just a thought – terms of internship

How do you break into the fashion industry from the outside?  Ask almost anyone – including me sometimes – and the suggestion will be to intern.  I feel a bit mixed as I give this advice because it is advice I never took.

While other fashion students were volunteering their time at acclaimed designers and national magazines, I hit the pavement with my meager portfolio and held out for a fashion job of any description – but for financial reasons, only if it paid.  I managed to find a few jobs, the two major ones were working as a cutting and alterations assistant in the basement workshop for a boutique designer and counting threads-per-inch on fabric samples for the private label department of a national retailer.  In many ways my experiences were the same as many fashion interns – with two major differences. One, I got paid a modest wage and two, I rarely had the opportunity to network on the job.

When trading shop talk with my friends and colleagues now I wonder sometimes if I sold myself short for minimum wage.  There are some amazing internship opportunities out there for the ambitious young go-getters.  I asked a couple fashion blog friends to comment on their own experiences.  Ophelia of The Eternal Intern tells me,

In my opinion, internships are the only way (other than personal contacts) to get into the fashion industry.  I have found that the best jobs/internships are never posted online, but spread by word of mouth through what I call “the Old Girls Club”.  I got wind of an internship at FASHION via twitter and since then my former boss has put me in touch with people hiring for jobs that a “contact-less” job seeker would probably never see.  The fashion industry is very incestuous, but once you know the right people all kinds of doors open!  The best way to get in is by interning (and doing a stellar!) job so people take notice and want to call in favors for you.

Ophelia has interned at magazines both in Toronto and Paris and has seen many facets of fashion intern existence – I asked her what she looks for when applying for an internship.

When looking for an internship, I always consider the following:
The company:  Is it well-respected and globally recognized?  If I am going to work for free, I want to make sure I at least have something amazing to put on my resume!

The internship description:  I have done internships where I am treated like an employee and have gained so much experience and then others where I photocopy alllllll day!  The only thing an intern gains from an internship is the experience, so I always look for a chance to learn something new.

The benefits:  A paid internship is a dream come true!  Even if they pay for lunch and a metropass, it’s better than nothing.  For me, the company and the job description definitely outweigh the other criteria.   Working for Vanity Fair for example, would be such an incredible learning opportunity that I would overlook just about everything else!

Length, days/week:  I it is an unpaid internship, being able to intern 3 days/week and then work the others is key.  It gets a little frustrating giving all your time away for free, so having a few days off really helps.

If you’re really interested in intern dish, you must check out Ophelia’s blog – The Eternal Intern – where she and two friends document the dreams and dramas of scoring a job in the glamour industry.

Another fashion blog friend who entered the fashion industry through some prestigious internships is my friend Truc of Deeply Superficial who spent time as a design intern at Marc Jacobs and as an editorial intern at Teen Vogue.  Truc and I are opposite sides of the coin when it comes to our approach to entering the fashion industry so our conversations on the subject can get feisty.  The gist is that Truc believes in working inside the system and I tend to work outside the system.  Truc says,

I have done almost a dozen internships over the years, ranging from museums to fashion designers to small business retailers to national mass market chains. I think I gained a great deal from these internships, and the body of knowledge really build up my understanding of various facets of the fashion industry, and complemented my education in fashion design and later on for my MA research. Most of my internships were unpaid, at least at the beginning. Some I hated and others I stayed on for years at.

What I gained:
1) The internships exposed me to all the different parts of the “fashion” industry, and I was able to really learn what it means on a day to day basis to be, for example, a “fashion designer” in Toronto or a museum curator at the ROM. I discovered my strengths and weaknesses, and what I definitely didn’t want to pursue.

2) I think you have to start somewhere, and being an intern is great because the level of commitment is lower – if you don’t like something, you can walk away easily after the term is over! For me, I’ve always been fortunate that several of my internships (four) lead directly to paying freelance and assistant positions with the same company, which I wouldn’t have necessarily been hired for otherwise.

3) I made valuable industry contacts in Toronto and New York through my internships, and having all that work experience was incredibly helpful when I was looking for my first job (now, 3 years after graduation, I only have 2 publishing internships out of all of them listed on my resume). Even now, I keep in touch with some of my internship coordinators from companies such as Joeffer Caoc and Marc Jacobs, and these women have become my mentors and friends.

