Most of us recognize the value of a strong network. So many jobs and internship opportunities never see the light of day – on a corporate website, job board, or anywhere else. In this, the fashion industry is no different from any other. Many opportunities are filled through word of mouth and connections.
Most emerging fashion designers and fashion entrepreneurs recognize the value of a network, but, accustomed as they are to doing it all on their own, are unsure where to start. Typically, one of the first questions I am asked as a fashion business consultant, business professor, and CEO of my own luxury leather goods company is, “As someone who’s new to the fashion industry, how do I begin to grow my network?”
Fortunately, even if you’re new to the industry, and possibly find the thought of networking intimidating (I can definitely relate to this), the internet has made it so much easier to build our connections in a low-key, authentic, and much less intimidating way. Because networking is really all about engaging and connecting with others, over time, in a friendly and helpful way.
Photo source: G&M Fashion Career
Last week I talked about the concept of networking in the fashion world, what networking really means, and how best to approach it (read that article here). Now let’s take a look at some of the very best places for fashion newcomers to begin to expand their professional circles.
1. Instagram: This social media platform lends itself beautifully to the fashion world. If you are a new designer just starting to grow your brand, look around for other similar designers to follow. Do some research. Most definitely look for those who are just starting out in the business, but also look to those you respect and admire who are more established with larger followings, and perhaps even some big, aspirational brands and names. Thoughtful, positive, and authentic comments are the way to approach this—and can readily lead to new connections. Consistency is essential, as are friendly, low-key comments, interactions, and follow-up (no potential connection wants to feel hounded or aggressively pursued).
Photo source: JD Institute of Fashion Technology
2. Events: Again, this is an area where the fashion industry has an advantage over so many others: it’s all about the new and the visual, lending itself well to live (and virtual) events with plenty to talk about. Again, research your events beforehand and plan on talking to people around you. And keep in mind that sometimes the smaller, more intimate events are the easiest places to connect with others.
3. Community: Seek out and become part of a community of like-minded people – or create your own. If you’re attending or just finished design or visual arts school, or attending a course of any kind, this is a prime opportunity to create a mutually supportive network. If you’re not already linked in some way, find a way to connect to your fellow classmates via LinkedIn or other online platforms. And there are plenty of low-stress, low-commitment industry groups to join. Try Googling “Fashion industry meetups ____” and insert the name of your city or geographical area and you’ll likely find a range of groups to join. It’s a great way to find out what’s happening around you and an easy way to meet and establish relationships with others who have similar industry interests.
4. LinkedIn: This social platform exists solely for professional networking. Once you’ve created an appealing and professional profile (not sure how? LinkedIn has some great tips), start by connecting with family and friends, and current and former coworkers and classmates. Reach out and join appropriate groups, follow brands and designers. And to truly start connecting, move beyond liking a post to actively participating in conversations. I’ve gained many connections as a result of starting or joining in on a post’s commentary; I’ve found these miniature online conversations to be an excellent gateway to professional connections. And LinkedIn also has a wealth of industry seminars, workshops, online events (including networking events) that you can participate in.
If the concept of networking is daunting, think about where you’re most comfortable, and start there. Perhaps that’s Instagram. Perhaps it’s a fashion community on LinkedIn. Focus your attention on one platform, and then try to expand outwards from there, moving a little outside your comfort zone until, ideally, you’re able to connect with like-minded people in a few different mediums or on a few different platforms. And do consider that building connections take patience. You’re in it for the long haul; it’s not about growing a network, frantically, in a couple of months. It takes time and consistent effort, but eventually, you’ll grow a meaningful network in a way that feels natural to you.