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Canadian Transplant Has Designs on a Big Career

September 28, 2001|Jeannine Stein

Dear Fashion Police: I am a graduate of fashion design school in Canada. I have worked for others and for myself in the field of fashion. I am currently in Los Angeles to continue to do the same, hoping my chances are better down in the eccentric, fashionable City of Angels. I could make things and sell them on consignment in stores, but I don't have the backing. I'm asking for any suggestions for how to get into the field here. For the record, I am 30 years old, responsible, hard-working, very resourceful, of sound health, honest, creative, and I don't have a big ego.


Dear Starting: We suggest that first thing, you replace that little ego with a great big one--maybe even massive. Just kidding, of course. Stay as sweet as you are.

We talked to a few experts in the field of fashion in L.A. who not only offered specific advice for how to break into this industry, but also general information that all fledgling designers can use. They agreed on one thing: Get your lovely foot in the door somewhere . It's a rough, tough competitive world, and there's a slim-to-none chance of, say, Richard Tyler telling you, "I've had it with designing. You take over!" So set your sights on something attainable and go after it.

The Fashion Business Incubator is a 2-year-old L.A.-based nonprofit organization that's a resource and support network for small apparel manufacturers and designers. They provide training through classes that include obtaining licenses, forming a business plan and finding sales reps. Executive Director Frances Harder says designers not interested in starting their own businesses can also meet people and network through the organization. There is a fee to join and a charge for classes; for details to go their Web site,

Harder, also the author of "Fashion for Profit: From Design Concept to Apparel Manufacturing, a Professional's Complete Guide," suggests checking want ads in trade newspapers such as Women's Wear Daily and the California Apparel News, and researching the styles of clothes the various companies turn out to see where your talents might be best suited. But beware of companies that advertise constantly--it may be a sign of frequent personnel turnovers.

The Coalition of Los Angeles Designers is a 2-year-old group formed to bring recognition to area fashion designers. To join, you must have shipped two seasons' worth of clothes, but unpaid internships are available. CLAD president Cynthia Vincent said interns do everything from fielding press calls to helping organize events, and it's a great way to network in the fashion community. For more information, call (323) 225-7800, or write to the group at P.O. Box 481194, Los Angeles, CA 90048.

Maggie Murray, fashion historian and director of the costume museum at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising in L.A., suggests going to the California Mart downtown, where designers and manufacturers have their showrooms (other major cities have similar setups). Walk through the mart and talk to people. "Quite often," says Murray, "you go into a showroom and they're not busy. You can tell them who you are and what you're looking for, and often people will say, 'Let me see what I can think of.' It's just being resourceful. There's a job there, it's just a matter of finding it."

Movie studio costume departments are another way of breaking in, Murray says. "You won't walk in and start dressing stars, but they may need someone to file costume information." Rosemary Brantley, chairman of the school of fashion design at Otis College of Art and Design in L.A., says employers seek designers who are not only adept at sketching but are also personable. "One of the main things people are looking for," she says, "is someone with whom they can live every day. They need someone who's a team player."

How to find those designers? Brantley suggests going to a retailer that features local designers, such as Fred Segal (there are stores in Los Angeles and Santa Monica), and asking salespeople to point out locally made clothes. Make a list and start calling.

She warns against sending out boring resumes. Cover letters and resumes on white paper may work in the mainstream corporate world, but not in fashion.

"Make it an exciting package," she says. "Use colored paper. Take a group of pictures out of your portfolio that shows your concepts and how you use fabrics and put clothes together and reduce them on a copier on one page. Visuals are important."

We hope these ideas are helpful, and we expect to see your designs soon on a starlet near us.


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