4) Thinking back, I was an awful and amazing intern at various points, sometimes during the same internship! But I don’t regret a single experience or lament the loss of potential wages (ie if I had been working retail and getting paid instead for those hours), because I can pinpoint so many things that I’ve learned about businesses and being an assistant and managing others through these work experiences.

Truc is one of my favourite fashion friends – all the more so because we’re so different – and a truly thoughtful fashion writer.  Her take on fashion at Deeply Superficial is highly recommended.

Considering others experiences, it is clear to me that given the right opportunities an internship can be a valuable, wonderful, and even life-changing experience.  I certainly missed out on a world of opportunity by not being inside.  Yet I am skeptical that internships are the only way – or necessarily the best way – to get into the fashion industry. And via Final Fashion, I am essentially betting my own career on this.

Without diminishing the considerable talents of my peers and friends, I think it is fair to state that internships are the most conventional way of entering the fashion industry.  As a system, the fashion intern industrial complex has some issues which are a whole other post – exacerbating financial and social inequalities – which sometimes turn bridges into barriers for the talented and underprivileged. Except, talent can fly.

Two examples. One, the bohemian ideal is exemplified by Viktor & Rolf who created couture in the bubble of a one-room flat in Paris, showed how ambition can manifest success outside the system. Two, the magic of the internet allows a teenager in suburban America to share her passion for style and offers her the opportunities of a lifetime.

My own bid for an unconventional entry is not as meteoric (yet) but takes inspiration from these kinds of stories. The essence is that if you fiercely want to live a certain kind of life and you manifest it even with meager resources – whether it is a blog or in V&R’s case, a miniature collection in 1996 that galvanized their desires – it is possible to enter the world of fashion on your own terms.

Hard work, talent and persistence is a potent combination whether it is inside or outside the system. It is probably not good advice for most people to subvert established channels – unconventional success is rare for a reason.  But I would say that if circumstances determine that you can’t get your dream internship, to not give up, and to consider alternatives that would allow you do what you desire, now. Even if it is just in a small, symbolic way.

fashion illustrated – Sevin-Doering pattern puzzle

Once again Kathleen at Fashion-Incubator provides an irresistible puzzle for a fashion illustrator who also fancies herself pretty keen on patternmaking.  As before, the challenge is to guess what the garment looks like based on the flat pattern alone.  This time, the designer is Geneviève Sevin-Doering.  Here are the flat patterns:

The red one on the left seems pretty straightforward in a slightly crooked way.  The blue one on the right baffles me.  This guess at the garment is really just a wild stab in the dark. My theory is that it is a two-in-one garment, either double-layered (as drawn here) or with two separate sets of armholes to allow the wearer to don the garment in two different ways.

I haven’t tried to peek at the answers yet – I’ll wait until Kathleen does the reveal next week.

career karma – Ryan Taylor of FTJCo

I became aware of Ryan Taylor through the magic of Twitter – besides being an incredibly active philanthropist and organizer of successful fundraisers such as HoHoTo, he is an entrepreneur who is transforming a storefront in Toronto’s Cabbagetown neighborhood.  His company, the Fair Trade Jewellery Company, is dedicated to creating customized jewellery using materials that are sourced fairly. Ryan is an enthusiastic and passionate individual who is keen on sharing ideas, space, and galvanizing the community around him.  You can learn more in this video. I asked him some questions about his vision for a jewellery company with a difference.

You use a CNC machine and software to design and prototype your customized jewellery. How does your equipment affect the way you design?

I have two answers .

1. For our collections and my personal design process it doesn’t affect me at all. Computers and rapid prototyping are no different than a hammer, torch, or file, each a tool in my bench.

What it does do is affect the way clients engage the design process. Traditionally water colours are/were used to illustrate a concept, then wax models produced by hand. People still employ this process today, the challenge is who pays for this time? Visually translating from paper to physical model is difficult for some people which means the process is often repeated (at a considerable cost) until the client is happy. For our clients we don’t charge for the custom work because these tools help me reduce both time and labour. The entire process can be completed during a single consultation, or over a few emails. The wax model is an exact replica of the photo realistic renderings which significantly reduces any confusion, and even if there is a change remaking it isn’t a problem.

