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How to Make It in Menswear, According to 5 Dudes Who Have Done It

Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion industry.

For Charlie Morris, the road to fashion began with flammable Christmas toys. Fresh out of college with a degree in literature, Morris found himself working in print production for a publishing company. In addition to overseeing the manufacturing of what he calls “fancy Bibles,” his professional responsibilities included overseeing holiday DIY gift kits.

“I’d do all the safety testing and sourcing for a Santa Claus in a Box kit,” Morris says. “Is this beard going to catch fire and burn a child to death? I needed to find that out.”

Today, Morris is the founder and designer of Fanmail, a sustainable men’s fashion line based in Brooklyn that’s sold at Opening Ceremony, Steven Alan and Mr. Porter, among other retailers, and has been worn by Drake on tour. His journey from safety hazards to high-end essentials included stops working in a boutique that specialized in production for other labels and assisting stylists before he launched Fanmail in 2013. Fortunately for his customers, Morris is proof that there is no one set path to follow to make it in fashion — but there are a few foolproof ways to get started on the right foot.

Like Morris, the men’s fashion editors, stylists, writers, designers, and publicists who were asked by Fashionista to share lessons gleaned from their noteworthy careers in menswear all meandered a bit before finding their calling. For the most part, they were also hesitant to fully admit they’ve officially “made it” in menswear, lending credence to the idea that, like a less threatening, more polite Fight Club, the number one rule to making it in menswear it to not admit that you’ve made it in menswear. Whether that’s borne of modesty or the ambition to keep building off of their achievements — or both — it does speak to the first common thread these industry pros credit (when pushed) with their longevity in the industry: a commitment to remaining humble.

Humility is hardly a new concept — just ask Kendrick Lamar or Jesus — but it’s a good one, says Matthew Henson, stylist and Fashion Director at AWGE, the creative collective started by A$AP Rocky. “There is so much humility in learning, and wanting to be taught how to do something correctly,” he says. Henson, who has also worked as a fashion editor at Flaunt and Complex, credits the generosity of his mentor, the stylist Memsor Kamarake, with giving him the tools he needed to strike out on his own. “I’m really happy that I interned and assisted for a long time, because it taught me everything I know,” he adds.

The first phase of Henson’s career was in the hospitality industry. “I did everything from reservations, to working at the front desk, and even tried my hand at being a concierge,” he recalls. “It taught me the importance of always making sure your client is satisfied, how to deal with and manage unsavory personalities, to be resourceful, and also become a master of pissing people off with a smile.” Most vitally, it also allowed him flexibility in his schedule so he could pursue internships in fashion — the entrée to the industry most often cited by these experts.

Max Berlinger is a freelance journalist who has written about fashion for Bloomberg Businessweek, The New York Times, and The Cut. Before he landed paying gigs, he held internships with Refinery29 (“when it was in a basement in Tribeca”) and GQ (where he would eventually return as an online style editor). His first official job was as an editorial assistant at Out Magazine. “I got that job was because I had interned there the year before,” he says.

Garrett Munce currently enjoys one of the most sought-after gigs in the world of print publishing as a fashion editor at GQ, and he is no stranger to the internship route, either. “When I was in college, I interned a shit-ton,” he says. He continued after graduation, eventually landing a paid internship — a rarity at the time — in the press office at Diesel, despite knowing a career in PR was not his end goal. “I loved fashion, and it was the first opportunity that was presented to me,” he recalls. “I took it understanding that I would learn a lot about how the industry worked.” Munce went on to flip his experience at Diesel working with editors to a job as a fashion assistant at W Magazine.

Matt Kneller, now the Director of Communications for North America at Nike, recalls that he also used an early job at a PR agency as a means to get back to New York after he moved home to Atlanta post-graduation from NYU. It ended up being a fortuitous choice, as it eventually led him to a gig in-house at Converse, which is owned by Nike. “You just have to go in with an open mind and go in for the ride,” he says. “You have to find your place.”

Your place is likely not on Instagram, despite what any number of influencers — and their agents and digital agencies — may have you believe. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a general wariness about young hopefuls focusing too much on their online presence runs deep among these industry veterans. “There’s a lot of thought about social media and creating a ‘brand’ and being shot for street style photographers,” says Berlinger. “That’s cool, but it doesn’t get you work.”

Henson agrees. “Sharing some things is good and can be beneficial, but oversharing can be detrimental to you, your business and your clients,” he adds. “I can go weeks being silent on social media, but it doesn’t effect my work flow or being booked.”

Munce also cautions that overzealous behind-the-scenes posting can jeopardize work-related projects — and your employment. “When you’re working at a magazine, one of the biggest things is that the magazine comes first,” he explains. “Ask on your first day what the rules of social media are, and follow them.”

If you remain humble, intern and assist, and restrain yourself online, will you make it in menswear? Well, maybe. You also need to work long, hard hours, Munce says. “It’s not enough just to have a voice or to be creative,” Morris also notes. “You have to be doing something really unique — solving a problem or having a unique selling point.”

Don’t forget the ever-important relationship building. “The menswear world is much smaller than the womenswear world,” Berlinger says. “Burning one bridge is a bigger deal because, well, there aren’t that many bridges out there.”

And, by the way, menswear, generally speaking, typically doesn’t pay very well, either. “I would say that you do need to have some sort of side hustle,” Henson says, suggesting a retail job or bartending to supplement income in the early stages of a career in fashion.

“It’s certainly a very tough industry,” Kneller says. “Hey, follow your dreams if you can, right?”

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