You’ve been sketching dresses or suits since you could hold a crayon. You’re the personal stylist for all of your friends and family (even though they’re—ahem—not paying you). Frankly, fashion design is in your bones.
Maybe you’re in design school already, or maybe you’re still dreaming about how to make your fashion interest into your fashion job. Either way, today’s your lucky day, because we sat down with designers and recruiters from Gap Inc. who work with some of our favorite brands, like Banana Republic and Athleta, to get the scoop on what it takes to succeed in the fashion industry.
Better yet? We’ve included their secrets for wowing employers, so once you are ready to go after fashion design jobs, you’ll be well prepared to land the one of your dreams.
1. Be a Team Player
The clothes that end up on the runway, on the shopping rack, or on your body aren’t borne from from a single designer sketching alone in the studio. On the contrary, almost every product out there involves many people from across departments.
Take Athleta designer Megan Miller, who manages the brand’s Knit Bottoms, Support Tops, and Bras categories. What that really means? As she puts it: “Concepting new designs each season and working closely with our fabric developers, trim designer, and graphics team in order to create our amazing product!”
Paola Atlason, Director of Accessories Design at Banana Republic, also has a very collaborative job. “I work with an incredibly talented team,” she says. “We brainstorm on seasonal themes and concepts, create mood boards, pick materials, sketch, and create the things we love. You have to be a team player—it’s a huge collaborative effort to pull this off.”
The good news for people considering careers in fashion is that the collaboration runs both ways.
“One thing I am happily surprised by from working for such a large company is the opportunity to learn skills outside of your job,” shares Miller. “Since we work so closely with our merchandising, production and technical design teams, I’ve been able to learn facets of those departments that help me work better with them and am able to anticipate some of their feedback while I’m designing.”
Given that collaboration is such a big part of fashion roles, make sure you highlight to employers your ability to work in teams.
“While it’s very important for each candidate to be able to work individually, we really need to find designers who love to push the boundaries and are willing to be a part of a team,” says Megan Rovitto, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition at Banana Republic.
2. Keep Moving Forward
When you work in fashion, there’s never a dull moment. Miller says her team works on multiple seasons a time, so they’re always starting a new project while ending another and making progress on yet another.
Atlason loves this constant change. She explains, “The best thing about my job is getting the chance to start from scratch every season; it’s an opportunity to constantly reinvent.”
Your work will also never just be about design. “You have to be extremely organized and have great time management skills, these traits are as important as being a creative designer,” shares Atlason.
Unless you’re dead-set on a given brand, don’t limit yourself to a certain category or company when applying. Not only will being open give you more options, but it’s also exciting—and you may find the perfect fit in an unexpected place or role.
“I never imagined myself designing activewear, but I absolutely love it!” Miller says. “And remember that your skill sets can be applied to a variety of industries, so don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zones.”
3. Design for the Brand
If you want to work in fashion, you’re probably overflowing with inspiration and ideas. However, don’t forget that you’re not designing for yourself: You’re designing for a brand and, ultimately, a consumer.
“I have seen many talented designers, but the ones who really stand out are the ones who have ideas for Banana Republic: designers who love what we are doing and where we are taking the product, and who have a true passion for the success of the brand,” Ravitto says.
The same is true for James Nurre, Senior Manager of Talent Acquisition for Athleta. He searches for people who are very familiar with performance clothes—preferably because they wear them. He wants people who know first-hand what makes a piece of activewear great. That allows them to create “something even better” for Athleta.
When you apply for a job at any of Gap Inc.’s brands, be sure to show that you’re invested in the product and the brand. Ravitto suggests visiting the store before your interview to look at the products and form some opinions about them.
Another great way to show this off? Come prepared with a sample of what you’d design for the brand.
“It’s very common that we ask candidates to complete a project as a final step in the interview process,” Nurre says. “But when candidates take it upon themselves to walk in the door with a small sample of what they could do for us, it can really speed things along nicely.”
4. Hustle, Hustle, Hustle!
Working in fashion isn’t just about glitz and glamour, Fashion Week, and clothes all the time. Designers work hard!
Brett Rodis, who works as a design director at Old Navy, says for him the work is all about “problem solving, the hustle, and making the design magic happen!”
Miller agrees: “Being creative and on the pulse of trend is imperative for fashion design, but what I’ve found to be just as important is to be resilient, motivated, and communicative. Someone who can roll well with change, continue to move forward, and do so with a positive attitude will have success.”
If you’re job searching in the fashion world, you’re going to have to hustle as well.
“We are a small but growing brand and don’t consistently have design opportunities available,” shares Nurre of Athleta’s roles. But don’t worry—the search is not impossible! “Persistence is key!” he adds.
To help, Miller shared a few smart tactics you can use to help land the right role for you: “When you’re applying, cast a big net! Send an email even if a company isn’t currently hiring. It might seem like sometimes your application just gets sent out to space, but if you send something that showcases your creativity and personality, people will remember you next time there’s an opening.”