Often the excitement about a career in fashion stems from the allure of the industry itself: creative, dazzling, and entertaining. We all have a fashion sense to a degree, and fashion drives how we see people and identify ourselves; it’s no wonder there’s a large interest in the field. The question is what do you want to do in fashion? It’s a large and complex industry. If interested in design, you could become a fashion designer or buyer of materials, such as textiles. If you love how clothing looks and feels, you could model or become a fashion influencer, sharing your insight. If you want to ensure that fashion organizations develop, manage, sell, and account for their products and services, there are a variety of business-related functions that could be a great fit. Below are some sample job titles:
Sample Design and Creative Roles:
- Fashion Designer
- Fashion Stylists
- Fashion Photographer
- CAD Designers
- Fashion Illustrator
- Textile Designer
- Fashion Writers and Editors
Sample Marketing, Sales, and Retail Roles:
- Visual Merchandiser
- Account Executive
- Brand Strategist
- Trend Forecaster
- Sales Inventory Analyst
- Digital Media Specialist
- Fashion PR Coordinator
- eCommerce Manager
- Product Manager
- Store Manager
For descriptions of these roles visit the Vault Guide to Fashion & Apparel Jobs.
Retail & Consumer Products
Retail comes in a variety of shapes, sizes and platforms, and involves the sale of goods or commodities directly to consumers. The most commonly known retail stores, often referred to as "brick and mortar" operations, include conventional and specialty department stores, discount and chain stores, consumer electronics, home improvement and office supply retailers, sporting goods, footwear and jewelry stores, as well as pharmacies, food stores, grocery stores, and more. The US retail landscape is changing rapidly as technology disrupts many traditional retail companies and more consumers grew accustomed to online shopping during the Covid-19 pandemic. Traditional store closings have outpaced store openings in the US in recent years, while eCommerce continues to grow. According to McKinsey & Company's The Future of Shopping: Technology Everywhere “the most successful retailers will be those that connect with consumers in new ways by leaning in on their digital, omnichannel, and in-store technology ambitions.” Typical career paths and training vary depending on both the company and its industry segment.
The hospitality industry has many exciting opportunities all with a common thread of providing a high level of customer service. Some segments include:
- Food and Beverage
- Lodging and Accommodation
- Travel, Tourism and Transportation
- Leisure and Recreation
While some of the career opportunities may seem obvious, such as front-desk manager, chef, or tour guide, there are countless other positions operating behind the scenes at hotels, casinos, restaurants and more. Before progressing to leadership and business roles, it is helpful to work in customer-facing positions. By working in a "front-line" role first, you will gain important knowledge and insights into customer service, the organization's operations, and the industry. Many service positions are part-time and offer weekend or evening hours, making it possible to gain experience while being a student. Technology also continues to play an important role in the hospitality industry as companies like Uber and Airbnb disrupt long-standing business models in their respective segments. The American Hotel & Lodging Association’s 2021 Report (pdf) details the severe impact that the Covid-19 has had on the travel and hospitality industry (more than 9x that of 9/11) as well as predictions for industry regrowth in the coming years.
Interviews for fashion and retail are highly competitive, and the number of fashion and retail employers who visit campus is relatively small. These industries value candidates who are willing to "put themselves out there" and demonstrate a genuine interest in the field. Students interested in fashion should check out the OCS spotlight in Crimson Careers for the YMA Fashion Scholarship Fund, which offers an annual case study competition. Winners of the competition receive financial awards, mentorship, and connections to internships in the industry.
Major hotel groups tend to focus their attention on colleges and universities with a hospitality program when they visit campuses to recruit. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t consider submitting an online application to be considered for a management training program. These programs typically rotate candidates through several of their core business areas – food services, event management, front-desk operations, and housekeeping – with the intention of finding the right fit based on both the candidate’s and hotel’s needs.
Explore every possible opportunity to meet and get to know (and be known by!) as many people in the fashion and retail field as you can through on-campus events as well as through your own, independent efforts. Harvard student groups and career clubs can help enhance key job skills and develop industry contacts. Consider taking a leadership role or taking a course that involves some form of quantitative activity, especially if you're interested in fashion and retail merchandising.
With so many different jobs in the diverse hospitality industry, it is important to target your search so you can learn what qualifications are needed. Sometimes something as straight forward as previous experience will qualify you for full-time consideration, while in other cases, technical training may be necessary. Hotels may also offer entry level opportunities in specific support functions such as marketing and finance/accounting. The industry is also highly sensitive to prevailing economic conditions, which will have an impact on hiring.
Graduate and Professional Programs
While specialized undergraduate programs prepare candidates for this industry, there is plenty of room for liberal arts students, especially in the business operations area. Before signing up for a graduate program, take some time to work in the industry to road-test your interest and gain the amount of experience that may be required.
Similarly, don’t shy away from an opportunity to work at the bottom of a hospitality organization before signing up for a graduate program. It provides a no risk/low risk way to learn whether or not the industry is right for you. Smaller hotels and resorts may allow you to try your hand at various tasks, while larger establishments will have more defined roles.