For the second year in a row, SHEI Magazine’s Work it: A Fashion Forum offered authenticity, professionalism and insight into working in the fashion industry. The event is one of the University’s only fashion forums and opportunities to network with alum in the fashion industry. Three expert panelists, all with different concentrations in the industry, answered questions regarding their road to success and how life at Michigan added to their journey.
The panelists included Lulu Chen, who has worked as a creative consultant at numerous fashion organizations, Frenchye Harris, the Public Relations Manager at Neiman Marcus, and Meenal Mistry, the Fashion Director of “Off Duty” for the Wall Street Journal.
The audience was filled with students sporting leather jackets, chic glasses and funky boots — their note-taking pens at the ready and eyes wide with admiration. The topics of fast fashion, luxury garments and first looks were heard throughout the room, as the panelists stressed the importance of internships, volunteering and networking.
“Internships are definitely important,” Harris said. “There are a lot of ways you can get experience through internships and volunteering. If you hear there is a production on campus that needs volunteer stylists, get yourself out there. It also helps you meet other people who are interested in what you’re interested in.”
While Chen was enrolled in the School of Art and Design, she took classes at Parsons School of Design and The Fashion Institute of Technology. Additionally, she interned at Barney’s and Giorgio Armani in New York City. She spoke of how those involvements were crucial to her career in fashion. “Ask questions,” she said. “Talk to anyone you know that works in fashion and works in publishing. Keep trying and don’t get deterred — sometimes you’ll meet someone who will give you an opportunity.”
“Network,” Mistry said, who took an internship with Harper’s Bazaar soon after graduation. “Find the creative people on campus and see who they know. You never know who can make your career.”
Mistry compared Michigan to New York City, saying that there is a niche for everyone.
“Your people exist,” she said. “I fell in with a group of people — a group of artists. One of my best friends is now a really successful designer. We met freshman year of college.”
The panelists spoke of how their career paths formed over the course of many years, and how what they are doing now is not necessarily what they thought they wanted to do while in college.
“When I entered college, I thought I wanted to be a buyer,” Harris said. “After first semester, I found out it was about sitting behind a computer and crunching numbers all day. I soon realized I wanted to be a part of the fashion show.”
According to Mistry, rejection is a necessary part of the experience.
“You could have a five year plan, but you sort of have to go with the flow,” Mistry said. “I interviewed for jobs I really wanted and didn’t get. I was sad at the time, but I’m happy with how everything worked out.”
Much of the conversation was spent discussing the stark difference between working freelance and working on staff, for all three panelists had extensive experience with both.
“There are definitely pros and cons,” Chen said of her time working freelance and working on staff. “The first time I went freelance, I had to take a leap of faith. It’s scary — if you’re not a really disciplined person, it’s really hard. But the other part of it is that you can work so much more. It comes down to how you approach it.”
With the rise of the digital age, the immediacy of reaching vast audiences has shifted the approach of retail, advertising, and shopping.
“The internet has made the world so much smaller, but has made the fashion industry so much larger,” Harris said. “Everyone has a voice, and everyone can jump into the retail business. People have the opportunity to reach an audience that never would have been seen before. We have these amazing tools to try to reach our consumers in a way they haven’t been communicated with before, and outreaches our competitor.”
Technological developments have also allowed for new means of expression and exposure. With the rise of social media, artists and fashion industry hopefuls have more opportunities than ever to carve their own path.
“Digital and social media employs a lot of opportunity,” Chen said. “If you have a voice and a talent, you can put yourself out there. That didn't exist back in the day.”
Through their eloquent, honest answers, the panelists were a strong source of inspiration to the fashion interested audience. In today’s world, it is no secret that the fashion industry is competitive, cutthroat, intense and glamorous. LuLu Chen, Meenal Mistry and Frenchye Harris did not intend on denouncing these conceptions, yet their advice and experiences allowed for a true sneak peak into what it’s like to work in such an environment.
Their poise and insight made for a successful event, and surely inspired the audience to understand that a job in the fashion industry can be as glamorous as it seems — but it doesn’t come without major hard work.