Think your degree in Geography can’t lead to a high flying fashion career? Think again. Lancaster alumni Rebecca Clerkin graduated with a 1st in Geography in 2012 and quickly entered into the world of fashion via some of the UK’s most popular brands. I caught up with her to find out how tailoring her degree (and getting that all important work experience) helped her land her dream job.
Hannah: So tell me a little about your current position.
Rebecca: I’m an Assistant Merchandiser at Dorothy Perkins with the international team, so basically what I do is work alongside our international partners and distributors to make sure everything is running smoothly. Some of our partners include Zalando in Germany, La Moda, which is based in Russia, and most recently we’re working with Loud!, a small distributor also based in Germany. My role involves liaising with representatives from each partner or distributor every few weeks to advise them on budgets, new stock arrivals and to help them analyse their sales data to optimise performance. It’s very much Excel based and focused on stock and planning.
Hannah: What experience did you need to get the position? Is it something you’ve learnt on the job, or during your degree?
Rebecca: I’ve definitely gained the skills that I’ve needed for the position while working on the job. I managed to get the position through a Grad scheme after I graduated Uni, and I think my experience working on the shop floor definitely helped my application. I think having a genuine passion for fashion, keeping your eye out for new trends and being on the ball with the latest collections and news is really important. Retail experience in general is definitely sought after, as it gives you a good grounding in the industry which you can build upon when you learn on the job.
Hannah: Lancaster is not a University that is best tailored for aspiring fashion professionals, with no fashion degree on offer. Do you think it’d better to have a degree related to fashion, or a solid foundation of work experience in order to break into the industry?
Rebecca: For me, I wouldn’t say that it’s particularly preferable to have a fashion related degree. I did my degree in Geography, mainly because I wasn’t entirely sure what I wanted to do, and it was a subject that gave me lots of transferrable skills. However, I did manage to steer my dissertation in the direction of fashion in order to make my degree applicable to the jobs I was applying for, writing about how fashion consumption varied depending on different time periods and places. When it came down to actually applying for jobs, all you needed was a 2:1 in a degree, it didn’t matter what subject it was. After the initial grade, it was more about the additional experience I’d managed to attain throughout University. I’d definitely say it’s more about showing the type of person that you are; that’s what will get you the job.
Hannah: What kind of person would thrive in merchandising?
Rebecca: Merchandising is very numbers based, so you need to be numerate as well as skilled with Excel and analytics, but then obviously someone who is passionate about fashion and retail is also equally important. It’s having that blend of the two and highlighting it on your CV that will put you head and shoulders above the rest of the competition.
Hannah: Do you have a favourite project or partner that you’ve worked with so far?
Rebecca: I’ve only recently started working with Zalando, which is quite a high profile partner to have. I’ve really enjoyed having such frequent interaction with them and really sink my teeth into working with them so closely; it’s so rewarding to see how that partnership grows and develops. Hopefully I’ll be able to go on a trip to Germany soon to meet them, which I think would be really cool to see how things are run day-to-day on their end. As my position progresses over the years, I think my opportunities to travel will grow too, so that’s something that really excites me.
Hannah: The fashion industry has a stereotype of extreme competitiveness, with people fighting tooth and claw for internships and jobs. Is that something you’ve found to be true in merchandising?
Rebecca: It was quite tough when I was applying for grad schemes, simply due to the many stages of the application process. However, there are jobs out there and you certainly shouldn’t be put off out of fear that it’s too competitive. It may be tough to break into at first, but the opportunities for growth are there.
Hannah: Do you have any insider tips for people wishing to work in merchandising?
Rebecca: In general, I’d say it would be great if you could get a part-time job while at University. This way you can prove your interest in the sector, while also earning some money. The more you can put on your CV, the better it will look, even if it’s not necessarily related to fashion. When I was at University I volunteered at a homeless shelter and also did some charity work after I’d graduated, basically, anything that would give me the edge over other prospective candidates.