Part III: My First Fashion Job

Posted on | May 12, 2006 | 4 Comments

Thanks for the nice comments about the first part of my series on fashion school. I’m glad you guys are still interested! So here we go onto part 3, my first job.

On May 22, 2002 I graduated at Radio City Music Hall with my BFA degree from FIT. Our guest speaker was Alec Baldwin and Calvin Klein was supposed to show up too, but he got stuck in France. We also had a very nice letter from former President Clinton read to us by the FIT’s president. I even got to walk across the stage to accept my Art and Design medal I won. It was a great day. Everyone was happy and there were many rounds made on the graduation party circuit. But now what?

After a two week much needed vacation, I hit the streets. I used FIT’s career center, WWD (Women’s Wear Daily), and word of mouth to find jobs. I faxed and emailed resumes all day long. I got up early every morning to check for updates on FIT’s website. After a few days, I received a few callbacks and with portfolio in toe, went on my first interviews. It was a little scary, but after two or three I really got the hang of it. Some companies I fit in with, others I didn’t. I was getting a feel for different companies and different areas. I determined I was most comfortable in a smaller, less corporate environment and stuck to applying for jobs in the Juniors area.

One Juniors company really liked me and I was called back for a second area. I ended up getting the job, but there were two problems. I was going to be an Assistant Technical Designer in the cut and sew division of the company. I wanted to be an Assistant Sweater Designer. The other problem was the hours were 8:45am to 6:30pm. That’s a bit more than 8 hours a day!

So I went back to the company where I interned for some advice. Turns out that was the best move I ever made! My old boss gave me a job lead that I could not have gotten from anyone else. I learned early on – never burn bridges in the industry. It is a really small world and you never know who will give you your next job lead.

So I made an appointment for an interview, went up that same day and got the job! I was to be the Assistant Sweater Designer for Dollhouse! It was my dream job and I was just sooooooooo happy.

I started a few days later and did the usual assistant stuff. Sketching, making boards, running errands and buying trims. Because I had a bit of experience from my internship, after a few weeks I started doing specs and designed a few sweaters here and there. A lot of students expect to design straight out of school – and there are a few who do – but everyone has to start at the bottom.

Eventually I took over doing all the specs and production work. The designer was then left to concentrate on designing, plus she hated doing specs. When you are an assistant, you get to do all the things the designer hates to do. Luckily I liked working on specs!

Sadly, about a year and a half after I started, the designer was fired. Another designer was brought in, but even more responsibility fell into my lap now. I was no longer an assistant, but silently promoted to a designer. I say silently because I was not given a raise or clearly told my responsibilities were now to help design. Being promoted without a raise can be a pretty common thing. I didn’t mind because I knew that I was building my resume and I would be even more valuable if and when I decided to leave.

A few months later, I was asked to head up the sweater line for Jou Jou, a cheaper denim line we also owned. I worked strickly with the salesperson to develop the line. One thing that always amazed me was how much input sales had in the design process. Not all companies work the same way and usually a design merchandiser works with design to plan the line. The sales team had a lot of power at dollhouse and we hated it. Salespeople were basically the people in the merchandising program at school. They all wanted to be designers, but they couldn’t draw. Then once they got out into the industry, they just tried their best to make designers lives miserable by controlling what gets put in. Again, it doesn’t happen everywhere, but it’s more common than not.

Then after working on Jou Jou for 6 months, my salesperson quit and I was back on the Dollhouse line. Then a few weeks after that, the other Dollhouse designer quit. They didn’t bother to hire anyone else, so it was just little old me! Here I was 2 years out of school and in charge of a sweater line for a pretty well known brand. I could not have asked for a better career move when I accepted the job just two years before – even though I was severely underpaid. The opportunity for growth made everything worth it.

However, nothing is perfect. After about 2 1/2 years, I got sick of being treated like a second class citizen to the jeans line. Denim had a bigger market and got more attention. I attempted more than once to get the boss on board with the sweater program. I even quit once or twice. Sometimes you need to resort to getting another job before your boss will take you seriously or give you a raise. Sad but true!

But what about all the parties and fashion shows you ask? What about all the fun stuff you see on TV? Well, I did get to experience some of that, but it was a very, very, very small part of the job. My first year there, we did participate in the 7th on Sixth shows (YM Mega Denim) and we did have a cool little show in our showroom the second year. Typically, the fashion show is just a small blip in time. A designer works for months designing, planning, and making sure every detail is right. Then a week or two before the shows, they sometimes work 12-15+ hour days to fit the models, take care of last minute changes, and deal with problems. Then you have your show – 30 minutes and it’s over. It’s really quite crewel actually.

So in my first few years I learned:

1. Sales can be a force stronger than design
2. Design usually gets the short end of the stick even though we do the most work and work the longest hours
3. Creativity? No, it’s the latest knock-offs from Europe
4. Never burn your bridges, you never know who can help you down the line
5. Pick a company where it’s easy to grow
6. Never work for anyone that requires you to be in at 8:45am (by the way, I was hired no less than 3 times for 3 separate positions for this company! I never accepted, but I’m not sure why I kept giving them a second and third chance. They sucked everytime!)

After 3 years at dollhouse, it was time to move on. In Part IV, I’ll discuss how great recruiters can be and the responsibilities of my current designer position. Basically I’d like to give a “typical day in the life of” picture.

Thanks for following along! As always, feel free to email any questions to neoknits AT yahoo DOT com.

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  • Karin

    Hi! This is totally OT – but I smiled when I read your comment. Isn’t it interesting how many “Chicks with Sticks” follow hockey? Maybe it’s the “Guys with Sticks” appeal… . I agree, very weird season, lot’s of upsets – hopefully not my guys ‘tho. Take care

  • Suzie

    I have loved these posts about fashion and your experience at FIT. Really gives me some insight into the whole apparel industry.

  • jonny

    what are people saying about

  • Melissa

    actually I have never heard anything about i usually get all my contacts through recruiters and friends.