Over the past 3 years at Lancaster, one topic of conversation has been rehashed time and time again among my friends and fellow fashion geeks: is it possible to break into fashion, a notoriously competitive industry, from a University with no fashion course on offer? I recently caught up with Ellan Savage; a 2013 Lancaster graduate with a degree in English Literature, to find out how she got one of fashion’s most sought after positions within months of graduation.
Hannah: First of all, tell me about your role and how long you’ve been working there?
Ellan: I’ve been at New Look for three years and I’m currently an Assistant Buyer in the China department. This means I develop and propose the ranges that go into our stores in China.
Hannah: How did you get your position? Did you need to use any skills which you attained from University or other internships?
Ellan: I started by interning at New Look for 2 weeks for a different department and I was recommended for the graduate position on the China team. The retail fashion industry is incredibly fast paced, so working to deadlines and making sure projects are completed on time is really key, and I think University does a good job preparing you for that.
Hannah: When applying for positions in fashion buying as a recent graduate, do you think it’s better to have a lot of experience, or a fashion related degree?
Ellan: I think experience is the most invaluable thing you can get. If you know you want to work in fashion whilst you’re at University, then go out and get experience in the field you want to work in – use your long holidays to do placements, get a part time job in a retail store, write articles for online publications in your spare time. If I saw someone with good experience on their CV, it wouldn’t matter to me whether they had a fashion related degree or not.
Hannah: Can you describe an average day in your position?
Ellan: I’m currently stationed in Shanghai, China so there really isn’t an average day for me. Tomorrow I’ll be doing pricing analysis of competitors all day whereas Tuesday & Wednesday I’m travelling to see some of our suppliers, and that changes every week! My main responsibilities are building the ranges that go into store and managing the buying process from start to finish. In China my days are long as I need as much crossover with the UK as possible, generally I’d say 8:30am until 7:30pm is an average day.
Hannah: What’s been your favourite project you’ve worked on to date?
Ellan: Being sent on Secondment to China to improve our speed to market has been an incredible experience. I love to travel and see different cultures but I’ve also had a chance to experience buying in a way that most Assistants won’t have done, it’s been invaluable to my career progression.
Hannah: Are you interested in fashion and your personal style outside of work? If so, what brands do you follow and how do you keep up with new trends and fashion news?
Ellan: Of course! I don’t think you can work in the industry and not be invested outside of work. People often say it’s an all-consuming job; even scrolling through Instagram you’re switched on to trends, bloggers, brands etc. I’ve got a personal obsession with the blogger Alicia Roddy and, from a brand point of view, I love Storets and Style Nanda.
Hannah: IDoes fashion buying or the fashion industry in China differ from the UK?
Ellan: The role I am doing in China is very different to what I did in the UK, there’s a lot more travel involved out here and the pace is even faster than in the UK. The UK still source a large amount of their product from China too, so I’d say the industry in general terms is the same.
Hannah: What sort of person would thrive in your job role?
Ellan: It’s a very demanding, fast paced industry and it isn’t for the faint hearted. You have to be determined and driven to succeed. I’d say organisational skills and a strong eye for trends will get you off the ground, but someone who works hard is the key.
Hannah: Do you have any insider tips for students wishing to break into fashion buying?
Ellan: Internships are everything in my opinion. Arranging an internship straight after you graduate is a great start as you’ve got your foot in the door, then when your there just make sure everybody knows you’re looking for a job and that your willing to work hard and you’ll find yourself a position in no time.