Fashion does a great job selling clothes and accessories. Fashion profits on aspiration. Fashion capitalizes on desire. And fashion has cornered the market on impulse buys.
However, the industry still struggles to convince the masses that it’s a viable career, especially if you don’t live in New York or Los Angeles.
“The fashion industry is very mysterious to people,” explained Elizabeth Tucker, co-founder of Alive magazine and St. Louis Fashion Week. “But it’s like all the other major industries: super complex, and it’s not easy to figure out how to insert yourself into something like that.”
Fashion sounds sexy. It may sound fun and enjoyable, but most people can name very few careers in the industry. And ironically, the few careers that people most identify with “fashion” are the most elusive: fashion designers with their own brands, celebrity stylists, models, high fashion photographers and magazine fashion editors.
Jen Meyer, the assistant director of career development for Washington University’s art and design school, which includes fashion design, groans at that perception. As she fights to help students and alums progress toward prosperous and fulfilling careers, she said students and the supporting community need to learn that fashion is more than window dressing.
“There’s a lot of academic rigor in what (the students) do; it’s part of the culture here,” Meyer said. “Fashion includes really sophisticated thinking, not unlike other work that’s done in design.”
She said that fashion students study the craft of making clothes, but they also delve deeply into studies of languages, history, classical art and business among other things. Fashion also needs lawyers, accountants and software engineers.
Not everyone who wants to be a fashion designer will end up being a successful fashion designer, but that doesn’t mean that they have to leave the industry dejected, Meyer said. Fashion designers need chief executive officers, a team of designers, pattern makers, sales executives and a team of support.
“No one is autonomous,” said Jill Maguire, the founding executive director of the Regional Arts Commission. She retires from the commission in December as she marks nearly 30 years on the job. Among her last acts will be hosting a panel at the region’s first Midwest Fashion Conference: Forum for Fashion Exploration and Examination of the Impact of Fashion on Cities, Culture and Economy. Presented by St. Louis Fashion Week and hosted by Washington University, the impressive event includes a full day of workshops, discussions and presentations for people who are intellectually curious about the industry and people looking to enter fashion as a profession.
“We’re trying to balance the supply and demand because there are tons of people who are interested in fashion … and there are not as many mentors,” Tucker said.
She said that this makes it difficult for people pursuing a career in fashion to figure out the steps to establishing a career and making money. Entry-level fashion jobs are notoriously unpaid internships.
The conference will explore various aspects of the fashion industry, but the aim is ultimately not just to appeal to fashion students. Maguire, Meyer and Tucker said that fashion needs to be on the civic agenda.
Fern Mallis, the woman credited with creating the entity known as New York Fashion Week, will be in town to lead the judging of St. Louis Fashion Week’s emerging designer award. And she’ll also sit on a panel to explain just how New York Fashion Week became so powerful.
“Fashion can have a huge economic impact, so it makes sense to cultivate it here,” Maguire said.
To that end, the independent St. Louis Fashion Fund is sponsoring the $15,000 cash prize at St. Louis Fashion Week and hosting a gala to raise awareness and capital for a fashion incubator program in downtown St. Louis.
The Regional Arts Commission has awarded two grants this year to fashion startups dedicated to youth education.
And St. Louis Fashion Week is providing bloggers, consumers, retailers and industry professionals with more than just runway shows and parties.
“Now that we have people’s attention, we want to do something with it to strengthen the fashion industry in St. Louis,” Tucker said. “We have the talent to do it here now; they just need the support.”
St. Louis Fashion Week presents 2014 Midwest Fashion Conference
What • Forum for Fashion Exploration and Examination of the Impact of Fashion on Cities, Culture and Economy
When • 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Oct. 18
Where • Steinberg Auditorium at the Sam Fox School of Design & Visual Art, Washington University
Cost • $50-$75 (50 percent off for all students), including breakfast and lunch. VIP tickets include an exclusive tote bag, T-shirt and gift items. Tickets available at saintlouisfashionweek.com
More information • Email Lindsay@alivemag.com
• The schedule presents two tracks of concurrent sessions. One track is focused on career development for emerging and mid-career professionals: designers, stylists, art directors, writers, marketers. The second track is organized around artist talks and lectures by faculty at the Sam Fox School that consider and examine the impact fashion has on contemporary culture.