It’s worth noting that there are a lot of faux-cad suites on counters in Jewellery stores, these are generally fool proof stock computer models sales people are trained on to give the illusion of ‘custom design’ and improve margins. Others may offer CAD but it’s simply a process of emailing a doodle to China, which can become expensive if multiple changes are needed. True custom (CAD/CAM) allows for infinite design possibilities and the ability to add special details like a finger print, illustrations or complex architectural detail – the options are endless. It’s my job to guide people through this exiting process, and resolve any technical restrictions.

Despite using a machine for much of the modelling process, jewellery is still finished by hand. Here the new world tools meets the old, it’s one of the reasons I love what I do.

2. A common goal amongst designers who use CAD/CAM

This would depend entirely on the mandate of the company or the project. The ‘holy grail’ for most designers, in any field, is to really create something so perfect a human hand couldn’t reproduce it. But the most common goals would be: improving production capabilities, and cost.

Building the point of difference of your business on the notion of a higher standard of ethics is certainly admirable. Is building a truly “fair” for-profit business achievable or just aspirational?

Totally achievable. Because we’re already doing it. The biggest risk we face isn’t consumer demand, or the supply chain but the Jewellery industry itself. Getting up the nose, and facing off with the PR agencyies of multinational corporations is not a matter of if but when. The industry itself needs new thought leaders, they (will) see us as a threat to the status quo. What they should understand is; we don’t want to take the establishment down we want to reform it, preserve it, save it from itself, and by doing so also change the communities and regions affected by it.

Have you ever encountered a moral grey area where two ethical priorities (say, labour versus environment) compete? What would you do in such a situation?

Not yet. If I can’t deliver I’m honest with the client. This type of conversation often happens around coloured stones because there isn’t a body that independently certifies the supply chain(s). And there may never be, but clients are always receptive to education about the product, and bit of transparency.

Another question clients ask that I’ve always been reluctant to accept is the idea of ‘recycled metal’. How this idea could be marketed without question really illustrates how desperate the industry is to preserve their commodity model and how lazy the green movement has become. Jewellers, Goldsmiths, Manufacturers have been recycling fine metal for centuries, there isn’t a landfill for old jewellery. Branding it and selling back to consumers as some sort of ‘green strategy’ is quite brilliant in some ways. When I began searching for ‘recycled’ options I called one refinery because they advertised ‘eco metal’: I asked “Are you 3rd party certified”, answer: “Yes”, “Great who certifies you?”, reply “We do”. This interaction sums up the current industry pretty well, another case of foxes guarding the hen house.

That’s not to say a solution didn’t exist, we found one. To fulfill requests for Platinum (currently limited supply from our partners in Colombia) and Palladium (not available) we found found a parter who is certified by: SCS http://www.scscertified.com/ this allows us to offer a post consumer 3rd party verified product with a minimum of 88% (18% post-consumer 70% pre-consumer) recycled content without any moral dilemma.

You’ve alluded to a change of direction for FTJCo in 2010. How has your vision for the business changed since you began?

The vision remains the same. We’ve responded to feedback already by getting sample product in showcases, scaling our production ability, improving availability, and did a bit of a flip-flop on how we offer custom. These are all boring operational refinements though.

My greatest disappointment was not being able to offer the 10-15% of retail as an investment back into the communities of the Choco. I believe this to be temporary set back, as we generate more business and refine our financial model I hope 2010 is the year we achieve this goal.

What have you learned from the process of “soft-launching” a business?

  1. People entering a “jewellery store” are always on the defensive. And understandably so. I despise going into Jewellery stores.
  2. No one knows what an atelier is.
  3. Education not sales.
  4. Honestly above profits.
  5. Admit you were wrong.
  6. At whatever the cost “Make it Right”
  7. Love your community(s)

What designers and entrepreneurs do you admire, and how do they inspire you?

For a designer I only have one answer. Goldschmiedemeister Karl Vigelius. My mentor and friend. His work is elegant, technically brilliant, and he has shared the world with me. 50+ years experience, formally trained in Germany – he is a rare find. We spend every Tuesday together it is the highlight of every week.

Entrepreneur. Steve Jobs. I can identify with him on so many levels, I even haz a Woz :)

library finds – The American Way of Designing

For Library Finds, I take a few books out of the library and share with you photo of a page or two or perhaps a random excerpt with brief comments of my own.

