Fashion is a tough, competitive and cut-throat industry. And that's once you've got your foot in the door.
For those trying to break in, it can be even harder. You've had little to no practical experience, your portfolio ends with your graduate collection and literally nobody will return your emails. Except for ASOS. And you're at least 90 per cent sure those are automated. Right?
So how do you possibly weasel your way in?
We went to Siham Elmawey for answers. At just 22, Siham was appointed Brand Manager/Head Designer of global fashion label, C/MEO COLLECTIVE. Now, at 23, she's killing it.
She's steered the label's rapid growth into the international market, grown its hyper-success locally, dressed the likes of Kendall Jenner and Margaret Zhang, and is one seriously humble girl.
So naturally, we went to her for advice. Here's what she had to say about breaking into the industry at a tender young age.
So Siham, tell us about your job. What's it like day to day?
I’m responsible for the overall performance of C/MEO COLLECTIVE. Each day is completely different from the other. We design 11 collections a year, so we work on multiple months each day.
I often find myself researching new trends, prints and colours, designing collections that translate the vision and aesthetic of the brand, and communicating with the agents and buyers.
How did you land the job at such a young age?
Before becoming the Brand Manager of C/MEO, I worked as the Assistant Designer for the brand, so it was really just a step up. I was only 22 and had already landed my dream job. But I was also aware of the expectations on me, having witnessed the label's growth over the years. I knew I had big shoes to fill.
So how did you get into the industry in the first place?
I did one week of work experience with Cameo the Label (now C/MEO COLLECTIVE) and as a result I was offered the position as their Assistant Designer. It was my first job in the industry and I’m still here!
What did you study?
Applied Fashion Design and Technology at TAFE SA.
Has your young age given you any advantages in your job?
I guess I’ve been given the opportunity to grow with my role. I’m always learning a lot every day, and I continue to evolve as a designer and a person. I’m also within our target demographic, so I get to design the clothes that I like to wear, which is a bonus!
What's the best way to stand out when you're trying to break into the workforce?
I think you need to make the most of any opportunity you’re given, be it work experience, internship or simply a chance meeting. You need to make a great impression and then try and make yourself a part of the furniture so they keep you! Own it! Deliver above and beyond!
Biggest challenges in the fashion industry?
Fashion is so competitive. There are so many players in the market vying for people’s attention, you have to be strategic with how you talk to your customer, in order to stand out.
While it’s a challenge, it’s also a great reward. I still get a kick out of seeing people in C/MEO, from the world’s top influencers like Margaret Zhang and Kendall Jenner. It means we were able to reach them!
Finding a mentor is also important. Cue Melanie Flintoft, our Creative Director.
Best piece of advice you were ever given?
It might seem a bit cliché, but the best advice I’ve been given is just to stay true to yourself. Fashion can be quite a difficult industry at times, especially when your designs have so much of you in them, so you need to have a thick skin and back yourself all the time.
Why do you think you’ve been so successful at a young age?
I was given an opportunity to prove myself very early on in my career, and I attribute that chance to any success I have. Without Australian Fashion Labels giving me a go, I wouldn’t be here today!
Top tips for making it in fashion?
Relationships are important! Build strong ones with everyone you work with. Ultimately it’s a small industry and you cross paths with the same people at different times in your career. Learn how to time manage, use a diary religiously and write lists. Listen to your customers, suppliers and agents, as they are your eyes and ears on the ground! And don’t forget to set yourself goals. It gives you something to work towards.