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Getting ahead in design


It’s famously one of the most popular and competitive roles within the retail industry. In fact, for every 15 buying jobs advertised in the industry, there is only one design position! So climbing the career ladder can be tough. But, with the right attitude, knowledge and preparation you can go far. We asked specialist DPT recruiter Kate Morton from Fashion & Retail Personnel what advice she has for designers looking to progress.

Which companies would I look at?

Designers often go for the obvious high end brands and big high street names but neglect looking at the supply side. Working for a supplier is a great chance to work with different brands/retailers and it's where a large amount of design jobs are.

Larger suppliers you could think about include The Li and Fung Group, Carmel Clothing, Dewhirst and Stuart Peters. However, if you’re looking at retailers specifically, then River Island, Warehouse and Monsoon are all worth considering.

What other positions can I look at with my experience?

Design is one of the most competitive areas in retail. For every 15 buying jobs in the industry, there is only one design position. So, if you have a design and technical degree, we would always recommend looking at entry level garment technology roles. There is a real skill shortage here so you will be very much sought after. As a garment technologist you can expect a nice salary and great career progression — and less competition!

As a garment technologist, you will be more heavily involved with product development, working with buyers and designers. You ensure that the fit, quality and make is up to the required standard and will be involved with factory appraisals. Also, unlike a design job, there is the option for future overseas travel!

Am I restricted to working in London?

London is home to a lot of the design jobs, but it is also worth considering international opportunities; and there are also some great suppliers and retailers in the Midlands and the north so, if you’re not so keen on staying in the capital, your options are wider than you think. As long as you stay on top of the latest and upcoming trends, using forecasting magazines and websites, there is no reason you can’t make a successful career outside of London. You may also consider self-employment, marketing your work through trade fairs and via agents, or by making direct contact with buyers from larger businesses or niche clothing outlets.

What are employers expecting to see on my application?

At entry level, the minimum requirement is a fashion design related degree and a one-year relevant commercial placement, so include that. Otherwise, an artwork-focused CV which has been well written and includes experience that is relevant to your product area should see you through.

What else should I include?

It is essential that if you are applying to design roles that you have a current commercial design portfolio looking at the next two seasons. Send some examples of design work as jpegs with your CV. Remember, you work in a very competitive industry — you need to sell yourself.

Interview preparation

Make sure you get to one of the stores of the company to which you’re applying, in order to physically see the product. The key is to have your portfolio spot on and relevant to the brand/supplier/retailer with whom you are interviewing. For example, if you are interviewing at a dress supplier to New Look, your handwriting/portfolio needs to reflect this. It’s vitally important to tailor your application, as generic CVs and portfolios won’t cut it.

In the interview

Be confident talking through your portfolio. This should include trend boards, colour pallets, designs and spec sheets. However, have in mind a shortlist of your strongest projects that you can confidently talk about if time is short for any reason.

Your portfolio should tell a story and sell you in interview. Whatever you do, don’t play down your work. It’s easy, especially for less experienced designers, to start a presentation with, “This is only…” if you’re nervous, but when you’ve spent weeks on a piece of work, you should be proud of it and present it in the best possible light.

Studios will also be looking for someone who can add something new, or fill a gap in their business but not at the expense of your core skills. So, if you have a particular specialism, mention it at the end of the interview in a way that leaves the interviewer feeling you can really add value to their business in the future.