Men's Ultimate Guide to Starting a Career in Fashion

By Sachin Bhola, Fashion Editor for AskMen.com


What You Need To Know
  • Many begin their path in fashion as interns. Do not overlook the value they represent.
  • Looking to start your own business? Be prepared to juggle your full-time job with your start-up.
  • It's easier to penetrate the men's market than the women's.

The fashion industry is misunderstood. People are quick to associate it with images of lifeless-looking models, excess and an outlandish reality that is only understood by elite enclaves in New York or Paris. Perhaps it's this very unattainable status that drives some to be part of it. But they usually fall by the wayside.

Others, however, understand that fashion is a multibillion-dollar industry and that it is through internships, networking, risk-taking, and straight-up hard work that they've found great success.

In this guide, you'll meet five men: Simon Spurr, a fashion designer; Benjamin Clymer, the editor-in-chief of HODINKEE; Corey Kelly, a stylist; Joshua Linam, a writer; and Eddy Chai, a store owner.

But it's not only their success that is the common denominator; it's that they're all men. You see, the fashion industry has the stereotype of being run entirely by women. And, hey, as Glenn O'Brien puts it, "If you like girls, there's no better industry to be involved in than the fashion industry." But that doesn't mean that it shouldn't present itself as an attractive career path for men.

As a male fashion editor, I've always come across resources for starting a career in fashion that targeted women. Perhaps they didn't explicitly exclude a male audience, but the focus on menswear was scarce and often treated as an afterthought. That's why we here at AskMen decided to build a guide for men who want to start a career in fashion -- one that offers men the advice, knowledge and encouragement to be the next guy to revolutionize menswear.

Another misconception people have is that we fashion folk are inaccessible. Not true. If you have questions about starting a career in fashion, shoot them over to fashion@askmen.com.

-- Sachin Bhola, Fashion Editor



Simon Spurr, The Fashion Designer, SIMON SPURR

How did you start your career in fashion?

After having made a mental commitment to start my own company in search of a more balanced work environment, I started it with three pairs of denim. It was a strategic decision, as I thought that denim was a commonly purchased product that was an entry vehicle into building other product categories and ultimately into building a strongly rooted brand.

Having worked on the initial designs in my spare time from my apartment (which would become my office for the next four years), I set out developing and sampling the product using the best quality denim and manufacturing available in the USA. My first and biggest foot-in-the-door experience was having Bergdorf Goodman be the first store to carry the denim. Tommy Fazio, the then-fashion director of the men's store, bought the jeans on belief in the product and belief in me to grow the brand. Tommy is now the president of SIMON SPURR.


What is the appeal of working in the fashion industry as a man?

I think it really depends on what you do. I'm not sure that being a man in the industry has any advantage over being a woman. Why would it? Having the English accent is probably my biggest advantage. I mean this only in the sense that people don't expect to hear it when they meet me. And it's almost become a distinctive point of difference for people to remember me by.





What are some non-glamorous skills required in your field?

Honestly, there are so many daily activities in the job of building a brand that are far from glamorous.

Math for sure: import/export duties, freight charges, fuel charges, pick tickets, costings, basic accounting, cash flow, etc. Retail headaches: RTVs (return to vendor, when someone sends a product back from the store. Thankfully, this doesn't happen that much), packing product, shipping product. I'm sure most designers started by doing everything themselves in the beginning, and I'm no exception.

Travel: It sounds exciting, and it is in some ways, but to fly 10 hours to Italy (in economy), get off of the plane and go straight to a factory to work another 10 hours is tough. Then to drive to the next factory, work again, sleep, work, sleep, work. Stamina definitely comes into play here. When you're the only one there, you just have to get it done!


How do you see your specific field within the industry evolving in the next five years?

I actually see menswear as one of the most exciting categories in fashion. In conjunction with the economical bounce-back that we are experiencing, we are also witnessing a period where men are really starting to take a different approach to their own personal style. Men are dressing in a far more sophisticated way (physically and metaphorically). As the spotlight shifts from womenswear onto menswear a little more, the possibilities of growth are enormous. Seasons are becoming less important. Men are traveling more, and between varying climates, demanding more trans-seasonal product.

