Making My Passion Productive

Whenever I tell someone that I am interested in fashion, one of the first questions I am asked is, “When did your love of fashion begin?”

And even though I have heard the question countless times, my answer tends to change with each response. Sometimes I start by explaining how as a child I always loved dressing up and trying on clothes. Other times I point to my obsession with spending time at the mall during my preteen years. I’ll even say, I don’t know, it just happened. Honestly I don’t think there was a specific moment when I realized that I loved fashion. But, I think that my love for all things having to do with clothing began when I was a little girl. Being able to put on a tutu or a bright blue dress because I wanted to empowered me. The clothes I placed on my body were my own decisions, and although my parents did intervene occasionally, more times than not, I dictated my style choices from a very young age. My clothes became a reflection and expression of me and my independence.

First day of school outfits always were of the utmost importance. As the first impression after a long summer, I put pressure on myself to have the perfect outfit. I clearly remember the first day of middle school. My fantastic outfit (well, I thought so at the time) consisted of a bright green polo from Abercrombie & Fitch, paired with pink gaucho capris. I thought I looked amazing. Gauchos, wide leg cropped pants, were the new style and I thought anything Abercrombie was hip. Even as a sixth grader, I was in-tune with the trends of the time. I chose my outfit without help from my parents, however in reality the clothes I picked were within the already established current trends for tweens at the time. Regardless, these choices were still my own. Abercrombie had been recognized as the store for girls my age, and gauchos were everywhere. The outfit I wore on my first day not only fit into the style of the time, but it also reflected me as a person. I wore my favorite color, pink, which made the outfit feel like my own, but also stylish and on trend. I had a great first day of sixth grade because I felt confident in my outfit. I knew from then on that I wanted to be part of the process of determining and developing trends, not just following them.

Fast forward to freshman year of high school when I applied to be a part of Nordstrom’s Brass Plum Fashion Board. The BP Fashion Board consisted of high school students who had an interest in the fashion industry; the perfect place for me. With meetings every month, we would hear from experts in the field including top buyers and stylists within Nordstrom. The Fashion Board was the first time I conceptualized my interest in fashion. When most people think of fashion, their brains move toward design and styling. However, I most enjoyed learning about the business and writing behind fashion, something that I had never been exposed to before the Fashion Board.

No longer did I have just a casual awareness of fashion. Instead, I began to consciously pursue this interest by taking initiative and learning more about the industry as a whole. After meetings I would go home and spend hours on the computer researching the trends and concepts that I had learned about. It was interesting to learn how buyers and merchandisers went about purchasing items for the store, and what types of clothes they thought would sell well. Not only did they need a natural eye for style, but proficiency in numbers and business was a must. Further we heard from stylists and their logic behind certain product placements in in-store displays. Walking into stores became a completely different experience for me; now I looked at displays and wondered about the decisions that went into deciding such things as which clothes were selected? Why were they placed with the specific accessories? Why was the mannequin facing to the left or to the right?

Social media was still in its early years when I was in high school, but we also heard from Nordstrom bloggers and the stories they were pitching for the coming season. These presentations about a growing area of the industry jumpstarted my interest in the online fashion community. I began following online fashion blogs and thinking about the possibility of writing about fashion in the future. The exposure I received from the Fashion Board became invaluable. Not only did I learn about Nordstrom as a company, but I was surrounded by other women who loved fashion as much as I did. I was also able to hone in on the specific aspects of fashion that I was most interested in. This experience validated my hope of pursuing a career in the industry.

A few months later I decided to start my own fashion blog. I spent hours reading blogs each day, and I thought that creating my own would be a great way to share my love of the business with others. I wanted to be a part of common community, and I knew that I could create and maintain a blog on my own. Developing a blog also gave me a platform to demonstrate my knowledge and passion of fashion, a way to show others that fashion was more than a simple hobby. I chose to name my blog “Sparkle, Smile and Shine,” partly because of the alliteration, but also because I hoped that every piece of clothing someone puts on would make them sparkle, smile and shine (as cheesy as that sounds now, I truly believe it!)

I drew inspiration from one of my favorite blogs, “Cupcakes and Cashmere.” However, “Cupcakes and Cashmere” is written by a woman about 10 years older than me, with thousands of followers and a loyal readership. My challenge was to make my posts engaging to my own audience, people my age, as well as my friends and family. Creating a successful blog is challenging, but I wanted to give it a try. I chose to develop my blog on Blogspot, a website that had premade blog templates. Although the templates were convenient at the time, I realized later that editing them was not so easy. I crafted blog posts about current trends, and top products that I admired at the time. I also did a few personal outfit posts, but quickly learned that without a professional camera, great lighting and cool back-drops, my photos were not as glamorous or appealing as the other bloggers I followed. In actuality, my readership only extended to friends and family I knew. I tried to expand and develop my blog, however with the intense pressures of high school, SAT prep and just being a teenager, I could not nurture my blog to success. However, my blog did reveal my clear desire to create and share my interest in fashion with a wider audience.