Having perused through many of the shinier books already I have taken to opening up the older books, with their dull covers and plain spines, to see what I can find.  Often the insides are just as dull as the outside, but The American Way of Designing by Gertrude Cain (1950) delighted me.

Not only does each chapter start with a little cartoon (and the humour is pure garmento) and the writing is wonderfully candid as Gertrude Cain tries to set wannabe fashion designers straight so they’ll be prepared to design for mass-manufacturing – “the American Way”.

It seems to me that the number of potential designers must be reaching astronomical figures. Yet I know a manufacturer of a nationally advertised popular-priced dress line who would hire a designer tomorrow if he could find one who could fit the bill.  He would pay her more than $100 a week, give her a bonus at Christmas, and she would take two or three trips to New York each year.

By the way, you can right-click on these spreads to see a bigger image.

Interspersed between insights on the fashion business as it used to be is a lot of timeless advice for anyone who wants to design clothing, no matter what the whims of fashion are at the time.

Mme. Helene Lyolene, who has been my friend for many years has often said, “Listen to the fabric; it will tell you how to make it.” Satin asks to go dancing; taffeta wishes to dine out; gabardine would go to school or to work.  … Some materials combine and some do not.  Mme Lyolene said “Do not marry materials that fight.  No one will like them.”  The ability to determine whether two materials will marry is instinctive.

The author also takes us on a tour of the now-uncommon American factory, tells tales of her own early career successes and mistakes.  Though it is a short book it contains a great overview of the post-war fashion industry and makes me marvel at how  so much has changed in sixty years – and how some things never seem to change.

I leave you with the somewhat unencouraging ending to the book:

As Norman Douglas said in South Wind: “Has any man ever attained inner harmony by pondering the experience of others? Not since the world began!  He must pass through the fire.” Although I am rather inclined to agree with this cynical philosophy – human nature being what it is – I hope this book may temper the fire at leas a few degrees for those who must become designers.

a word from… January 10 sponsors


A word from… is a monthly news post contributed by the sponsors who support Final Fashion.  All of my sponsors are intrepid entrepreneurs with a lot of personality, and I encourage you to check out what they are doing and making.  If you are interested in becoming a sponsor, please get in touch!

Nina from Toronto Fashion Incubator says…

Guilty Pleasures is a fabulous fashion + food one-day, annual event that takes place during the City of Toronto’s Winterlicious Festival at The Drake Hotel (1150 Queen St. W.). The Drake offers brunch to 350 fashion & beauty-minded patrons who enjoy an exclusive consumer sale featuring locally designed products from TFI accessory and apparel designers. The silent auction component that we introduced last year was highly successful, 100% proceeds went to community programming offered by the Toronto Fashion Incubator (TFI), our non-profit organization. This year’s event continues to include the DaLish Beauty Bar where attendees can receive mini-makeovers and beauty touch-ups, mini informal fashion shows and door prizes (for brunch patrons only, the brunch is sold out). What’s new is that the designer sale & silent auction are open to the public all day from 9am to 4pm.

Ashley from Shopgirls says…

Shopgirls is proud to announce it here, this superb blog, first: there is a NEW and FABULOUS Shopgirls Blog! You’ll notice our gorgeous website doesn’t really have lots of room for story-telling, and telling stories about our artists and designers is what we’re all about! Thus, we created a blog to compliment our main site. Expect mini interviews with our artists, notes about new items in the shop, commentary on what’s happening in art and design around us, and much more! Come check us out and come often!

Julie from LIV by Au Lit says…

We wanted to give Final Fashion readers a sneak peak of what to expect at LIV this Spring.  We’re introducing a lot of new brands like: Charlotte Ronson, Twenty8Twelve by S. Miller, Wren, Ella Moss, Rachel Pally, Bell, Rebecca Minkoff handbags, James Jeans, MinkPink, La Fee Maraboute, Wendy Mink Jewellery, Three Dot, Clu, James Perse, Left on Houston and Central Park West. Definitely worth checking out! See you in store!

fashion school flashback – second year eveningwear

After showing my rather unimpressive first year fashion school project as a way of showing my inauspicious beginnings, it occurred to me that I have never posted my second year eveningwear project, circa 2004, on the internet before.  Once again, if you’re landing on this site for the first time I want to assure you I went on to create much greater things.