How things are made, the quality of the components being used in the garment or having the product "Made in Italy" are all becoming important factors again when considering clothes. Aesthetically, I would love to see more individuality at a mass-market level. More creativity and a better understanding of the garment from the average consumer. I really think the internet, fashion forums and blogs will educate the consumer and help make these changes for the benefit of us all.


What are some resources you recommend looking to for someone looking to start a career in fashion?

There are very few designers in the world like Alexander McQueen that have enough raw talent to start their own company straight out of school. Upon starting a company, I think it's vital to know about Factors. These are money lenders that will advance you money based on actual sales orders to help you finance the production of your collection.

Angels The Costumiers in London, Melet Mercantile in NYC are both great vintage clothing resources for inspiration.

PR firms: You will need one to support the product, get editorial, celebrity dressing, etc. It costs a lot of money, but it's paramount to the success of a brand.




Benjamin Clymer, The Editor-In-Chief, HODINKEE

How did you start your career in fashion?

When I started HODINKEE, I was just another asshole slaving away in Microsoft Excel for nine hours a day. But I was working for a bank during one of the slowest periods in banking history, so I had some free time on my hands. I had always been interested in watches so I started a Tumblr account where I'd write about a new watch every day. Slowly, more people started to visit the site, and eventually an editor at GQ.com asked to speak with me about it. That was the site's first major placement and really got it going and, by association, my career as a writer and editor.

What's a risk that you took when starting your career in fashion that paid off?

That's easy: leaving UBS to work on HODINKEE full time. If you want something to really explode, you need to dedicate yourself to it fully, and once I put all my time into the site, things really started to happen. I'm not saying quit your job today if you think you have an idea for something. I worked on HODINKEE every single day -- before work, on lunch breaks and at night -- for a year while working full time at UBS. Make sure you're realistic about what you can do, but if you have a good lead with something, making the plunge into full-time writing is the only way to go. Think about what you do from 9 to 5 each weekday. Now imagine you put that much effort into something you really believe in. It's incredible what you can accomplish when you have both the interest to do something original (which everyone has) and the time to make it happen (which few have).




What is the appeal of working in the fashion industry as a man?

For me, it's about getting to meet the minds behind the brands. Sure, there are nice dinners, events and shows -- even the occasional freebie -- but the best part is getting to sit down with and talk to people that have done great things. You quickly realize that no matter who you're talking to, how famous, brilliant or wealthy they are, they are just "people." The opportunity to learn from and bounce ideas off of some of the greatest minds of today is one of best perks of working in the fashion industry. Oh, and the girls. Just kidding (not really).


What are some non-glamorous skills required in your field?

The ability to sell a reader on a story that he or she wouldn't or shouldn't care about unless you make them care. There are unique angles in everything, and good writing is about finding and exploiting those anecdotes that resonate with the reader. In storytelling, it's OK if you only make one point, as long as it's a good one. On a more practical level, some basic multimedia skills are incredibly helpful: basic HTML, how to really use a DSLR, Photoshop and Final Cut Pro.


How do you see your specific field within the industry evolving in the next five years?

I think over the next two to three years we'll see more upstarts -- more independent blogs coming from people that maybe couldn't have made it in the mainstream media, and I think that's a great thing. I had always thought I was a good enough writer and editor to work for people like Esquire and the Financial Times, but before HODINKEE existed, I never could've gotten in those doors. Independent publishing gives everyone a voice, and those with a voice to which people inherently want to listen will find a way to the top.

But I think at a certain point the industries covered by these niche sites -- the fashion world, the watch world, the car world, etc. -- may reach a breaking point with independently published media outlets. I think sooner or later the fashion world will shake out those outlets that don't really matter, in spite of all the noise they make ... and many of those will be niche blogs.




Corey Kelly, The Stylist

How did you start your career in fashion?