Deadlines for college applications were quickly approaching, and I had to decide how fashion would play into my school choice process. Despite my interest in a career related to fashion, I wanted a general education that did not narrow my options to a single field. Ultimately I chose to attend the University of Michigan, and although we have no classes focusing on fashion, I was able to seek out student organizations that aligned to my interest and craft my own fashion path. I began writing for the Style section of the online magazine, HerCampus, and I have been writing at least an article a month since my freshman year. Most of the articles I write focus on a current trend and how to make it accessible to college students. I also became involved with SHEI Magazine, U of M’s print fashion and culture publication. Compared to HerCampus, my SHEI articles were lengthier and a bit more substantive. I wrote a piece arguing the value of my unpaid internship in fashion, as well as an article about spring trends and their playful vibes. Both HerCampus and SHEI allowed me to write about fashion through different lenses. Even though there was no formal fashion path at U of M, I crafted my own, finding a concrete way to make my love of fashion productive and more than just a hobby or decoration.

My freshman year neared its end and I started thinking about my summer plans. I knew that finding an internship after just one year of college would be a challenge, but I became determined to be successful in this endeavor. I reached out to as many people as possible who had a connection to the fashion industry. Eventually I was put in touch with the Giorgio Armani VIP PR Office in Beverly Hills, CA. The VIP PR office sits above the Giorgio Armani retail store on Rodeo Drive. The main duty of the office is to supply VIPs (celebrities, models, etc) and their stylists with Armani clothing for special events. Additionally, the office supervises all of the Public Relations for Giorgio Armani. Over my spring break I had an interview and was offered the position a few weeks later. Working at Giorgio Armani proved to be another pivotal moment in my fashion career journey and another step closer to being part of the trend making process. I learned endless amounts of information, everything from the names of the different types of lapels, to how to pronounce different designers, to how to properly style different types of pieces. I assisted in the planning of a well-attended party honoring Giorgio Armani in New York City, put together a Powerpoint presentation with various outfit choices for different clients, and even helped style a few celebrities. However, the internship was not always so glamorous. Many times I spent entire days with nothing to do. I dealt with big personalities who weren’t always the kindest and did plenty of coffee runs. There were times when I came home, exhausted and discouraged, wondering if the fashion industry was the best place for me. A large part of my learning occurred when I took the lead by asking questions and offering to help out with different projects. Learning about fashion was not just a necessity to get through my internship; I enjoyed it and wanted to take in as much as I could. Ultimately, I left my internship grateful for the depth of information and exposure I had to the industry.

Fast forward to my second semester of junior year. I studied abroad in Florence, Italy. For years I dreamt of studying in Florence because of the fashion, history and art. My dream became a reality and after being in Florence for a few weeks, some of my friends and I went to the Gucci Museum. As I soaked in the gorgeous gowns on display, a question came to me, when was Milan fashion week? Within seconds I took out my phone, Googled Milan Fashion Week dates and show times. By some amazing twist of fate, there was a Giorgio Armani Fashion show, in two weeks on a Monday. I didn’t have class on Mondays, and my mind began to race. I quickly rushed home and decided to take a risk. I had kept in touch with my boss from Armani over the past year and a half, and figured that there was no harm in sending her an email explaining my situation, and asking if I could attend the Armani show in Milan, not really expecting an answer. Much to my surprise, I received a response from her within an hour! My former boss was delighted to hear from me and she was indeed going to be in Milan for the show. She told me she would try her very best to secure tickets for me and two of my friends, but she would likely not know for certain until the weekend before. A grin had been plastered on my face from the second I began reading the email. Only the most elite people in fashion had the opportunity to see the shows and I could not wrap my head around the fact that there might be a chance that I could attend.

The weekend before the fashion show I traveled to Amsterdam with friends. After a long day we arrived back at our hotel where I finally was able to connect to WiFi and check my email. Low and behold, an email was waiting — we had tickets! I began jumping up and down in our tiny hotel room, unable to control my excitement and happiness. Attending Fashion Week was something I had dreamed about since middle school, never did I think that this dream would become a reality, especially in Italy! I scrambled to get everything in order before leaving Amsterdam. I was not returning to Florence until 9 pm on Sunday night and I booked a train leaving for Milan at 6 am Monday morning. My usual self would have been completely stressed about the craziness of this schedule, but all that was running through my mind was “Milan Fashion Week” in big flashing letters. What to wear was another concern. I had put together an outfit before leaving for Amsterdam, just in case the Milan trip materialized, but I was not totally sold on it. On Sunday before my flight back to Florence, my friends and I wandered into Topshop in Amsterdam. I saw a romper as soon as I walked in, tried it on and bought it in the 15 minutes we had before we needed to get to the airport catch our flight.