My concept was pretty classic for a fashion student – a cinchy corset and a big poofy skirt, with inspiration from nature and flowers and a fairy-ish illustration to go with it.  The illustration has some awkwardness with the proportions – though in a way, the lack of finesse in the line quality and colouring is something that I wish I could recapture in my current style.

I’m pretty proud of these technicals – they’re very detailed even if they didn’t accurately reflect the final dress.

This is the final dress – and I take full responsibility for the lackluster styling and modelling (um, yeah, that’s me).  The dress is in need of a great big crinoline (which I did a much better job with in the Snow Queen project).  The part that did work out as planned was the corset – which featured an elasticized system which allowed it to fit on different sizes of model – a tactic I used because we weren’t allowed to fit our models for the year-end fashion show.

Fellow fashion school alumni – do you recall your first over-the-top eveningwear project?  What was it like?

what I wear – trying on shoulders

Once you’ve seen a fashion cycle go full circle, you feel old.  As a teenager, things I wear now – tapered jeans, high waists – were beyond uncool.  Shoulderpads are like that too, though the scorn of my youth for shoulder-centric styles has taken a bit longer to overcome.  Lately two thrift finds have encouraged me to bite the fashion bullet and chew on some shoulderpads.
Jeremy Scott 1
This Jeremy Scott angora sweater must have been seeded in the racks at Value Village for the sole purpose of turning me on to shoulders.  It fits perfectly, is lovely, soft and warm, and though there is major shoulder emphasis happening, there are no shoulder pads.

Jeremy Scott 2
By the way, check out my new filing cabinet. The excitement I feel for this cabinet is kind of ridiculous, but just having it makes me feel so legit. I get silly little thrills every time I have to file something.

Wool Check 1
This second find is a cropped-sleeve, boxy cut blazer with some serious shoulder pads.  I was skeptical on the hanger but the quality of the wool and the smallness of it encouraged me to try it on – and though I have never owned anything like it before, it just seemed to work perfectly.

Wool Check 2
The fact that it has major pockets just sealed the deal.

Fashion friends, have you succumbed to the return of shoulders?  Are there any other trends you’ve tried that your younger self would find shocking?

click click – 21-01-10


Welcome to Click Click, the fairly regular roundup of what I find worth clicking on the internet.

Plus, karma karma for friendly commenters and linkers <3

  • Label“A label is any kind of tag attached to something so as to identify the object or its content.”
  • T. M. Pasnak“You are either extremely tenacious, OR really lost if you have somehow found your way here.”
  • Aspiring Couture“Aspiring Couture is a project to get young designers, their fresh approach and new outlook on fashion, made known to the world.
  • on the row“A fashion student who’s dream job is to forecast trends and work for an agency that pays for her travels.”
  • Humber Fashion – the Humber Fashion school blog, a great idea for a fashion student project, led by editor Jacquie Burton of Jacquieshambles.
  • Corey Lee Draws “My work is inspired by fashion, music, typography, videogames and just about anything else I find interesting.”

fashion illustrated – painting for Heartbeats

Alison Lawler-Dean (of the adorable blog Gifted) asked me to contribute a work of art for a fundraiser called Heartbeats for Africa, in support of the Stephen Lewis Foundation. The loose themes are the colour red, and hearts, and I was inspired by the heart shaped red pincushions that are so common to create this piece called “threading”, featuring genuine pins, needles and thread.

The event is on February 13th, and there will be cocktails and lots of lovely art to be auctioned off for a terrific cause.  If you are in Toronto, you should go!  Buy tickets here.

fashion illustrated – Trash Fusion entry

After posting about the Trash Fusion contest yesterday, I got to pondering what I would do if I entered, and I did come up with an idea, albeit an idea which is somewhat simple and labour-intensive to execute – a swingy, tent silhouette paillette dress, where the paillettes are hand-cut from plastic containers.  It might be knitted together so it will swing around in a dynamic way when the model walks.

What would you do if the assignment was to create a dress from recycled materials?  If you have a great idea, and you happen to live in Ontario, you should submit your idea to Trash Fusion.