A career in the fashion industry has always been a dream of many. But in the last few years we are seeing a shift in career ambitions: more and more people are aiming at carving out a path in fashion with an ethical and sustainable twist! The Careers section at Business of Fashion recently mentioned sustainability experts as one of the six fashion careers of the future.
To put in the words of Eddie Lou – CEO and founder of Shiftgig:
Millennials aren’t motivated by money on the job hunt, they are often aiming to make the world a better place by working for companies that are compassionate, innovative and sustainable.
What roles are available?
When it comes to sustainable and ethical careers, there are a myriad of possible roles out there, some of them are related to the fabrics and design itself, others related to supply chain management and ethical sourcing, others tied to the corporate social responsibility aspect of the business.
Fashion Designer – A typical day as a fashion designer may involve trend analysis, market research (such as spending time in vintage stores, malls and fairs), design, technical drawing, development of graphics and sample launches. It might also involve contact with suppliers and support for shootings and shows. A degree in fashion design with technical drawing (manual or digital) is essential.
Ethical Trade / Sustainable Sourcing Manager – This role entails doing research into innovative and sustainable ingredients or materials (depending on the industry) and then bring them to life by actually sourcing them! This role also has the strategic side of making sure cross-functional teams align both with customer needs and supply chain capabilities. An ethical trade or sustainable sourcing manager might also have the responsibility of maintaining a trustworthy, safe and transparent ethical compliance program for suppliers and factories to adhere to.
This role requires a strong grasp of ethical and sustainable sourcing criteria, alongside knowledge of sourcing legal aspects from both a local and international perspective.
Product Innovation / Product Sustainability – A product sustainability specialist is the wizard of fashion sustainability. This is where the magic happens! This role involves a lot of research to identify and successfully propose new ranges and prospective products through material scouting and product development. This role requires working collaboratively across internal teams, managing relationships with external agencies, negotiating with factories and suppliers.
A product sustainability manager usually needs to ensure samples and production adhere to business quality and safety standards. This role also manages day-to-day production and troubleshoots potential delivery problems.
Crucial to success is adequate knowledge of material innovation and product development, along with in-depth understanding of the supply chain paired with strong ability to negotiate.
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Manager – This is probably the most corporate job among the ones listed in this article, which makes it a good fit for those looking to make a difference in the industry from the inside.
A CSR manager leads internal and external stakeholders in defining and implementing sustainability strategies aimed at minimising risk exposure to the business, reduce the environmental impact and contribute to the economic and social development of the context. This also translates to managing corporate responsibility programs to protect garment workers’ rights and minimise the environmental impact of the brand’s supply chain.
A big part of this role is the shaping of company annual reports, particularly the CSR section. A CSR manager sets the corporate social responsibility and ethical trade agenda and secures the board sign-off, so it is typically a highly influential role within the company.
This also means continually sustaining and improving communication with the board, investor relations and press office, managing company-wide awareness campaigns and events as well as ensuring the company is compliant with a multitude of global legislations.
Sustainability Manager – This role involves the design and delivery of a company’s programs to promote ethical practices in the industry, from sourcing to end use. Sustainability managers take control of the development, implementation, promotion and monitoring of environmental strategies within an organisation. This role entails coordination and implementation of sustainable projects throughout the value chain on the responsible sourcing, product development and production stages. It requires knowledge of sustainable sourcing for apparel, accessories and ingredients, of animal welfare rights and raw material policies, of fabric technical management including chemical compliance, testing and performance standards.
What are the transferable skills needed to succeed in the industry?
The fact that your current background or job title is not exactly in line with the job you are aspiring to for a career in ethical and sustainable fashion shouldn’t hold you back. Here are the most common transferable skills requested for ethical and sustainable fashion roles:
• Creativity and innovation
• Research and analysis
• Ability to spot trends
• Teamwork and ability to collaborate across business lines and with internal and external Subject Matter Experts (SMEs)
• Excellent communication and presentation kills
• Project management
Is education in the fashion industry crucial to succeed?
There are some very useful degrees out there: International Fashion Management and International Fashion Marketing just to name a few, alongside innovative subjects such as Fashion Buying, Fashion Design, Trend Forecasting, Sourcing & Supply Management and the list might go on forever.
The good thing about such specialised degrees is that they will give you the right technical skills needed to succeed in the Industry. Think about knowledge related to sustainable fabrics or ingredients – very relevant for the beauty industry, for example.
Another great positive aspect of attending such degrees is to constantly be surrounded by people living and breathing the industry. This allow you to create you first network of professionals.
Having said that, a degree in fashion will not necessarily make a difference. There are so many other useful degrees that may prepare you for a sustainable career, such as Entrepreneurship, Textile Science, International Marketing, Human Rights, Sustainability, Biology. These degrees will give you the transferable skills mentioned above and often offer you the chance to aspire to higher levels within your organisation, hence making a bigger impact in the industry.
More importantly, these degrees are more suitable for the undecided students, as they provide wider professional outlets, because let’s be honest, not everyone is able to make a decision about their future in their twenties, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
Using social media to your advantage
A good tip is to start creating your profile and first network on LinkedIn while still in university. Make it relevant to your skills and ambitions. Select a high-resolution professional-looking profile photo (no bikini party shots – save those for Facebook!) and make use of the Summary section by adding your elevator pitch there – who you are and what your value add is.
Don’t necessarily add all your friends and neighbours to your connections – we have Facebook for that – make your profile relevant to your industry and don’t forget to always personalise your connection request with a few words about you and why you think this connection is relevant to both of you. Use the People section to find out more about brands and job titles in line with your aspirations.
Separate personal profiles from professional ones, if possible.
Twitter is a great way to stay abreast of new trends in the industry, an easy way to achieve this is by saving relevant hashtag searches such as: #sustainablecareers #ethicalcareers #sustainablefashion #sustainabletextiles #sustainablebeauty #crueltyfreebeauty just to name a few.
Final tips for who aspire a career in ethical and sustainable fashion
- Be bold and open to roles and brands that aren’t your first choice
- Spend time doing activities that unleash and nurture your creativity
- Subscribe to newsletters and specialised journals
- Think about volunteering to learn all about the aspect of the issue you’d like to tackle (whether that is animal welfare, human rights or environmental impact)
- Network with other professionals who have your dream job title and learn all about what they do
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