Representing the creative future

How can fashion designers prepare for the job market post-lockdown?

Will fashion companies be hiring post-pandemic? Three major fashion recruiters share their input

A career in fashion design is infamously challenging, requiring years of training, unpaid internships and underpaid freelance gigs. Throughout their studies, designers are made acutely aware of the barriers they must overcome in order to eventually secure a job within the industry. Despite this, nobody could have ever been prepared for the dire circumstances into which current fashion graduates, entering the job market post-lockdown, have been thrust. 

Studies suggest that around 7.6 million jobs in the UK are at risk because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Jobs within the wholesale and retail sector, as well as the arts sector, are most vulnerable. Coincidentally, these areas are where most design students hope to find jobs upon graduation. While the situation is somewhat bleak, and undeniably worrying for graduates, a future in fashion isn’t impossible. We spoke to three major fashion recruiters about their forecasts for the job market, as well as their advice for those still looking for employment at this time.  

Like many of us, recruitment agencies have all seen a sizable change in the way they work during lockdown. Emma Davidson, Managing Director at international fashion recruitment agency Denza, is now working alone while the rest of her team have been furloughed. “My job has slowed down as most of our clients have put jobs on hold,” she explains. Instead, her work is now almost exclusively digital. “I am trying to keep on top of the emails from candidates who have been made redundant or are worried about their position when they return to work.”  

“US and UK listed companies have put everything on hold and taken short-term cost cutting measures.” – Valentina Maggi

Valentina Maggi, Director of design practice at Floriane De Saint Pierre & Associates, has had a similar experience. “US and UK listed companies have put everything on hold and taken short-term cost cutting measures.” Valentina’s team is instead focusing on other areas of their consulting services for which they are now seeing increased demand. These include: “evolving organisations to fit with the new paradigms, redefining roles and [finding] new types of talents.”

Perhaps the most urgent question for fashion graduates right now is whether or not companies will still be hiring post-pandemic. No agency is able to give a definite answer to this quite yet, although Emma admits hiring has undoubtedly slowed down. For example, one of her team’s luxury clients has reduced its search for six graduate employees to just one. “I think for a while there will be fewer full-time jobs all round and freelance work will be more competitive.” She explains how budgets that had been set aside for new hires have been cut to recoup losses elsewhere in these businesses, while other companies have already adapted to smaller team sizes due to the furlough scheme.

“The internship is usually a way [for design houses] to choose a future junior designer to integrate, so it is – I think only for a short time – penalizing for them.” – Céline Toledano

Céline Toledano, fashion educator and Partner at headhunting firm m-O Conseil, agrees that the pandemic has complicated things for graduates, but believes such complications will not last long term. “The internship is usually a way [for design houses] to choose a future junior designer to integrate, so it is – I think only for a short time – penalizing for them.” She explains that the trainees are incredibly useful to the fashion houses with whom she works so, once the industry has stabilised, she predicts they will need to re-hire these young talents.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAczlFghCBf/

The majority of junior roles – no matter how creative the company – expect a candidate to have a firm grasp of CAD skills.

All of the agencies are quick to point out that hires are still, on occasion, taking place during lockdown, and that there are a number of things that can be done to increase a candidate’s employability. On a practical note, Emma explains, the majority of junior roles – no matter how creative the company – expect a candidate to have a firm grasp of CAD (Computer-Aided-Design) skills. “Any piece of software you can learn will assist.” Additionally, she adds, a knowledge of Excel for tracking materials or creating budgets, as well as being able to create invoices and other admin tasks, are invaluable.

“The ‘ideal’ graduate has as many technical skills as possible… because each studio has different needs and they must be able to adapt to all types of organisation,”- Céline Toledano

Similarly, Valentina notes how acquiring in-demand skills beyond designing can make a fashion graduate a valuable asset to an employer. In particular, she explains how useful an understanding of digital media can be to many companies. “Companies are in constant need of connecting with their audiences through the creation and production of meaningful digital content.” Those who are able to utilise such media will, Valentina suggests, have far more opportunities post-lockdown. 

“The ‘ideal’ graduate has as many technical skills as possible… because each studio has different needs and they must be able to adapt to all types of organisation,” adds Céline. Her advice, therefore, would be for designers to use this time in lockdown to work on skills such as drawing, patternmaking, illustrating and creating mockups. Céline emphasises that a graduate designer can no longer expect to get a job because of creativity alone. Instead, they need to offer other skills to design houses, who increasingly expect their junior talents to take on more than just the traditional role of designer. “Even if it is your personality, your creativity, your aesthetics that attract [employers], only your ability to be operational and efficient will allow you to find a place in the long term.”

European listed companies are recovering faster than those in the UK and US. It would be beneficial for students to make themselves aware of brands – not just in Europe, but also elsewhere in the world

The recruitment agencies are keen to encourage fashion graduates not to lose hope; to maintain momentum when it comes to creating portfolio pieces and to keep working on new projects to prove that their work is up-to-date and ever evolving. “I find it really depressing to meet someone whose portfolio doesn’t have any new work in it. I like to see someone who is truly curious, dynamic and creative,” says Emma. These people, she explains, are a lot easier to promote to her clients looking for new hires. 

Interestingly, Valentina also suggests that European listed companies are recovering faster than those in the UK and US. It would be beneficial for students to make themselves aware of brands – not just in Europe, but also elsewhere in the world – who might offer more opportunities. It goes with saying, therefore, that a grasp of a second language significantly increases the opportunities available to a graduate designer. On a more basic level, adds Emma, it’s important that graduates work on being more culturally aware. “Look into different cultures, in a historical context, from that culture’s point of view – not just how it has enriched Western culture.” For example, she notes, a brand based in Japan might be more interested in a candidate’s knowledge of the Chinese and South Korean market than that of the EU. 

So, what can graduate designers expect in terms of employment going forward? “In the short term freelance work should be in great development,” explains Céline. “From a business’s point of view, it is a way to collaborate with professionals, without adding [too much] to the salary bill.” The industry’s increased reliance upon freelance work is a trend being predicted by many experts. While often irregular and unpredictable, freelance work does have the benefit of allowing more individuals access to the industry. In terms of more permanent contracts, Valentina seems confident that the fashion graduates who have been trained well, and who have genuine talent, will eventually find their place within the workforce.

“What was normal wasn’t working. I hope that long term, those who are graduating now, who will become leaders, will be able to support change along the way.” – Emma Davidson

It is reassuring that the agencies expect to see a gradual return to their normal hiring habits in the long term. However, they all share the hope that this is a ‘new’ type of normal, supported by a more thoughtful and efficient industry. It is clear that, despite the urgency with which current fashion graduates find themselves looking for reliable work, a sustainable industry requires major changes. These changes would, in turn, facilitate an increase in opportunities for future generations. Emma explains: “What was normal wasn’t working. I hope that long term, those who are graduating now, who will become leaders, will be able to support change along the way.” Without such, the industry, and those who work within it, will be left vulnerable against future suffering and uncertainty.  

1 Granary

Magazine Issue 6

With unprecedented honesty and depth, 1 Granary Issue 6 dives into the work and lives of fashion designers today. As a response to the construction of desire and personality cults that govern our industry, the magazine steps away from the conventional profiles and editorials, focussing instead on raw work and anonymous, unfiltered testimonies. For the first time ever, readers are given a truthful insight into the process, dreams, fears, hardships, and struggles of today’s creatives.

Buy Now