Breaking in to the fashion industry has never been easy, but navigating the beginning of your career is made easier by getting advice and tips from those who’ve been there, done that, and are now considered experts in their fields.

This week, we sent contributor Jordan Wake out to get advice from the most exciting and iconic names in fashion. From established industry icons like Hilary Alexander OBE, to the new guard of the industry, we asked for their number one piece of advice for young people on finding your feet in the industry.

Experience is Essential — Sarah Mower MBE, Vogue Runway Chief Critic and British Fashion Council Ambassador for Emerging Talent

“For your first job, try to work for a small to medium sized company rather than a huge corporation. That way, you get to see and understand how everything works in business, and you’ll get better experience in ‘all hands on deck’ situations. But once you graduate, NEVER work for free.”

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Have a Thorough Understanding of the Industry — Hamish Bowles, International Editor at Large for American Vogue. 

“I think it’s important to experience as many facets of the industry as you can, regardless of where you see yourself ending up. Retail, press, publicity, design - it’s vital to have a holistic experience and to understand what best serves your future client, partners, and consumer. I also think that as a designer it’s really important to work for small and large brands before thinking of establishing an eponymous brand. It’s vital to understand how the system works even if you can identify improvements or adjustments in what your own industry model might be!

Experience is everything and can help you avoid the many pitfalls of establishing a brand or a company of your own. Today’s fashion designer needs to understand far more than how to put a compelling and desirable collection together, although that is an essential component. They need to understand how to articulate and communicate the message to press and consumer and how to produce and deliver, and navigate complex global markets and regional tastes and sensitivities as well as being cognisant and mindful of the physical impact that production has on the global environment.”

Be True to Yourself — Edward Crutchley, Fashion Designer and founder of Edward Crutchley.

“You have to be your own cheerleader. If you don’t believe in what you are doing then you can’t expect anyone else to either. Speak with your true voice, research thoroughly so you can back up your ideas, listen to your tutors and take on the advice YOU think is relevant. Fashion can be tough. But if you deliver your work from a joyful place, it isn’t hard work.”

Ask Stupid Questions — Vanessa Friedman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic at The New York Times.

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“In economics, one of the most famous questions rarely asked is ‘What is the difference between a stock and a bond?’ Why is this so rarely asked? Because people are worried they will look stupid if they ask it. They assume everyone else knows the answer, because it seems so obvious.

But here’s the thing: chances are they are actually in the same quandary. And if you don’t understand the basics, it will undermine everything else you do. One of the smartest things you can do is ask the stupid question.”

Don’t Underestimate Soft Skills — Hilary Alexander OBE, Editor at Large of Hello Fashion Monthly and Trustee at Graduate Fashion Foundation.

“There are many what I call ‘invisible” qualities needed in fashion: Passion, perseverance and patience, are just three of them. Add in discipline, dedication, and a desire to do your absolute best — and don’t forget good manners. Fashion is hard work, but the rewards are brilliant!”

Be Adaptable and Open to Change — Megan Logue, Fashion Features Writer at PORTER Magazine.

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“From the emergence of the experience economy and subsequent decline in conventional bricks and mortar shopping to the new dominance of digital content and the rise of the ‘influencer’, it’s fair to say that each and every facet of the industry is in a state of flux. In terms of the job market, this wave of change has seen the creation of entirely new roles, along with the reinterpretation and transformation of traditional ones.

In this climate it’s more important than ever to be open-minded. Businesses themselves are still grappling with how exactly they fit into this new landscape, leaving more room for employees to carve out their own space. Having tunnel vision will only do you a disservice — enthusiasm, curiosity and the ability to adapt are three attributes that will future-proof your career and could open you up to exciting opportunities further down the line.”

Keep a Positive Mindset — Katie Ann McGuigan, Womenswear Designer and founder at Katie Ann McGuigan.

“With starting up and running a new brand I can’t stress how important a positive attitude is and how to start off my day right. If you don’t feel good and clear your head of all the problems or obstacles that face you then your day will just feel impossible. But if you have a good healthy relationship to approaching work you will soon see that it always gets done.”

Take Advice With a Grain of Salt — Maurice Mullen, Head of Fashion and Luxury at London Evening Standard and ES Magazine.

“Young designers or budding fashion entrepreneurs will always attract a multitude of friendly, well-meaning advisors seeking to influence the vision or direction of a brand but before accepting any advice — and the potential strings attached — always analyse the motive from which it comes and look at whether it genuinely furthers the aims and objectives of your business. If your name is above the door the responsibility is yours to protect it.”    

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Make the Most of Your Network — Dino Bonacic, Fashion Journalist and Online Editor at 10 Magazine

“The idea of being at the right place at the right time can sometime be disheartening, but it's something each person can individually work on – trying to make your own opportunities happen and not just waiting around for someone to call.

It's so important to look around yourself when it comes to networking – people that you studied, interned or assisted with. They are the next big editors, journalists, stylists, PRs...they are the people you want to be hanging out with!”