Fashion editor and writer Freya Drohan started her career at Independent.ie in 2014 before moving to New York City. She is the contributing Fashion Editor at legendary industry publication The Daily Front Row and consults on editorial projects for brands and publications. Here, she explains how to find your place in the city’s notoriously competitive fashion landscape.
While it seems futile to talk about working in an industry that’s not imperative to tackling the global pandemic, the reality is that many people may be faced with the dreaded job search in the near future.
Over the last five years working in fashion media in New York, I’ve weathered my fair share of career craziness: interning for bosses that would make excellent fodder for movie villains, redundancies, freelancing, being ghosted by employers; you name it, I can likely advise you on how to meander it.
While I started my career at this very website straight out of college, I grew up solely determined to go to New York to work at any glossy magazine that would have me (Jenna Rink, Andie Anderson, Carrie Bradshaw making $4 a word at Vogue... these fictional characters have a lot to answer for.)
While blind ambition made the decision to leave a well-paying, stable job an easy one at the time, in hindsight, it was a gamble that took years to prove it was the right move. Herein lies my first point: when it comes to carving a career in industries that are infamously competitive, it is so important to be patient.
You want to relocate to Manhattan to work in fashion? Amazing; but so do millions of other hopeful, talented people, so be prepared to buckle up and knuckle down. If someone had imparted the below advice when I was a blissfully naive newcomer to the city looking for a job, I’d owe them a fair few coffees by now.
Do your homework
While being in a fashion capital will open your eyes to just how many job opportunities there are in the industry, make sure to hone in on exactly what you want to do to save yourself time when you land in New York.
From PR to merchandising (which, pro tip, is what they call fashion buying in the U.S.) to editorial and design, be strategic and identify where your strengths lie. Once you have sussed what to focus on, then think about the who. Research brands, publications and companies exhaustively and tailor your applications to portray why you want to work for them.
Don’t be afraid to highlight what specifics that you can bring to the table too.
Ask for an informational
Informational interviews are the norm in New York. The purpose is not to get a job per se, but to learn about the company and what the person you are meeting with actually does in their role.
These brief but invaluable sessions are a great way to ask questions and gain insight that will ultimately help you gain employment. In this hyper-connected age, it has never been easier to digitally contact people you admire and ask for an informational interview.
However, be respectful if the person declines or doesn’t respond after two polite requests — and never, ever use the dreaded phrase, “I’d love to pick your brain.”
Intern and stay humble
The reality is that you will be starting from scratch once you emigrate, no matter how much experience you have on your CV (and please remember to update that to American resume format.)
Interning is difficult to undertake financially, but where there’s a will there’s a way, and I promise that unpaid stints will eventually pay off dividends. While on placement, it goes without saying that you must go above and beyond, even if your internal monologue is questioning why you’re still getting other people coffee at the ripe old age of 25.
That saying, “Good things come to those who wait” — even better things come to the interns who hustled hard from the get go.
One way to create a niche for yourself is to pitch brands or companies early on. If you hear about a startup, reach out and let them know how excited you are about what they’re doing and how you can help them grow.
You tend to learn the most when working with resourceful, scrappy and small teams where you’re forced to wear many hats.
Impress your interviewer
There’s likely an abundance of information about your potential interviewer, allowing you to get in deep with their career trajectory. This is fundamental research for asking engaged, relevant questions during your interviews.
I once brought a magazine’s Editor-in-Chief a small token related to her star sign (which required a lot of online stalking) when I interviewed for a Senior Astrology Editor role. Let’s hope she remembers that one the next time I apply for a job on her masthead.
Don’t be deterred by “It’s who you know”
The phrase, “It’s not what you know but who you know” always irks me. When you emigrate, you’re likely starting off with zero network. Irish people have an amazing advantage in that we’re easy going people to get on with, so it’s within everyone’s reach to make genuine connections that will stand to them and guarantee career advancement within time.
And don’t forget how important your friendships can be when it comes to work. A lot of my close friends in New York are hard-working, career-orientated Irish natives who have worked relentlessly to get to where they are now.
We’ve collectively experienced the ins and outs — don’t expect to meet an Irish person in the U.S. without the conversation eventually turning to visas — and we lean on each other for support, introductions, referrals and even collaborations on various projects all the time.
Stay true to yourself
While I’ve become a “yes” person who takes on pretty much every project that comes my way (to the detriment of my time management skills and sleep schedule) one of my favourite sayings is, “Would you do it if nobody knew?”
Using this as a litmus test helps you figure out if you’re doing something work-related for the right reasons.
When the concept of career success seems to be the most important status symbol among millennials, keeping this benchmark in mind will ensure you are agreeing to an assignment or taking on a role because it’s meaningful to you — and not to impress your family or Instagram audience.
During the royal visit to Ireland this month, the big story around Kate Middleton's fashion was the 40 shades of green. Granted, you may not be keen to replicate such a festive look so soon after St Patrick's Day, but there was one other notable element of her wardrobe: the scattering of polka dots.