The Reluctant Stylista

As I was plowing my way through my flooded inbox last night (or actually, very early today), I was a bit dismayed to see that I received another new message.  I wanted to make an impressive dent in my unread emails, but it looked as if the odds were not in my favor.  However, when I started reading it, my groggy head seemed to clear a little and I decided to answer right away even though I was planning to sleep just a minute ago.

I hadn’t asked permission yet to post the email, but here’s a quick summary of it.  Someone shared her dilemma with me.  She wanted to shift careers to Fashion Merchandising, but she graduated from an unrelated course and was currently in an unrelated job.  Now she’s taking steps to try and change that, but it’s not without costs.  Is investing so much time, effort and money going to be worth it, or is it all going to blow up in her face if it doesn’t work out?

The situation was eerily familiar.  I want to share with you guys what I wrote back, though pardon the errors and the weird transitions between paragraphs and sentences–when I’m sleepy, sometimes my brain-to-typing-fingers process lags a bit.

Hi –!

A few years ago, I was in the same boat you are in.  That’s actually the main reason why I put up my blog in the first place, because I wanted to get even just the teensiest toe in the door.  I wanted to get my name out there as a budding stylist.  I graduated college late (because, ironically enough, I also shifted courses), but I made up for it because I quickly climbed up the corporate ladder from junior web designer to team lead then eventually, Creative Director.  But I knew that if I really wanted to shift careers, I had to go all out.  I had to let go of that high paying job and start from scratch so I could retain focus.  And to do that, yes I enrolled in related courses and tried to get internships, even those without pay. And at the same time, I used whatever skills and knowledge I had to promote myself because I didn’t know anyone in the industry I wanted to be in.  That’s where my Multimedia arts and IT background came into play.

Now I’m not saying this is the right way to go about it.  Our circumstances may differ.  We may not have the same attitude, background, funds, etc.  I’m just sharing my experience because back then, I was struggling to balance these two careers but I wasn’t doing a very good job of it.  I realized that it was being in my comfort zone that was stopping me from going full force to a career shift.  And of course, when I started the transition, I was around 25 years old.  Fresh grads from fashion schools were beating me to most of these job opportunities at every turn.  It wasn’t easy.  I came from a really lofty position in my previous career and then here I was, feeling like a peon, doing what every aspiring new stylist did from pullouts, to dressing models backstage, to begging designers to meet deadlines and being thisclose to camping outside of their homes.  I swallowed my pride.  My money ran out.  But you know, when you start from zero, there’s just no way to go but up.  I just kept thinking about that.  There was no plan B, only plan A.  I didn’t dare think about what might happen if it didn’t work out, I just knew I HAD TO MAKE IT WORK OUT.

Market yourself.  Expand your network (I took up courses in Fashion Styling primarily for this reason. The truth is, you can’t really learn styling in school–you learn by hands-on experience).  And yes, get internships.  You might want to look for companies or small businesses that don’t quite have the budget to hire a very experienced merchandiser yet.  Find out whatever skills you have that may be beneficial to your career shift.  And while you’re doing school, prepare yourself for the lean months up ahead–the chances of you bagging that job right away is small.  But remember you can always beat the odds through sheer determination.

I can’t say I’m extremely successful in my chosen career now.  But I’m embarking on other fashion ventures that I’ve thought about on my own, beyond styling, and I’m proud really proud of all these things that I’ve accomplished so far.  Work life now sure ain’t easy, it’s complicated as hell, and the hours are crazy, but I’ve never regretted it. :)   I’m especially glad that I took that leap, I handle my time, and that now I can start building something of my own.

I hope that helped get you some insight.

–Alex

 

Style Origin backstage collage
Behind the scenes of Style Origin 2012: styling, clothes selections, model fittings, sequencing brands

I wanted to share this with everyone because I know there are many out there who are in the same boat.  It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about something similar.  People pondering about lost opportunities, time, money, effort.  They’re not satisfied with their jobs but they’re too scared to take a risk.  On very rare occasions, I understand why they can’t or won’t.  But other times, all I hear are excuses.  ‘Pag may gusto, may paraan talaga.

Just a few nights ago, while I was out drinking with friends, I divulged for the first time some of the sacrifices I had to make during that period in my life.  Sure, my friends knew that I was shifting careers.  And yes they knew I had a tight budget and for the most part would skip out-of-town vacations with them when I used to plan these trips myself.  But they didn’t know how really bad it came to be, that sometimes I literally had nothing to eat or I couldn’t even afford to go back to my parents’ house until I received tiny paychecks from various types of work I was taking in to support the seemingly foolhardy career shift.

Needless to say, I handled my finances badly, and I wasn’t prepared for the slump.  I’m sure the average person has better organizational skills than I had, so don’t be so scared.  You should do waaay better if you plan it.  I guess I learned the hard way, but now I’m on the path where I wanted to be.  The point is, I didn’t wait for an opportunity–I made it.  I knew I was at a disadvantage, being older and having graduated from a different course.  And in an industry that needed a lot of PR, well, I sucked at that, too.  But remember, in this day and age, every ball game has evolved.  I knew I couldn’t be exempted from what I wanted to do just because I had a different diploma.  So I looked for every weapon available in my arsenal and made it work for me.

If you just invested a whole lot of money to get your dream career, well, honey, in case you haven’t noticed–shit just got real.  So to quote Tim Gunn: Make it work! :)

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