You can’t be what you can’t see, as they say. And that idiom, cliché as it might sound, has been one of the many reasons the fashion industry has remained so homogenous. (See also: its historical reliance on unpaid interns, nepotism, complacency…) Black representation may have improved on some runways and ad campaigns, but there is still more important work to be done to improve diversity behind the scenes.
Some of the successful Black fashion editors, designers, influencers and entrepreneurs featured below didn’t see a lot of people who looked like them when they were coming up in the industry, but in the interest of changing that experience for the next generation, they’ve each shared their best piece of career advice for those aspiring to work or just starting out in fashion. Read on.
Tiffany Reid, Vice President of Fashion at Bustle Digital Group
“Do the work. Find the people at organizations you want to connect with, look up their direct email address, follow up, and be thorough. If you want a job somewhere, do the research, know the team and what they do.
Form your own network. Working within your network is really important, and oftentimes helps you stand out against other applicants. So many of the roles I have accepted come through word-of-mouth or recommendations. Also, make sure you network at your level – you never know which one of your peers is going to get ahead and be the one making the decision. Be friends with your assistant and your intern, because you never who’s going to be where.”
Aurora James, Founder of Brother Vellies and 15 Percent Pledge
“I truly believe that Black people, Black women specifically, have to work twice as hard for half as many opportunities. But my advice is to always ask for what you want and be confident in your worth. If you don’t ask for it, there is no way someone is going to give it to you. And above all else, never be afraid to build your own table.”
Salone Monet, Founder and Designer of Salone Monet
“I’ve found that it’s important to practice patience. Timing is so important and nothing happens overnight. One windfall doesn’t make a brand, and one failure is not the end of one, it’s all a journey.”
Victor Glemaud, Founder and Designer of Victor Glemaud
“First of all, do not follow my footsteps. It’s important to be unique and create your own path. Having a good lawyer and an accountant you trust are equally invaluable.”
Rajni Jacques, Fashion Director at Allure
“Never let others dictate your direction and what your purpose is. When you’re young, you don’t trust your gut as much because you haven’t experienced enough to be strong in your own decisions. This is all a part of growing. But when you do get to that point, stand in your conviction. And don’t let any person or trend sway you. Your biggest asset is to be genuine.”
Tahirah Hairston, Fashion and Beauty Features Director at Teen Vogue
“It’s important to be curious. Learn about fashion designers, read fashion books, listen to fashion podcasts (‘The Cutting Room Floor’ is incredible), read indie magazines and old articles. But also be curious about things outside of fashion; fashion isn’t just about the clothes but often it’s about capturing the zeitgeist of a particular cultural moment. As a journalist and creative, coming up with an interesting story, shoot or package idea means staying abreast of the present, aware of the past, and thinking about how this might inform the future.
Spend time refining your taste, question why you like certain things and why you don’t, and be able to articulate that. It helps you not only be a better writer and creator but also helps you define your voice when you become a leader — even if you just start with your own personal style. Your viewpoint is important; don’t think that just because something is popular or everyone likes it, it’s good. Interrogate and reflect on what and how you feel.”
Nikki Ogunnaike, Digital Director at Harper’s Bazaar
“Best piece of advice: Network across. Get to know your fellow interns, assistants in other departments, colleagues at other brands, etc. These are the people who have an intimate knowledge of what it’s like to be in your position and often times will be the people who can tip you off to job openings or general goings-on at various organizations.”
Kilee Hughes, Founder of Six One
“There is not a set blueprint or path, everyone’s journey is going to be different. Expect to encounter obstacles along the way. The sign of adversity is not a reason to give up. Do not quit! Remember to keep your focus, stay committed, and work hard.”
Nicole Chapoteau, Fashion Director at Vanity Fair
“Experience is key! Research the people who are in the positions you are interested in, and look at the career path they followed to get to that space. Reach out to them for a (Zoom) coffee, see if they could use an intern or possibly even an assistant. Put in the work and learn from them.”
Brandice Daniel, Founder of Harlem’s Fashion Row
“Relationships are more important than anything else. When I started HFR, I was a fashion outsider, and one way I started building relationships, I would send cupcakes to say thank you for speaking with me or meeting with me. You can send anything, but the point is to do something memorable to build relationships in this industry. It is important to be kind, and this is key to success in any career.”
Christopher John Rogers, Founder and Designer of Christopher John Rogers
“Listen to your gut instinct, and lead with your heart. Allow for the places that you pull inspiration and references from to be as expansive and full as you would like them to be, and don’t feel a pressure to represent anyone other than yourself. Keep your blinders on and focus on what brings you fulfillment, singularly.”
Shelcy & Christy Joseph, a.k.a. @nycxclothes, Influencers and Brand Consultants
“Build positive relationships and be open to constructive feedback. It’s taken us over a year to create a small group of mentors, friends and industry connections that we can trust and get advice from, but it’s honestly the glue that holds us together when we need direction or just some uplifting words. Also work at constantly improving your craft because your talent will always speak louder than your words.”