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.
If you were the kind of kid who was obsessed with fashion from a young age, questions of “What do you want to be when you grow up?” might have prompted a fairly slim range of responses: designer, model, photographer. Maybe, if you’re young enough that “The Devil Wears Prada” came out during your formative years, editor-in-chief or fashion journalist was in there, too.
But just because a job is highly visible doesn’t necessarily mean it’s more important, and there are plenty of behind-the-scenes jobs the fashion and beauty industries rely on to keep functioning. Cosmetic chemists might not derive as much Instafame from their jobs as celebrity hairstylists do, but what they do is no less essential to the beauty biz; you might not know the name of the copywriter behind your favorite label but they have an integral role in shaping how you see the brand.
So who are the behind-the-scenes players that you never think about? We talked to six people who do everything from formulate the dye in your clothes to develop your beauty products about what their jobs entail and how they got started.
With everyone from fashion bloggers to luxury labels recognizing the increasing importance of video when it comes to content creation, now’s a great time to be in filmmaking if you also love fashion and beauty. But it’s not all about the director and actors — the DP, or director of photography, is another crucial role on any set.
“The role of a DP is all about creating the image,” says Geoff Boothby, a filmmaker with Los Angeles-based agency Shark Pig whose clients have included North Face and Gillette. “The DP takes direction from the director, decides how to make the request a reality, then gives direction to the gaffer and camera assistant about how to set up the light and the camera to achieve the shot.” Sometimes the DP handles multiple jobs rolled into one, functioning as a camera operator, gaffer and more all at once. “Regardless of how many cameras there are and how large and complex the production is, there is just one DP, who oversees all of the shots,” Boothby explains.
The path to becoming a DP looks different for different people, but for Boothby, it involved a lot of learning the ins and outs of shooting on the go. He started with documentary work before moving into weddings and eventually landing commercial gigs, including fashion and beauty clients.
Expertly using hair products to achieve a perfect style is one thing, but formulating them from the test tube up is another entirely. The latter is what cosmetic chemists do for a living. “Being a cosmetic chemist has different functions that could happen on any given day,” says Ni’Kita Wilson, who serves as the vice president of sales and innovation at hair-care company Aware Products.
Wilson’s job can be broken down into three main components: research, trendspotting and formulation. Research involves making sure that a new product to be created doesn’t already exist in a patented form on the market, and deciding which ingredients will help create the desired final product. Trendspotting can include visiting raw material suppliers in addition to understanding the market by staying up-to-date with beauty media.
The final step is formulation, which involves actually making the product. “This is where the magic happens,” Wilson says, “where all of our research comes to fruition.” Putting each product through multiple trials and keeping meticulous records is an essential part of the process, she notes.
Natural Dye Maker
If you’re interested in the creative side of ethical fashion manufacturing and production but don’t necessarily want to start your own brand, you could follow in the footsteps of someone like Maria Elena Pombo. After studying fashion design at Parsons and landing a technical design job at Michael Kors, she began to experiment with natural dyes in her free time as a way to help her boyfriend get his line of bags off the ground.
“I was expecting the colors to be very subtle, but they were actually quite vibrant, and I fell in love with the process,” Pombo says. She started Fragmentario shortly thereafter, a natural dye project that she uses as an outlet to dye things for bands or theatrical sets, in addition to hosting workshops teaching people to use natural dyes at home.
“My favorite sources to use are avocado pits and onion skins,” Pombo says. “But there’s only so much I can gather from my own eating, so I have to be creative. I have a network of friends and restaurants who save their avocado pits for me. I also do daily visits to different supermarkets and clean their onion boxes to get my onion skins. When people who don’t know about Fragmentario see me with the avocado pits or the onion skins, they are so curious about why I want this ‘trash.'”
Ever stop to think about the little descriptive blurb beside a product when you’re shopping online? What about the signage in your favorite brick-and-mortar store? All of that text was written by copywriters, the unsung heroes of fashion writing.
Sharon Weissburg, a copywriter who has worked for Uniqlo, La Garçonne and Totokaelo, got into the field after finding other kinds of fashion writing unsatisfying. “Originally I thought I wanted to be a journalist and went to school partially for that, but when hard news didn’t feel right and the editorial writing I was doing started to feel disingenuous, I wasn’t ready to write that novel just yet, I felt a little lost,” she says. A post-college internship that involved writing shopping content for an e-commerce website is what opened the first door into her copywriting career.
Now she’s writing for a luxury fashion retailer and loves it. “I touch beautiful things all day long!” Weissburg notes. “It’s nice because it keeps you extremely limber, writing-wise, but doesn’t cloud your head so much that you can’t enjoy writing outside of work.”
According to Amy Zunzunegui, SVP of product development at Urban Decay, product development teams “create and concept the product from the ground up.” In her particular team, that means dealing with concept, packaging, design, formula, shades, names, logos and artwork. “Naming shades is probably the most odd and inappropriate thing we do on PD,” she says. “We are known for our thought-through yet controversial names.” (Some infamous Urban Decay product names include Mildew, Virgin and Asphyxia.) “Imagine the ones that don’t make the cut and how far we go before coming up with the ones we do use!”
Although Zunzunegui says no two days are alike for her now, she actually worked a fairly corporate job for a few years straight out of college before starting at Urban Decay in the purchasing department. “It gave me good perspective on price negotiation, manufacturing and timelines,” she notes. “I think that is important when developing product.”
For a legacy brand to tap into the nostalgia of its history — whether it’s looking to revive an old product or hearken back to a decades-old ad campaign — it has to be keeping careful records of that history. That’s where fashion archivists come in.
Erin Narloch leads the archive team at Reebok. “We focus on collecting, protecting and researching Reebok’s history for the benefit of the brand,” Narloch says. “Our team is made up of specialists who focus on areas of the archive’s collection, including footwear, apparel, advertisements and promotional materials.” All that information can be compiled into interactive timelines that trace the history of a product years into the past.
And while Narloch’s role specifically involves leveraging the heritage of a brand to impact things like current branding, she actually comes from an academic background that includes art history and years working in museums. As far as she’s concerned, the through line is an obvious one. “I’m passionate about the power of objects and the stories they tell,” she says.
Everyone knows the big names in editorial photography like Mario Testino, Petra Collins and Bruce Weber, but there’s a whole other side to fashion photography that’s seldom thought of: e-commerce product photography. Every image on every website you’ve ever used to shop had to be shot by someone. And as anyone who’s tried to photograph their own clothing for Etsy or Depop will tell you, it takes work to make clothing look good on its own without props, fancy backgrounds or golden-hour natural light.
For photography of this kind, consistency is key — clients want all their products to be lit the same way to give their online shops a cohesive feel. “I use lighting diagrams to get consistent lighting for multiple setups,” says Matthew Evans, an e-comm photographer with Sandbox Studio, whose clients have included Calvin Klein, Coach and Nike. Evans explains that a typical day involves setting up the lighting and then shooting anywhere from 20-80 products in one day.
Like many fashion pros, Evans landed his job by working his way up through the ranks after school, starting as a digital manager before he began shooting full-time. Now that he’s landed where he is, what’s the most (delightfully) unexpected part of his job? “There are always dogs on set,” Evans notes.