When I was eight years old and people asked me what I wanted to do when I grew up, I was pretty certain that I wanted to write stories and illustrate them. Well, I was doing it already, so it seemed like the perfect career choice. Fast-forward a few years to fifteen and I wanted to be a different kind of writer: a journalist. But somewhere along the line I was steered by teachers and careers advisors towards doing theatre studies instead (in spite of never having said I wanted to be a professional actor, though I confess expressing an interest in TV presenting) and off I went to university to do a BA in Theatre and Media Drama.
I’m not saying I would do anything differently. I loved my time at university (where I met my husband) and made brilliant life-long friends during the jobs I held in my twenties (these ranged from working in a call centre to being the production accountant on TV football drama Dream Team) but when the big three-oh was approaching I realised that I didn’t have the career I wanted.
I sort of stumbled across my new career by accident. With a sudden eagerness to learn something new, I’d started taking evening classes, and as fashion history was something I’d always found fascinating, my first course was on that subject at the London College of Fashion. The following year I did a short course in fashion journalism at Central Saint Martins. I’d never considered that writing about fashion was something you could do for a living - it just wasn’t a job that came up in those careers discussions at school – but at the end of my eight week course, my lecturer encouraged me to give up my job and start a career as a fashion writer. This coincided perfectly with my career crisis, so I did exactly as he suggested, and started interning – for free! – just after I turned thirty. Eight years later, and I’m now the fashion features editor of a glossy magazine, have interviewed some amazing people (including Karl Lagerfeld) and have had my first book published, written and illustrated by me (of course!).
Changing my career was the best thing I ever did. I always say I'm incredibly lucky to do what I do, but it didn't come without a lot of hard work and some really good advice along the way. So if you’re thinking of doing the same, here are my top tips for getting that dream job in fashion.
1. Never assume you are too old
When I first started interning I thought my age would either put off potential employers or be a real asset. Luckily it was the latter, and I really think the fact that I was more mature helped me progress quicker – I was told to expect to intern for a year and a half but I was employed with my first job after eight months.
2. It doesn’t matter what you did before
I can honestly say that I took something from every job I’ve ever done and was able to apply it to my new career. Everything from being able to make a great cup of tea (waitressing) to being good at doing expenses (production accounting) has been incredibly useful. I've even been able to make a couple of Mr Whippy ice creams in a fashion ice cream van! (yes, I also once worked in an ice cream kiosk)
3. Save up before you start
If you don’t have the advantage of having parents who live in London that will put you up for free, make sure you save up BEFORE you quit your job. You’re still going to need to pay the rent. I was lucky as accounting was well paid so I took full advantage and stocked up my savings account before I started working for free (though luckily these days, you will get paid for an internship).
4. Do your homework
Study your new career, whether than means reading up about it, taking a course in it, or just speaking to people who already do it. You're lucky that you live in an age where you can find out about pretty much anything on the internet. Besides, there's nothing worse than interviewing someone who just "fancies working in fashion" but doesn't actually know anything about it.
5. Don’t forget what you dreamed of doing
Try to remember what you enjoyed doing before you were twelve. Chances are it’s the thing you are naturally gifted at, so maybe those skills are worth revisiting.
6. Grab every opportunity that comes your way
You never know who you are going to meet, so say yes to everything that you can. Be friendly and always work with a smile; nothing should be too much bother when you’re starting out (even if that’s standing in your bikini in a swimming pool on a plastic chair holding a photographer’s spare camera, as I once had to do).
7. Get your work published or start a blog
There’s never been a better time to prove that you can write or style because you can publish your own work on a blog. When I first started out I was fashion editor for an indie magazine, and I also write a blog (EnBrogue.com); having that extra element on my CV really helped to make me stand out.
8. Hundreds of girls would kill for this opportunity
It sounds obvious, but once you get that foot through the door DON’T SCREW IT UP! Be punctual, helpful, offer to make coffee, work hard, have the courage to offer up great ideas, and don’t be too chatty in an office where people are trying to concentrate. Editors will fall over themselves to recommend a great intern for their next position...because none of us really forget what it was like when we were first starting out.