Fashion is a worldwide industry, but like its trends and styles, it varies from country to country when it comes to starting a career in the sector. In the UK, more than half a million people work within the fashion industry to some capacity, says Fashion United. If you want to know where and how to break into the fashion industry, read on.
Fashion all over the world
Britain is a titan of fashion, leading the way in every way from events to new-trend dresses. In 2016, the UK exported $9.2 billion worth of clothing, which shows how interconnected British fashion is with the rest of the world. Although styles and trends may have become similar across various countries, does the workforce behind the fashion differ?
Only a small amount of a country’s labour force generally makes up the fashion industry, according to Fashion United’s research. In France, approximately 1.13% of the entire labour force works in fashion-related jobs, while the rate is 1.12% in the US, 0.98% in the Netherlands, and just 0.81% in Germany. Interestingly the UK labour force shows the highest percentage of employees in fashion, with approximately 1.68%.
Despite its small workforce percentage, the fashion industry brings in a lot of money for the economy. For example, in the US, the fashion industry has a domestic market value (DMV) of $385.7 billion, while in the UK, this figure reaches around £94.1 billion. The German fashion sector has a DMV of about $83.6 billion, and in France and the Netherlands, this number hits approximately $43.3 billion and $16.5, respectively.
Let’s take a look at the recruitment process between countries. In the US, internships are very popular, potentially due to the fact that guidelines created by the US Labor Department make it relatively simple for companies to hire interns. Many American university students use their summer breaks to carry out internships at fashion firms and this not only gives them real-life experience in the sector, but also shows a future fashion employer that they have the confidence and proactiveness to succeed while still learning.
The French fashion scene is a pillar of their economy, and for good reason. According to reports, fashion is the greatest growth sector in the country, which suggests that it will require greater levels of employment to keep up with demand. Fashion degrees are very popular in France, and like the UK, its fashion schools consistently rank highly for student experience and course quality.
Generally, French universities have a broad selection of fashion courses covering areas from management to marketing, as well as practical fashion applications and skills. Director of management programmes at Institute Français de la Mode (IFM), Françoise Sackrider, said: “At IFM, we have our eyes set on the job market”. French fashion courses are also sought after by many learners across the world, and ESMOD (a private fashion school in Paris) has strived for several years to become a leader in fashion education for international students. Consequently, French fashion companies and houses recruit many international, as well as French, employees.
Across the world in Japan, their fashion industry brings in around $96 billion USD a year. In Japan, it is customary for fashion houses to promote from within. This means that showing practical experience and starting from a low level with the determination to climb is key to succeeding in the Japanese fashion industry, making programmes like internships key to progression.
But with an ageing population growing in Japan, the country has been turning to international recruitment for its fashion industry. Does this suggest that breaking into fashion for Japanese nationals is currently easier, due to less competition, than it may be for other nationalities in their home countries? To combat the issue, the Japanese Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry is working to attract more international fashion designers to Japan and make it simpler for them to work legally here for longer periods. Once numbers of international employees begin flooding into the Japanese fashion industry, this will almost certainly change how national workers and students break into the sector.
Over in Germany, the country isn’t experiencing the same success in their fashion sector as their European neighbours. In early July, the Chancellor of Germany, Angela Merkel, met with members of the Fashion Council Germany (FCG) to discuss essential funding — approximately €30 million — that was required to support development programmes. Currently, no German fashion schools feature in the latest top ten global fashion schools’ rankings lists compiled by Business of Fashion. So, considering that there will potentially be governmental investment, the industry might channel more funds into academic fashion courses and create more practical recruitment routes to improve the health of the sector.
The nuances of fashion differ around the world, it’s true. But how can you forge a rewarding career in the UK?
A career in UK fashion
You’ve got a great start already if you’re living in the UK and want to pursue a career in fashion. The UK is one of the best countries in the world when it comes to fashion schools and recent rankings prove that studying here is a great way to get onto the career ladder.
Four out of ten of the top ten undergraduate fashion schools ranked by the Global Fashion School Rankings are UK schools, along with three UK schools featuring in the top ten graduate fashion schools. What’s more, the UK clinched the top spot in both lists, with Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design coming first in both the undergraduate and graduate categories. Also making the top five were London College of Fashion as an undergraduate school and Royal College of Art as a graduate establishment.
Some roles in fashion obviously lend themselves well to a course or degree. But of course, this is not the only route into the industry available in the UK. Institutions such as the Fashion Retail Academy and Fashion Enter offer a range of apprenticeship courses — like merchandising and garment technology — to thousands of students every year, while the UK government also promotes apprenticeship opportunities in this sector, if you’re aged 16 years or over.
Internships are another way to get into the industry. There are an estimated 70,000 internships on offer every year in the UK and gaining hands-on, practical experience can help you develop and learn at a quicker rate than taking a more academic, school-structured path. Although, it should be noted that unpaid internships in the fashion industry are still common.
Relevant work experience is always useful to have on your CV too. Researching fashion companies and requesting experience is tough, but key to creating a career in fashion. Even if you work in a clothing store, this is experience — plus, you can ask to try visual merchandising to develop your sills on the job.
Competition is, of course, fierce. According to Alexandra Alberta Yeo of jewellery brand, Alexandra Alberta: “Fashion jobs include everything from photography and styling, to merchandising, buying and designing. Home in one area and then go from there.”
The most difficult step of getting a career in fashion is that initial break. So, regardless of country, you need to choose a branch of fashion that you enjoy and excel at. Once you’re in, you can start moving across different departments.
There’s loads of opportunities for you to seize in order to make it in the fashion industry. Work out which area you want to progress in, then establish which route — degree, apprenticeship or internship — will help you succeed the quickest.