I originally moved to New York City to pursue a fashion modeling career. But I've always known that I wanted to work behind the scenes as a fashion editor/stylist. While my modeling agency sent me out on castings, I worked as a sales associate at Polo Ralph Lauren. The experience I had there was special because, on a daily basis, I was exposed to an important circle of influential people who worked in fashion and other industries. One of my clients at the store happened to be a wonderful married couple who introduced me to their close friend who was an editor at Men's Vogue at the time. I remember I was extremely interested in working as an intern within the magazine's fashion department. I knew if I landed an internship with such an important title it would eventually lead to another opportunity. Fortunately, after interviewing with Men's Vogue's fashion department, I landed an internship. I sacrificed a lot of my time then, since I literally worked seven days a week. I worked three days a week at Men's Vogue without pay and four days at Ralph Lauren, which was my primary source of income. I did this for months and months until I landed a position at Style.com to assist Candy Pratts Price, the site's former executive fashion director.


What's a risk that you took when you started your career in fashion?

Being laid off was the biggest risk I took during my career that I never had any control over. Near the end of my stint as a fashion research assistant at Style.com, my division was downsized due to the economic recession. It was such a scary moment in time because I had never experienced the loss of a job before. On the bright side, being laid off really pushed me to be creative and utilize the experience and connections I had gained.

After what seemed to be endless emails and phone calls, I was able to find work as a freelance fashion assistant at WSJ [the magazine from The Wall Street Journal], contribute as a fashion writer for this very site [AskMen]; work as a collection coordinator with Dizon, Inc. (a well-known fashion production company) on many major shows during New York Fashion Week; found steady work assisting a few major fashion stylists; and, surprisingly, found myself working with Candy again at none other than Vogue.com.




While working with many of these companies, I was able to break out on my own and develop my portfolio. If you want to be a fashion stylist, you need to have something that showcases your work. When you're fresh and new in the industry, you always need to be updating your portfolio. This is something I take seriously because your portfolio is a reflection of your creative vision. There have been times earlier in my career when I've submitted tests from my portfolio to publications and they've surprisingly ran them as full-on editorials. You have to take chances and, I think, for me, being laid off shook things up and made me push a lot harder.


What are some non-glamorous skills required in your field?

Ambition, experience and a vision. You don't have to go to college to become a fashion stylist. I certainly never did. The education comes from the experience you receive through interning and assisting fashion editors at publications and/or freelance fashion stylists. This experience pays off because you learn the way the business works, who the key players are, etc. I honestly believe amazing experience trumps a college education in this line of work -- something people definitely notice in this industry.

Secondly, you need to be ambitious because a lot of people don't understand the amount of legwork and running around that is involved with styling. They think it's like playing with Barbie dolls and dressing models and celebrities. About 85 percent of the job is exhaustive: sample-trafficking and communicating with showrooms and fashion publicists, hoping you get your requested samples for your shoot, which can actually be quite a headache. It's funny because by the time you're ready to put together looks, you're exhausted.


How do you see your specific field within the industry evolving in the next five years?

I see the web playing a major role -- something that's already happening. Magazines and retailers need an online presence, and this is creating something new and exciting for fashion stylists. Before the internet, fashion stylists worked primarily on fashion editorials and advertising campaigns seen in print publications. But now a lot of that work is moving online, thanks to e-commerce and online media.


What are some resources you recommend looking to for someone wanting to start a career in fashion?

The No. 1 resource for anyone interested in becoming a fashion stylist is to seek opportunities to intern and/or assist an important name. I've never met a successful fashion stylist who just happened to become a success out of the blue. You have to really be passionate about what it is you're working toward because working in a fashion closet at a very popular magazine is a lot of work. I remember getting the shock of my life when I started working as an intern at Men's Vogue. Not because it was a bad place to work, but because I didn't know about the amount of work and long hours you have to put in. I've seen my fair share of interns working at fashion magazines with bloated egos, who barely lift a pinky because they think that's what fashion is all about. But it's funny to see how long they last.




