A Fashion Week volunteer’s survival guide

Started from the bottom.

“I know my Carla Zampatti from my Camilla,” I say to myself as I head to my Melbourne Spring Fashion Week volunteer induction. Unfortunately, the hole I just found in the crotch of my pants is doing nothing to help my fashion cred.

It’s moments like these I fear for my career in the fashion industry. Not only have I already experienced a sartorially mortifying moment, but I’m also a newbie volunteer. Even though I’m glowing with unbridled enthusiasm, I’m also quietly freaking out at the thought of accidentally ushering Nadia Bartel to the back row.

To calm my nerves, I spoke with seasoned Fashion Week volunteer and stylist, Carlos Mangubat. Together, we compiled a list of survival tips Bear Grylls would be proud of.

It’s time to grow thick skin

Everyone says it because it’s the truth. In the busiest week of the fashion calendar, spouts of moodiness are inevitable. “Emotions are high at Fashion Week. There are always dramas, disasters and heightened personalities,” says Carlos.

It’s important not to take things personally, even if you’re at the receiving end of a designer’s fury.

Fashion people remember EVERYTHING

As with any job, act with integrity and respect your workplace.

“One time a model stole a pair of Dior shoes and we had to go to his hotel and sneak them out.”

Conversely, you will be remembered for working hard. If you’re in it for more than the free T-shirt, put your hand up for extra work and ask if anyone needs help.

The backstage buzz is like a drug

If watching the show from the front (ahem, fifth) row is whimsical, the sensation from backstage must be otherworldly.

“The energy of backstage is something that you can’t replace. The buzz I get being backstage is still something that thrills me today,” says Carlos.

It’s a good one to remember when you’re backstage taping shoes, cursing for signing yourself up.

You is kind, you is smart, you is important

Without volunteers like us, Fashion Week simply wouldn’t run. You’re a small part of a much bigger picture, so even though it may seem like your work goes unnoticed, the hours you spent filling gift bags will delight those privileged enough to enjoy front row perks.

Your career can begin at Fashion Week

Carlos went from bouncing between front and back-of-house roles in his first year of volunteering at MSFW, to becoming a stylist’s assistant in his second year.

From there he landed a paid role as a head dresser, which he continued for four years. Fashion dreams were made when he was asked to style his own show for Jack London last year.

“It is what you make it. If you work hard, you’ll get noticed and rewarded. People won’t hand anything to you on a platter,” says Carlos.

It’s time to master the art of layering

“I wore two tops so the volunteer one wouldn’t smell,” says Carlos.

A practical tip to lessen the laundry load and keep you feeling fresh. By wearing a top underneath your volunteer tee you’ll minimise washing inbetween shifts and it’ll add an extra layer of warmth if you have to work outside.

It might be unglamourous, but it’s gosh darn fun

Ushering guests dressed in the most photo-worthy outfits might remind you that you’re at the lowest tier of the Fashion Week hierarchy, but it sure sounds exciting. Doing up countless buttons on a model’s dress sounds worse than doing your taxes, but you’ll have helped a designer’s dreams come to fruition. You’re the first to see the magic happen, so take a moment to appreciate it.


This article was originally published in Fashion Journal 160. You can read it here.

Lazy Loading