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Being Fashion Forward

If creativity is important to you, the fashion industry may be a great career option. So said three of our alumnae, when they spoke to students about their careers in fashion at our latest Twilights Insight session.

If…
• You are glued to the Oscars every year because you just love to see those gowns tripping down the red carpet
• You are highly creative and you’re all about embracing change and innovation
• You love to network and expand your social circle
• You are not worried by intense deadlines, late nights and keeping up with the latest designers, trends, models and influencers
• And you would NOT be intimidated by Miranda Priestly, Meryl Streep’s character in The Devil Wears Prada

…then the fashion industry could be for you. With perks such as beautiful clothes, constant creativity, travel, glamour, and high-income possibilities, fashion is anything but boring. It's a fast-paced and diverse industry that impacts and influences the world in many different ways. In fact, as our students learnt this week at our latest Wenona Twilight Insights session, a career in fashion is not just about designers, runway models, and high-fashion photographers. It's about writing, blogging, social media, styling, merchandising, buying, technology and sustainability too. And as any self-respecting Edwina Monsoon fan of Ab Fab fame would know, it's also about PR! (Lacroix, sweetie!)

At theTwilights Insights session on Wednesday afternoon, Director of Student Opportunity and Career Education, Ms McFetridge invited three Wenona alumnae, who are currently working in the multi-faceted world of fashion, to speak to our Senior College and Upper School students. They spoke about their pathways into the industry, their experience in different fields of fashion, and some of the opportunities and challenges that students might face in the industry.

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Fashion designer, presenter and body shape expert, Katie Perry (1998PY) has fashion in her DNA. Her great grandfather was a wool merchant and her mother worked closely with the Benetton brothers. After struggling to find a suitable outfit to wear at her school formal, Katie designed her first outfit at the tender age of 11 – an off-the-shoulder top and ruffle skirt in black and hot pink! She then gained experience in the fashion industry through internships and by working as a stylist, manager and buyer for stores like Brown’s, Oroton and David Jones. In 2006 – after experiencing the frustration of trying to find clothes she and other women felt comfortable wearing, she launched her eponymous fashion label, Katie Perry. Since then, Katie has clothed thousands of women in her sustainable, stylish, and travel-friendly signature line.

At the Wenona Alumnae Insights session on Wednesday afternoon, Katie told students that she loved fashion when she was a student at Wenona. So much so that along with studying Textiles, she did Costume Design for HSC Drama. While she knew she wanted her own label, she started out by immersing herself in the industry. She sold some of her earlier designs at Paddington Markets, which she said was a great way of testing out the market, before setting up a shopfront in the dining room of her house in Paddington. She reminded the students that keeping on top of the financial side of a business is important, something that isn’t always top of mind for creative types. She also advised students to always stay true to their values. For example, although she is continually advised to produce her label off-shore for cost reasons, she is committed to Australian-made. She is also committed to sustainability and is constantly exploring different sustainable fabrics in her work. Katie touched on some of the challenges she’s had to overcome during her career – bullying, trolling and even trademark issues – but as she said to students, every hurdle has made her stronger. Her love of fashion design continues to sustain her, and she is delighted to still be working in an industry that she loves.

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Issy Rees (2017PY) is a clothing and textile designer based in Melbourne. She creates her own prints, hand-painting and sketching them using gouache or markers, before bringing them to life digitally through programs like Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator. Issy explores organic textures and playful colours, with her trend and research-based designs, which reflect the current clothing market. She also considers and applies sustainable and environmental practices to not only her design processes, but her business ethics. Most recently, Issy sold one of her designs to the Australian Menswear company POLITIX, and it is currently being showcased in store.

Issy spoke to the students about her pathway into textile design. Having applied to study fashion design at RMIT, Issy was initially disappointed to be offered textile design instead. As she explained, the course wasn’t even on her radar and she didn’t have much knowledge about it. However, she has since discovered that she has a talent and a passion for this area. In fact, she loved her degree so much that she is going to do Honours next year. Issy also highlighted to students the importance of developing a portfolio that represents them as an artist or a designer, and showcases their versatility and originality. The portfolio, she said, is an important part of the pathway into a course. Doing her degree at RMIT has taught her that taste is subjective and that different aesthetics appeal to different people. For example, her least favourite design might be the one that appeals to someone else the most, so always show all your work as you never know what will resonate. Issy is currently freelancing as a stylist and as a retail assistant. She said that you need to be tenacious, proactive and persistent in seeking out work opportunities as it is a highly competitive industry. If you are prepared to network and put yourself out there, you will find jobs.