Joshua Linam, The Writer, Fashion Indie

How did you start your career in fashion?

My start as a fashion writer came via a friend whom I'd worked with prior. He's a serial entrepreneur and recruited me to his online fashion start-up to write editorial content. My first assignment was interviewing two Victoria's Secret supermodels, which was a nice learning experience.

Even more than most industries, fashion is about building a network of people. When you meet new potentially beneficial contacts, you need to show the best side of yourself: exhibit professionalism, offer genuine friendliness and remember little things, like handwritten thank-you notes.


What's a risk that you took when you started your career in fashion?

I was writing when I lived in Texas, but I always thought I was meant for bigger things. I bought a one-way flight to New York City, packed four suitcases and a beanbag, and I made the move. Obviously, my friends and family thought I was insane for moving without a job lined up, but my belief in myself never wavered. I shook as many hands and kissed as many babies as I could around the city, and I eventually fell into a great opportunity.


What is the appeal of working in the fashion industry as a man?

Fashion is a massive beast of an industry in New York City. It takes hard work and a lot of hours to arrive at where you want to be, but the industry can be very rewarding. Fashion parties and events should not be your main reason for seeking a career in fashion (vodka martinis are not enough motivation to get you through the crazy-filled days). But let's be honest: Fashion throws the best parties.


What are some non-glamorous skills required in your field?

As a writer, it's a real advantage to know the basics of social media. It's not enough to write an amazing piece. You need to get your work in front of people. However, there's no magic button to press that'll grow your Twitter or Facebook following. The best way to expand your social media network is by provoking thoughtful conversations, maintaining a strong voice and staying consistent with posting.


How do you see your specific field within the industry evolving in the next five years?

The future of fashion writing is online. In five years, I think stories that fashion writers publish will be received so instantaneously that proofreaders will be working overtime to prevent errors. Blogging will no doubt have its place in the future because it represents the voice of the people. I also see a gap closing between writing, marketing and e-commerce. This means things like branded content, advertorials and a "buy now" button alongside images of new clothing.


What are some resources you recommend looking to for someone wanting to start a career in fashion?

Developing good communication is key in any field. There's an age-old book called How to Win Friends and Influence People that every young man should read. Cheesy, perhaps, but it offers valuable lessons in the art of conversation.




Eddy Chai, The Store Owner, Odin New York

How did you start your career in fashion?

Paul Birardi (co-owner of Odin) and I had a friend who had a women's store in the East Village. In spending a lot of time in the area and walking about, we noticed that there weren't really any men's stores or ones that reflected what we would want to experience. We had this casual sentiment: "Someone should open a men's lifestyle store in NYC." That friend called us one day and said, "You guys should open a men's store. There's an available space down the block."


What's a risk that you took when you started your career in fashion?

It wasn't until much later that we realized that our biggest risk was opening our first store. There were definitely naysayers who thought that the men's market was too small or that the East Village was too off-the-beaten-path to have a viable business. But we definitely had a clear point of view and were passionate about what we wanted to create and stood true to that vision.

(In this video, Eddy Chai interviews his brother, fashion designer Richard Chai)




What is the appeal of working in the fashion industry as a man?

There's a tremendous amount of creative, inspirational and motivated people, regardless if they're men or women, in the industry, which keeps us engaged. In terms of being a man in the industry, unlike the women's market, the men's market is still relatively young but developing at a tremendous rate. To have a voice in contributing to this market (however large or small) by introducing new brands and products to a discerning male customer is gratifying.


What are some non-glamorous skills required in your field?

Many people have this misconception about the duties a buyer has. It's not just about selecting "nice things." There is an important financial component that requires planning and analysis. There is nothing our employees do that I'm not willing or have not done myself. Most of my business is non-glamorous, and that's fine by me.


What are some resources you recommend looking to for someone wanting to start a career in fashion?

Get an internship. I know that sounds obvious, but it truly is a way to start a career path. And while I know many people are quite dismissive about internships, it really gives you exposure to the inner workings of the business. It could help you decide if it is even a career you want to pursue.


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