Lessons From My Ethical Fashion Career

It’s hard to believe that graduate school is beginning in the next few days as I wind down my summer assistantships.  Last year around this time, I was frantically searching for a temporary apartment in Chicago for an internship with a fair trade fashion company in sales and marketing.  I had always wanted to live in Chicago and although I didn’t stay longer, my involvement with the company made me realize that I still support the industry even if I’m not directly working in the field.  Finding my way back to the arts, I didn’t see my involvement in ethical fashion as a complete bust, as I used my knowledge of retail and marketing in my summer assistantships with the Utah Shakespeare Festival and the Southern Utah Museum of Art.  As it turns out, my assistance with pop-up shops and trade shows, counting inventory and writing company blog posts prepared me for more than I thought.  While my support for ethical fashion may solely be on this blog as I focus on graduate school, there are some valuable lessons from the industry that have equipped me this past summer.

Dress With Cardigan

Lesson #1: When it comes to ethical fashion or any small business, you sometimes have to just jump in and have faith.  Many times a small number of people may wear multiple hats and juggle various jobs as they prepare for upcoming events and activities.  Having a positive attitude and not being shy about asking what’s next have helped me learn a lot about the industry and the companies working on getting ahead.  The more I saw of the behind-the-scenes look at a company, the more I began to see what worked best and where there can be room for improvement.  Taking note of these ideas, I have found, can be applicable to my current role as I was setting up a retail shop and started to think about my audience and pick what would sell best in our location.  Sometimes it’s a guessing game, but juggling my knowledge of my past experience with ethical fashion companies has been my strongest asset when it came to my assistantship.

Lesson #2: Juggling multiple tasks also means learning how to focus on one thing.  Women are often known for being multi-taskers, and it’s a strong trait to have, but it’s also important to hone in on one project.  Using a checklist with Google Sheets during my internship in Chicago helped immensely as I took on different tasks daily.  Being able to compartmentalize and realize what was most important to finish that day took away any sense of feeling overwhelmed or overworked.  Taking on multiple tasks is nothing new in my summer assistantships, which is why I’ve developed separate checklists for each organization and learned to say “No” to some tasks once I knew it would be too much for me.  Reminding myself to take on one task at a time has been essential for keeping me focused and not thinking too big too fast on projects.  Another tool I’ve found to be crucial to all of this is Google Calendar to help me strategically arrange everything from blogging to school to my assistantship.

Outfit with Passion Lilie Scarf

Lesson #3: Life and work balance is important for everyone in an organization.  One of the things I admire most about ethical fashion is its advocacy for artisans and empowering them to become financially independent.  I’ve found I’m just as passionate advocating for the value of artists and creative individuals no matter what field I’m in.  However, I’m learning that passion still means work and that it also means I shouldn’t sacrifice my own individual free time.  Using my time wisely and effectively at work is just as important as making sure I have time to life outside of work, something I hope more artisans and artists throughout the world are able to have as I advocate for their work.

Lesson #4: By empowering others, I also empower myself.  This is a concept that many people experience after becoming involved and aware of ethical fashion.  Empowering others, whether it’s remotely with artisans in developing countries or a project you’re collaborating on with co-workers, can be a huge confidence boost and make you see potential you didn’t know you had.  After leaving my career in costumes, I honestly thought no one would want me beyond my sewing skills, but since interning in various opportunities with marketing and sales, I realized that I had more to offer and I wasn’t the only one who realized it.  Watching online videos of artisans across the world, I hope they one day feel the same sense of confidence as ethical fashion companies work towards fostering their economic independence.

Peru Scarf Outfit

Lesson #5: It takes all kinds of people to make an organization effective.  Just because others approach a project differently than you do doesn’t necessarily mean they’re wrong.  Just because others decide to not take your advice doesn’t mean things won’t work out.  Everyone has their own strengths, ideas and methods that all can have benefits to a company.  One of the things I’ve admired about ethical fashion is that it aims to bring people and communities together to make improvements and help others see things in a different light.  This means combining lots of different personalities and techniques that don’t always see eye-to-eye, but I’ve come to find that instead of focusing on the conflict, it’s more effective to find a common ground and realize that everyone has different talents and contributions.

Being a part of ethical fashion has helped me see work and the world with new perspectives.  I see how small I am in the world, yet my everyday choices and ideas can affect those throughout the world.  Learning to value myself and the work of others is truly the most rewarding work for me and a concept that continues to resonate with me throughout my career choices.  As I begin to embark on my graduate school education, the concepts I’ve come to value about work and life through ethical fashion will stay on my mind as I apply them to school lessons, textbooks and assignments.

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