Musings from Bahraini entrepreneur, design agency creative director and magazine editor, Wafa Alobaidat
I've spent the last two years making a career transition from fashion to design & culture, where I feel it is mostly my calling and where I am comfortable working and flourishing.
My work with fashion started when I was 18 in the Liza Bruce boutique in Pont Street, London. Later on I moved on to Vogue China, then worked at a few other fashion magazines, then became a stylist and freelance fashion journalist for a while, and finally an editor of my own magazine, Sketchbook, which was originally filled with fashion illustration content.
Now, in Bahrain, I work with clients from different fields, whether they are in the food, publishing, or music sector, and I find myself creatively involved in solving problems and consulting for brands and handling their PR.
Still my fashion stigma is stuck to me, and during my lectures most women want to know more about my experience in fashion than anything else. It disappoints many to find out that the fashion industry is not full of glitz and glamour, with many envisioning fashion life to be like a scene from the movie The Devil Wears Prada. Many dabble in fashion, only to find it was not what they envisioned it to be like, and so they move on to something else, or sometimes nothing at all.
To work in fashion, one must be semi-obsessed with it. Not just the red carpet aspect, but you must be in love with the industry as a whole and want to understand it. There are many job opportunities in this field and you must test them out first, before you can find what fits you the most and venturing into it whole heartedly.
I've broken down my personal experience in fashion to three parts. The first was fashion retail, PR, designing window displays, sales, and fashion design. The second was styling, writing and blogging. The third was fashion PR, fashion editor, commentator, marketing and communications, and generally the business of fashion. Ones that I have not dabbled with but that are also options are modeling, consulting, supplying.
I decided to compile some of my advice in order to help budding individuals who want to transition into this industry. Here are some of my suggestions:
- Do your reading. Many girls watch Sex and the City and Gossip Girl, scour fashion blogs of girls wearing shirts with Karl Lagerfeld’s face, skim through magazines for fashion editorials, but very few actually do any heavy reading about the fashion industry. Your role is to know everything about this fast paced business; the editors, the retail stores, the PR companies, and work out how they interconnect and relate to each other. You need to know who are the thinkers, the movers, the shakers, and the companies behind every powerful decision in this industry. (Recommend industry reads: Vogue, WWD, Business of Fashion, Draper’s)
- Create your platform. Whether you are a writer or a stylist, or a budding fashion designer, you must create an online presence where you can share your own views on fashion and style. Be critical, share your mood boards and give your own input on current trends and movements. This platform can also be used to attend events, network, and conduct interviews with idols and mentors. Most people now do this with a blog, but having a professional website where you can share your services, products, and views is a necessity. You can also use it to network and affiliate with other organizations.
- Get work experience. Most people want shortcuts to jobs where they can wear free clothes by designers and sit in creamy white offices and play fancy editor. It is not that easy. Get your hands dirty. Apply for internships and do what you have to do to get ahead. Don’t complain about doing errands – nothing is beneath you. When I worked with Liza Bruce, I would drop off clothes to VIP customers, run and get a stack of magazines for the designers, label items, and steam clothes. I even mopped the shop floors to prove myself in the business!
- Get advice. If you have a boutique and it isn’t doing well, get some feedback! If you are a stylist but have no one to style, ask people why! You will find people would much rather say you’re doing a good job than tell you the truth, so be open to ideas and suggestions and act accordingly. Before re-launching Sketchbook Magazine I decided to get some advice on our next strategic move from some of the contributors. Some of the advice hurts to hear, but I care more about my brand than my feelings.
- Network. Go to every event, product or store launch, designer previews and show your face. Hand out your business cards, be likeable and dress to make yourself happy and no one else. Be confident and chatty. The more you meet people that are in your industry and know what you do, the more opportunities will come your way. Don’t stay holed up in your house, laptop sprawled on your lap and scour sites. You must make the effort to meet and greet and be where your industry fellows are to be recognized. You can use your site or blog as a means to attend shows and events and cover them.
If you have some advice of your own please feel free to share it here!
Wafa Alobaidat writes a bi-monthly column for Khaleejesque and muses on fashion, art, culture and culture shock in the Middle East. Wafa is also the editor of Sketchbook magazine and runs design and PR agency Obai and Hill.