in industry as an intern. I credit my tutors for the mindset they instilled in all of us on the course. They were really great in stressing that our learning experiences didn’t stop in the lecture hall, which is so important. Not many Universities drill that into their students.

Thankfully, I was already eager to taste the real working world. My very first internship happened during the summer of my first year with Emilia Wickstead, while she was still starting out. I worked as her assistant over fashion week and then a few fashion weeks after that. 

During my full intern year, I started at L.K.Bennett, in their PR and Marketing department. I was tasked with working on the lookbook, store events, talking to editors and the complete organisation of press days. I’m still very good friends with the L.K.Bennett team now, we gelled really quickly which is very important as an intern. They trusted me and I was awarded more responsibility, never once did they make feel like an ‘intern’. My work there involved starting a new social media campaign, where we’d go to bloggers and models houses, dress them and take great images. It was a classic blogger initiative but something I was apart of at the very beginning and it’s still something they do now.

After that, I wanted to get some writing experience so I went to Drapers magazine as part of their fashion features team. My main responsibilities were conducting interviews for the magazine, speaking to industry professionals, as well as local businesses.

After Drapers I went to the Starworks Group (SWG), who I’d never heard of until I’d googled them properly and realised all the amazing brands they look after. I worked across all the brands during their fashion week shows or presentations – stressful but amazing! Based on getting really friendly with the wider teams, not just the PR team I was interning for, they picked me as one of 10 (bare in mind they were all full-time staff and I was the only intern) to work with the VIP team on the Elle Style Awards.

The year was progressing so nicely and I had another internship secured in New York, leaving a little bit of a gap which I filled with a stint at French Connection. The marketing department was small and the day-to-day tasks were so hands on. A key highlight was working across the whole Anthony Joshua campaign. Notably, It was during my time here that I really crafted the skill of working with bloggers.

Moving to New York for a few months after that was special. I worked for a company called PRC (PR Consulting), the number one agency in America! Again, I strategically worked on the lifestyle accounts because I’d found out that those brands sponsored NYFW and that way I’d almost have guaranteed access.

“When I was planning my internship year, I was very strategic in what I selected.
I wanted to go in-house, designer, high street and agency.
That wasn’t luck, it was a plan.”

Confidence creates opportunity

I would definitely attribute my confidence to why I’ve always been treated as a regular colleague and not just an intern. I wouldn’t say I was extremely confident in my knowledge of the industry at the time, in that sense I was just a regular intern. But I have confidence in who I am as a person.

Growing up my parents always encouraged me to voice my opinion, which really let me know that my point of view was important. As the head teacher of a school, my Mum was the breadwinner of our family. She taught me that a woman can be smart, advanced and can speak up in a conversation. I’ve alway carried this sensibility, even if I was left alone in the room with a Director, I felt confident enough to hold my own in a conversation.

It’s also very important to discern the office environment and know when to reign it in. 9am on a Monday morning probably isn’t the best time to bring the fullness of your personality. But when it’s Thursday drinks and everyone is in a great mood, allow your personality to shine.

A lot of people struggle to land internships but I had to plan my year in advance. I didn’t want to risk having huge gaps between each one and panicking about what will come next. Securing Emilia Wickstead during the summer of my first year at Uni, put me in good standing to plan and apply for positions during my internship year. People within the industry immediately respected her name.

Although the Starworks Group internship was the 3rd one I took on during the internship year, I secured it first based on the fact that the girl that interviewed me was a huge fan of Emilia’s brand. She was also impressed by the fact that I had worked at a smaller brand, instead of making the obvious choice to chase a big brand.

Landing PRC was a complete spin. I knew I wanted to go to New York so I researched my top ten companies and decided that if I got one I’d be silly not to take the opportunity! It was a complete gamble, so I faced it with a go big or go home approach. Using LinkedIn, I messaged all the account directors/PR managers/marketing directors, hoping that I’d get some interviews through it.

Bradley from PRC, who ended up being my manager, replied and was like “Hey, do you want to chat tomorrow on Skype?” We did and I got the internship the very next day. Moving to New York took everything up a few levels. I lived in Brooklyn heights, which I’d compare to Notting Hill, absolutely stunning and not an interns life at all! I stayed in student accommodation as they were empty for the summer, another great tip on how to survive as an intern. It wasn’t cheap-cheap, it wasn’t my own flat and I wasn’t Carrie Bradshaw but it was amazing. I would definitely separate living in New York and working in New York, they were two life-changing experiences and I came back a completely different person. I turned 21 whilst I was out there and my new mindset meant I approached the final year of my University course in a different way.

 “You can learn a lot from University,
but what that can’t teach you about is who you are as a person,
how you want to grow or provide you a confidence level in your career.”

From Intern to Employee

When I got back from New York, I started the ‘Intern 247’ blog and off the back of that I was approached by Style Counsel to freelance with them a couple times a week, all whilst finishing off my final year at Uni. I didn’t even hand over a CV, my blog completely spoke for my work.

After graduation, I didn’t expect Style Counsel to keep me on and started applying for jobs in the PR and Marketing field. I was also very open in letting my boss know that I was interviewing for other places – I hadn’t just completed 4 years of Uni and internships to be unemployed so I kept my options open. To my surprise, one morning I was called into a meeting by the CEO and she offered me a full-time position as Fashion Editor and Community Manager.

Style Counsel is a fashion app, where women can get feedback on outfit choices from other women and fashion bloggers. You create a profile, upload possible outfits and receive instant feedback. It can be anything from a mirror selfie as you get ready, a screenshot from ASOS or if you simply see something in a store you like – anything that you’d upload under the hashtag ‘style help’.

Normally an upload will be accompanied by the question “Should I get this?”. The app will then collate a percentage answer of Yes’ and No’s and our approved stylists will leave their detailed feedback.

What’s very important is that you can select who you want to be able to see the images. We have dedicated stylists and approved influential names that work on the app as your personal stylist and style guru.  They’re also the only ones that can comment on the app. It’s a very serious measure we put a lot of consideration into to stop trolling and internet bullying.

Your title is not the be-all-and-end-all off of a job but it really speaks on your behalf. I’ve skipped so many conventional job titles and become a manager straight away but having gone to a small company they 100% trusted that my intern experience covered all the bases. There are several obvious differences from being an intern and being a manager. One of the main ones is being in charge of a team, I have a junior fashion editor under me, interns and student ambassadors.

Had I have gone to a bigger company I would have never been given so much responsibility, neither would my internship experience have held such weight. The rest of the team are incredible and have come from places like Facebook, Netflix and Groupon but I’m the girl with the most fashion experience which means a lot.

One of the noticeable differences when working for a small company or a start-up, of which Style Counsel is both, is that you completely own your role and have creative freedom. Whereas at larger companies there are some many sign offs and there’s always someone above you to own it more.

Overall, I’m very happy with where all my experience has landed me. The very obvious choice would have been for me to go and work at Net-a-Porter but I’m 22, have nothing to lose and everything to gain. I’m not being underpaid, I don’t hate my job and I’m constantly gaining experience. You can spend so long walking the conventional path, where you’re missing out on the other possibilities. You need to remember every huge fashion company started somewhere, so you shouldn’t turn down the opportunity to join a company at the very beginning. ASOS started with 14 employees! What’s really important is that I said ‘yes’ to this new challenge and I have no regrets.

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