The Harsh Truth About The Fashion Industry, Is It Right For You?

A lot of people come to me for my coaching services + are looking for help in realising their fashion ‘dream’. This usually involves designing clothes they love, promoting them with glossy photos on Instagram + becoming fashion world famous, which to a lot of people involves lots of shopping, front row seats at fashion week + parties. I hate to burst people’s bubble, but at the same time I’m a realist + people come to me for my insight, so in the best interests of the client, I often have a bit of a reality check with them. In this post, I’m going to explore some of the common misconceptions of the fashion industry, some of the lesser know + ‘unglamorous’ sides of the business + also help you try + figure out if it’s for you. Each role in the industry comes with different pro’s + con’s + I’ll cover each of these in a future post. For now, let’s look at the industry as a whole;

Misconception number 1; Fashion professionals go to lots of fashion shows

Let’s think about this one logically. If you have a fashion brand, would you invite your competitors to your show, so they can see what you’re doing? Of course not! As a fashion designer or business owner, it’s very unlikely you’ll be going to any fashion shows. They’re invite only + places are limited, so brands only ask the media, buyers + essentially anyone who is likely to put money in their pocket, or direct others with money to them. Fashion shows, sadly, aren’t a spectator sport. In recent years there has been a rise in ticketed fashion shows, these are fun to go to if you fancy it, but are by no means an industry event. In my 13 year career in the fashion industry, I’ve worked over 50 fashion shows, but have attended only 2 as a guest. Both of which were a kind twist of fate; the first was a chance meeting of a member of the Alex Perry team in Australia, the second with Burberry creative director Christopher Bailey, who visited the same University I attended (he’s from the area originally). Aside from those 2 experiences, my view of fashion shows has been the stressful backstage area, doing damage control which has included sewing garments onto models, gluing them into shoes + many, many staples.


Misconception 2; When I’ve ‘made it’ I can design whatever I want

That would be nice, but sadly no. Sure, you could start designing whatever you’d like, if you wanted to, but the chances are that this wouldn’t be good for business. For example, let’s look at a large retailer I worked for. In the design team, we loved coming up with exciting new concepts and trying new things. We always made an effort to show some new + exciting styles in the collection. The press generally loved them, but the customer response was often lukewarm. Our bestsellers were the basics, classic styles that we had made for years. This is often the case – people have limited funds + often choose the practical items over the extravagant ‘will be worn once’ items. Not very exciting for the designer, but we have to work towards a profitable range.  You may have also read in Wednesdays post about things that we have to consider as designers. These considerations of commercial viability, how the garment will be made + sold will always have to be followed if we want to have a profitable business.

Misconception 3; When I’m the boss, I can just do the fun stuff

Erm, no. While I’ll admit I am somewhat of a control freak + take on more tasks than I should, there’s a lot of boring, but important decisions to be made + I don’t want someone else having that much control over my company. If you own a fashion brand you’ll have a lot of seemingly dull tasks to do that you’d probably love to hand over to someone else, but you need to think about what’s best for your business + also how you’d feel if someone else made the wrong decision. For example, quality control. This can be very tedious, but do you really want to give someone else the final say on what quality is acceptable for your brand? Another example is cost prices, a lot of people hate the thought of numbers + an excel spreadsheet, but do you really feel comfortable in paying bills for things you’re not involved with? For one, there might be a cost saving opportunity that an employee (who doesn’t have to pay the bill!) hasn’t explored, or worse, a dishonest employee could be giving business to someone they know, rather than the person best for the job. If you can only commit to one boring job, it has to be finances. I’ve literally seen companies with large sales go into bankruptcy  because the owner didn’t have a handle on the expenses.

Misconception 4; I won’t work any overtime

You must be dreaming! If you’ve worked in the industry before + know how much unpaid overtime is required, you may start your own company vowing not to do that to yourself. When I started this business, I myself had the same hope, that my own business would mean achieving that elusive work-life balance. No chance. When you have your own business, sure you can take time off when you need it, but at the same time you’re never really off work. It’s not an option to put an out of office on, without it having a detrimental effect on your business. The same goes for in industry, a friend of mine is at the very top of the chain, she’s the Director of Womenswear + she gets calls, emails + video conferences at weekends + holidays. What I will say is that, working for yourself, there is the hope that it’s all worth it in the end, as it’ll be you who is benefitting from your hard work, rather than the shareholders or your boss (fingers crossed!).


Misconception 5; I’ll host lots of glamorous parties

You could, but do you really want to pay for them? Not to mention have the stress of organising them, knowing who to invite without ruffling anyone’s feathers + making sure the event is a success? It might be the right decision to host a party for your business, maybe a launch party to show press the new range, or a shopping night for your best customers. The thing to remember is this is unlikely to be a fun evening for you. There’ll be an agenda + a reason that you’re spending money on this party for your business. You’ll need to stay focused, even if you’ve hired people to run the party in terms of food, decor, etc. It won’t be an opportunity to relax + have drinks, you have to be on form, making a  good impression + subtly encouraging people to do whatever it is your goal is for the night, be it sales, features in the press, or an increased brand awareness. If you’re looking for a fun crazy party, I’d recommend calling your friends, rather than colleagues. Sorry to be a buzz-kill, but I warned you I’m a realist!

Is the fashion industry really for you?

Don’t get me wrong, I love the fashion industry. I don’t for a second regret giving up a law career + there’s nothing else I’d rather do. But there are days I want to tear my hair out, other’s when there’s no chance to sleep (my current record is 38 working hours without sleep) + weeks where I’ve worked over 130 hours (I didn’t realise there was that many hours in a week, either). I suppose I felt obligated to write this post to let you know that, behind all of the styled photos, mood boards, international travel + creativity there’s a lot of hard work + always will be. It’s not for the faint hearted + there will be times that you have to choose work over friends + family. A few things to ask yourself; ‘do I love the idea of having a fashion career so much that…..’

  • I’m willing to stay up all night
  • I’m ok with checking emails on holiday
  • I will cancel plans with friends + family to work
  • I’ll accept that there’s always more work to be done
  • I’m ok with getting negative feedback from people

If you don’t agree with some of the above, it might not be the best industry for you to work in. If this is the case, it does’t mean you have to give up fashion all together. You could have a fashion business as a side income, so there’s no pressure to make a living from it. Or you could keep it as a hobby, which might not be what you want to hear, but if you value your free time, this might be for the best.

I apologise if I’ve scared you a bit with this post, but I feel that it’s best to be prepared, so a few years down the road you’re not wondering what you’ve let yourself in for! If it’s had the opposite effect + you can’t wait to get started in the fashion industry, but not sure what step to take next, I might have just what you need. My Fashion Startup online course walks you through the process of going from fashion idea through to garment production, step by step. Cosmo also posted about the truth of fashion so don’t be scared that much.

Alexa Olson