There are hundreds of different career pathways for fashion design graduates, and hundred more for young creatives with textiles, communication and fashion buying degrees. Many graduates also feel huge pressure to start their dream career straight away and be instantly successful. This creates unrealistic expectations and an unnecessary urge to climb the ladder while not being quite ready for it.
Laura Allcott, creative talent manager at Pentland Brands, spoke to us about how she paced herself in career, and how taking on positions outside of fashion helped her develop transferrable skills. She shares with us her day-to-day responsibilities at Pentland Brands— the footwear conglomerate which counts Speedo, Lacoste Chaussures, Red or Dead and Karen Millen in its brand portfolio.
She also offers some no-nonsense advice for any graduate and detailed tips on how to prepare for job interviews.
Could you tell us a bit more about your title and role?
I’m a Creative Talent Manager at Pentland Brands. My role is to promote and bring together Pentland’s Creative Talent Community.
I work with universities and organisations like Graduate Fashion Week to support emerging designers and add fresh new talent to our business through our Pentland Design Pool. Our Design Pool is made up some of the UK’s best design graduates who are contracted to work at Pentland Brands. Alongside managing talented graduates, I work across all of Pentland’s brands and sites to make sure our working environments are to the highest standards.
What does a normal day look like for you and your team?
No day is the same - it really depends on the project, but that’s half the fun!
My main responsibility is managing our Design Pool of graduate designers. Pentland Brands started a graduate Design Pool over ten years ago and we continue to select some of the best junior designers to join our business at events like GFW, New Designers and through university relationships.
My job is to support the new graduates and facilitate the work they’re briefed to carry out by the brands. Everything Design Pool graduates work on is used in the business and has live deadlines so there’s lots to do!
The Creative Talent Team is the front door for all things creative that come into Pentland Brands, so we never know what project might be next. For example, this summer we designed and installed a Berghaus ‘Time To Get Out’ exhibition at the London Design Biennale which took place in Somerset House. Over 35,000 people visited across three weeks which is real bucket list stuff!
Following on from that, our sales team saw the exhibition and loved it, so we’ve just finished taking it on tour to help them sell Berghaus products to customers around the UK. We also arrange frequent trend talks and twice-yearly events for all 90 of our Pentland designers to gather and be inspired.
How did you get into creative talent management?
Thanks to the belief of my boss, Katie Greenyer - creative talent & network director at Pentland Brands, who is also a GFW mentor.
Katie is someone that believes in people and provides every opportunity to progress. When the job came up, she gave me one of her trademark smiles, raised an eyebrow and said “I’ve had an idea… I think you would be great in this role!” Flattered, I instantly accepted, and it’s been a creative rollercoaster ever since.
I love what we do and the designers we support, so it really is job satisfaction at its best.
What did you study at university and how has this helped you in your career?
I achieved a BA in Fashion Design from Salford University, graduating in 2006. I was tutored by the late Boris Trambusti. Boris was one of a kind - he had such character and I had never met anyone with such a passion for design.
Just before the Easter holidays in my final year, I asked Boris if he thought my work was good enough to exhibit at GFW, and he said that if I worked hard and wanted to go then I could. Then during the Easter break I received a letter containing the heartbreaking news that Boris had sadly passed away.
When I returned to University I hadn’t been selected as one of the five students to showcase at GFW. I asked to be considered, told the tutors about my conversation with Boris and showed them my work. Luckily, they liked it, but there was still a lot to do!
I worked as hard as I could on my GFW portfolio along with completing my final major collection and supporting projects, and in the summer of 2006 I attended GFW in Battersea. It was such a fantastic experience.
Last year, after 11 years, I returned for the first time to GFW in my new role, which I have to say was a real milestone moment in my career! I feel like I have come full circle and it’s my pleasure to nurture young talent as Boris did for me all those years ago.
Can you tell us a bit more about your career journey?
After graduating I lived in Manchester and started a job in the flagship House of Fraser store on Deansgate, working in the men’s accessories department and later the Paul Smith concession.
