On Monday, March 22nd, fashion industry hopefuls at Penn attended the “Fash Forward” panel talk from a group of young industry veterans sharing their experiences throughout various fields of the industry. The event, hosted by the AO pledge class of the Delta Sigma Pi business fraternity, included panelists Whitney Beckett WG’11, Michelle Gaster WG’11, Tony Wang W’12, and Katie Long ’13, who spoke about the specifics of the job behind glamorous titles like editor and buyer, stressed the humility needed especially when starting out, and dispelled stereotypes about fashion as just a superficial, fun-and-glamour industry.
Each panelist had a wealth of experience not only in a particular area but across different fashion-related fields, which was especially impressive since two panelists were undergrads and the other two Wharton grad students. Starting out at an internship in any field means doing the most menial, tedious work first, but as Michelle Gaster WG’11, former buyer at Bergdorf Goodman and Co-President of Wharton Fashion & Luxury Industries Club, put it, “Don’t be too proud for any internship, it’s what’s going to get your foot in the door.” As Whitney Beckett, Former Sportswear editor at WWD, recounted about her internship at WWD, when she completed her first assignment with a 2-month deadline in 2 days, she was able to move on to much more exciting work right away. During her time as WWD sportswear news editor, she wrote over 30 front-page stories and had the chance to meet with many top designers and business executives. And it all began with first being noticed by WWD for her work as fashion editor at Duke.
Tony Wang W’12, who won the 2010 Fashion Scholarship Fund for Merchandising and has shown his collections to top retailers like Bergdorf Goodman, also commented on his “very organic” start in fashion. He wanted to blog and design, and the two pursuits helped each other take off- blogging generated buzz for his line and helped him establish contacts. He explained the unique and rising position of the blogger within the industry, noting that blogging is a personal outlet in which many successful bloggers “created a cult of personality.” Katie Long, W’13, a writer for Seventeen magazine, similarly talked about the organic inspiration to start her own magazine, Haute, and the trial-and-error process of learning how to make it work along the way: “the idea comes to you, and you find any way to make it happen.”
As for the stereotype that fashion is a superficial industry, Tony Wang said, “Stereotypes are true for a reason.” The panelists agreed that there were undedicated people in it for the wrong reasons, but on the flipside, there are also opportunities for intelligent people to distinguish themselves. Ms. Gaster recommended researching exactly what the job entails: “A lot of people [I interviewed for buyer positions] say, I want to be a buyer because I love shopping. But buying is not shopping; there is also a quantitative aspect to the job, a lot of data analysis.” Within retail, she pointed out the e-commerce and international market as latest fields where the most opportunities can be found. No matter their background, all agreed that fashion is intellectually stimulating and recommend exploring a wide variety of educational and working experiences, even outside of fashion, to bring to the table.
The reality of the industry means that, despite the glamorous side of the fashion portrayed in the fashion, few can live the kind of New York lifestyle many imagine. The panelists however, did point out a silver lining to this sobering message: if you’re good, there are lots of opportunities to earn a decent living and perhaps make it to the top. Encouragingly, they all seem well on their way.
-Iris You ’13