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When she graduated from Wenona in 2013, Sakurako Suzuki enrolled at Waseda University in Tokyo, Japan, where she majored in Liberal Arts. During her time at University, Sakurako interned at Conde Nast Japan, parent company of magazine titles such as Vogue, GQ and Wired. This opportunity lead to a full-time position as the Digital Editorial Assistant at Vogue Japan, which she has held since 2019. Currently, Sakurako works in both print and digital editorial.

Sakurako explained to students that even when she was at Wenona, fashion was her passion. Her favourite space at School was Ms Waud’s Textile room, but she discovered that while she loved design, it wasn’t where her talents lay. She decided to study in Japan to reconnect with her Japanese roots and chose a Liberal Arts degree as there wasn’t a suitable fashion degree available. While she was a student, she reached out to different brands for internships. Sakurako explained that landing a fashion internship helped to round off her textbook knowledge and develop her skills. But in her case, it also served as an extended job interview and helped her land a permanent position at Vogue Japan, which has opened up a world of career possibilities. She’s heavily involved in the website and helps with their social media. It’s exposed her to glamour, celebrities and travel – a highlight has been travelling to Paris Fashion Week in 2019, where she met with iconic American Vogue Creative Director, Grace Coddington. Sakurako is constantly scouring Hollywood, Netflix and Instagram for the latest trends, styles, designers, fashionistas and influencers. While her job revolves around creativity, she must also focus on data analysis to track global market trends and gain competitive insights into audience behaviour.

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Our three alumnae were full of advice and tips for our students.

They all said while it can be difficult to find internships in fashion, it’s not impossible. Designers are very busy and inundated with people approaching them, but they are far more impressed by people that make the effort. Reach out via LinkedIn or Instagram – you will be surprised by who responds to you! And don’t be afraid to aim high – after all, you never know when Dior, Chanel or Vogue are looking for someone!

When it comes to the fashion industry today, the most important place you can be is online. Use search engines, blogger networks and social media to keep tabs on fashion platforms both in your area and abroad.

Try your hardest to get as much experience as possible. Do your research, talk to people and approach as many companies as possible. Above all, always be proactive and persistent - talent is not enough to make it in the fashion industry. You need to get out there and make sure everyone knows about you. It's all down to networking, developing new contacts and utilising the contacts you already have. Enthusiasm and perseverance are key.

Don’t be put off if you are not a fashion buyer six months out of university. See every experience as one step closer to your goal. And if you are rejected from an application, ask for feedback and learn and grow from the experience for next time. It’s a competitive industry and you might have to take a variety of approaches and pathways to get to the position you want. Always ask other people about their experiences in order to build more specific and realistic goals.

If you want to be a fashion designer, it’s important to learn your trade and immerse yourself in the craft of design. A great way to do this is by doing a degree in fashion design, where aside from honing the practical skills required to work with various materials and techniques, you’ll also carry out visual research and generate original ideas. You’ll learn to understand the construction of clothing and practise drawing, pattern-cutting and tailoring, and develop an understanding of shape and colour. And you will also gain insight into how the fashion world functions commercially, as well as the professional qualities needed to work in the sector.

Above all, being part of the fashion industry will teach you how to expand your circle and maintain professional and personal relationships. Even if you only work in the fashion industry for a short time, you’ll build the creativity, collaboration and communication skills that are invaluable in any career.

Sam

Ms McFetridge said, “A career in fashion is very alluring to some of our creative students. It was fantastic for them to get some useful ideas from Katie, Issy and Sakurako on where to look for opportunities in the fashion industry, how to make the most of them, and what they can do to prepare themselves in the meantime. Above all, it was great for students to understand that the fashion industry employs people with many different talents and interests: writers, strategists, designers, marketers, photographers and even accountants. As always, we are so grateful to our alumnae for sharing their insight, experience and knowledge with students.”