Like most graduates, I was unsure what I wanted to do. I’d completed work experience in visual merchandising and really enjoyed it. I worked on the shop floor for about a year then one day on the bus to work I saw an advert for a junior designer role at a clothing wholesale company in the centre of Manchester. So I applied and got the job!
During my time at the company I worked with the quality control team, communicated with factories in Hong Kong, attended trade shows and assisted the head designers with designs and colour palettes. It was a fabulous insight into the wholesale side of the fashion industry.
After a year it was time for me to return home to London. All the jobs I had growing up had been retail based and I felt now was the time to immerse myself in a traditional office environment to gain confidence in that area. I applied to the local temp agency and became a Christmas temp for my local council directing calls to social workers.
Fast forward six years and I was working within children’s services as a referral information officer processing referrals and writing child protection minutes. The work was challenging and rewarding which is why I stayed for so long, but my creative side was still there. I realised I had a talent for organisation and I wanted to pair that with something creative.
That’s when my story at Pentland begins. I applied for the position of board assistant to our executive PAs supporting the chairman and CEO and was successful. I was so excited to join and get started - I had no expectations for a career change and I just wanted to come in and do well.
After a great year I was employed as Katie’s PA. Katie and I instantly clicked because we have a similar work ethic. We like to be busy and for some reason she finds me quite funny, so it rarely feels like work. We love what we do, and I feel blessed most days.
After many years I had finally combined my two strengths and I loved the role of supporting Katie in all her creative endeavours - it was fantastic!
How would you recommend progressing through a career in talent management?
I would recommend being passionate about design and understanding how designers tick. It’s also worthwhile having experience of coordinating designers and their critical paths. The most important thing is having the ability to be one step ahead so that you can pre-empt what people need to succeed.
What do you look for when finding a graduate for your talent pool?
A good attitude, someone that shows initiative with a creative spark and energy.
We want new, fresh ideas coming from passionate, creative people who think outside the box and speak up.
Work ethic is essential. Being part of our Design Pool is a fantastic opportunity and I want to work with people that will soak up everything and make the most of every brief and opportunity to develop their talent.
Are there any techniques or methods that you’ve used throughout your career, that have helped you?
I don’t think I always had the confidence and belief in myself to know exactly where I wanted to be. However, in every role I’ve always tried to work hard, be helpful and communicate well. I haven’t had any expectations and I just wanted to do my best.
It’s taken a long time and sometimes felt very slow, but I’d say have patience and work hard at the task in hand because you never know where it all might lead. It’s funny how all those small steps add up and one day you’ll get to where you want to be. If you told me all those years ago when I worked in Clarks and Dolcis that I would be now be working for one of the biggest brand management companies in the world I would never have believed you.
Five top tips for under-graduates and post-graduates?
Don’t wear a suit to creative interviews, even if your mum insists. Be you!
Show your working – whether it’s sketchbooks, research or drawings, we want to see how you got to the finished idea. Ensure this is included in your portfolio, even if you scan sketchbook pages in.
Keep yourself up to date with exhibitions, designer blogs and what’s going on in the industry. Stay inspired!
Be confident when presenting your work. Don’t start with negatives and be kind to yourself. Before an interview, think of four positive points you want to include.
Be prepared. Check the travel route to your interview, leave plenty of time to get there and aim to be 20 minutes early. Bring your laptop and make sure you’re ready to present your sketchbooks and anything else you can use to illustrate your talent. Breathe and smile. You might not be right for the role you interviewed for but you never know what could be coming up so always try to make a lasting impression.
What advice would you give to a student in their final year at university?
Take as much careers and CV advice as you can and ask for support from your tutors.
Start researching what areas you’re interested in.
Apply early for placements - at least 6 months in advance. Be polite and professional in all communication.
Keep yourself busy and inspired. Enter competitions on ARTS THREAD. Volunteer at places that interest you.
Ensure your CV is completed and packs a punch visually – you’re a design student! Clearly list your key skills and the IT programs you can use.
Throw yourself into that last year. Work hard and enjoy it!