After safely arriving in Florence late Sunday night, I could barely sleep. I still could not believe that in a few short hours I would be attending the Giorgio Armani Milan Fashion Week show. My mind would not stop, I kept imagining what the next day would be like. I woke up bright and early and met my two friends at the train station. I wore the dark green romper I had bought the day before and I styled it with my leather jacket and big black floppy hat. My outfit reflected how I hoped to be perceived: confident, stylish and sophisticated. I had never been so proud of an impulse purchase. We arrived at the Milan train station and took a cab, to Teatro Armani, Giorgio Armani’s exclusive fashion show venue. As we approached the theater, I was in awe of the incredibly dressed people, each one unique. The entire day was a fantastic blur that I never wanted to end. My former boss greeted us at the entrance, guiding us through the chaos. We walked into the theater and immediately she introduced me to a woman sitting in the front row, “Hannah this is Anna.” “Hi, nice to meet you!” Seconds later I realized who I speaking to…Anna Wintour, the editor of Vogue…OMG. I was in shock, barely able to keep moving. We made our way through the crowd, and were introduced to more of fashion’s royalty. I watched the show twice, admiring the sophisticated details and pure elegance of Giorgio Armani’s clothes. We sat with the Armani “staff,” watching the shows from the steps of the high fashion bleachers. After the show was over, I had the honor of meeting Mr. Armani, an experience I will never forget. I felt like I belonged at the fashion show. All of the people in this room cared about fashion as much, if not more than I did. They were pursuing careers in fashion, and were successful.

To say that attending the Giorgio Armani fashion show was an incredible experience is an understatement. Standing in a room with individuals who developed trends and styles felt incredible. The show reenergized my passion for fashion. Although my love had never completely waned, attending the show confirmed that this industry was something I wanted and needed to be a part of in the future. I thrived on the creative environment that fashion provided. Yes, the fashion industry was competitive, challenging and sometimes cut-throat, but it was also thought-provoking, creative and exciting.

Deciding where to intern during the summer between junior and senior year became a challenge. Because I was in Europe, securing a position was extra challenging and I ended up being in a tricky situation. I had been offered a position at Clique Media Group (CMG), a content and commerce company that owns WhoWhatWear, an online fashion publication; however, I was also in the process of interviewing with Warner Bros. The CMG internship was unpaid, while the Warner Bros. internship would have been paid. I had to give CMG an answer before I would hear back from Warner Bros, and I struggled with making the decision. After a lot of back and forth I ended up deciding to go with CMG; I was more passionate about fashion than entertainment, and knew that I would gain valuable experience at CMG. The work I did at CMG involved many aspects of the industry including business, sales, writing and social media. I enjoyed being able to work in all of these areas, while still focusing on fashion.

Looking back, I am grateful for my decision to follow my heart and take the internship at CMG. Although I interned without pay all summer, my hard work and strong relationships with my supervisors paid off. I was offered and accepted a full time position at CMG, and will begin working there two weeks after graduation. Although pursuing fashion over the past years has not always been easy, I have made it a priority. I have consciously incorporated fashion into my life through my writing, my internships and my experiences, and ultimately I have made it of the focus of my career. I am now going to be one step closer to my childhood dream of being someone who establishes trends by working at CMG. Fashion is more than just a hobby; it is something that has concrete value. I could have given up the idea of fashion after my not so successful fashion blog, or even after my internship at Giorgio Armani; however, I knew that if I wanted to pursue a career in the fashion industry, I would have to move past those moments of doubt. Attending Fashion Week in Milan validated my previous decisions and gave me the courage to accept the internship at CMG.

My story with fashion is nowhere near its end, but the past 10 years have been a wild ride. Fashion has become part of my identity. At first glance, this might be seen by the clothes I wear on my body. They are an expression of me, how I am feeling on a specific day and what trends I am choosing to embrace. Beyond my clothes, my love of fashion is reflected through my writing and knowledge. I have exposed myself to the industry through incredible experiences, internships and now a career. My hardworking nature has been demonstrated through my persistence and love of the field. Although cliché, fashion is my passion. I am proud that I have been able to take this passion and translate it into a realistic and hopefully productive career.

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