Breaking into the fashion industry is a challenge that has achieved cult status among young people. Arguably one of the most exclusive and competitive industries out there, fashion is a world that is heavily insulated in major cities. When you’re first starting out, the task of stepping into fashion successfully may seem overwhelming; why hasn’t anyone reach out for an interview, who can I speak to directly for insight, where do I begin looking?
For questions like these, the organisation Pepper Your Talk is here to help. With a pool of contacts and advice, PYT’s ethos is to ‘positively support and educate the next generation of fashion creatives in 3 ways: ‘access to information, people and events’. We sat down with founder Dior Bediako, a former Elite Associates temp, to discuss her work and thoughts on this highly sought-after industry.
Before we get into the core of Pepper Your Talk, would you be able to talk about a typical day temping for us?
I temped for Elite every summer between 2010 – 2013. Very early on, it was established that I was best placed at the Burberry concession in a department store. Therefore, a typical day at work would either start at 8am or 10am, travelling to Knightsbridge and settling into either the contemporary, smart or high fashion sections.
My favourite part of the job was dealing with customers one-to-one and building relationships with them. Retail can be people’s form of therapy, especially in luxury and I wanted to add to their experience.
I was always mindful that, as a temp, the manager may ask for you back so I went above and beyond to make sure that I worked hard and made a good impression.
What can a temp learn from their time working in the luxury client experience?
The art of customer service was my biggest lesson whilst temping for Elite. Within a luxury environment, customers expect a top-class experience which involves the perfect mixture of chatty conversation whilst meeting their needs and exceeding their expectations. It’s a bonus if you can push beyond their immediate needs and up-sell too.
I also came to realise that luxury is subjective. For some people, it’s less about the clothes and more about the sales associates knowing their name, what their last purchase was and making their time in the store as enjoyable as possible.
On your site, you mention your insecurities upon starting a job at an iconic British brand. What triggered this ‘imposter syndrome’ as you call it and how did this lead to the creation of Pepper Your Talk?
I have a theory that finishing University presents one of the biggest identity crises in any young person’s life. It sounds dramatic, but that’s exactly how it feels at the time. You immediately go from being the most educated that you’ve ever been to the least experienced out of everyone in the job market. The high-low feeling is where it starts, but for me, the imposter syndrome was heightened by starting my career at a top luxury brand.
Although that brand was the only one I wanted to work for, I never really felt like I deserved the opportunity. I can’t pinpoint why exactly, but I do feel as though I peaked so soon that I didn’t have any other goals other than landing my dream job.
Obviously your targeted demographic are young people – do they typically come from London or do they come from other UK cities where the fashion industry isn’t as prominent?
Most people have the dream of making it in London but come from all over! Different cities, countries and continents, which makes the job all the more exciting.
But things are changing. We recently ran an article about the rate at which graduates are choosing to go back to their home cities to support their local fashion industry. There are great things happening up North and the cost of living in London is forcing people out of the capital.
How has the industry changed, in terms of job hunting, since you first started your PYT journey?
We’ve been going for two years, so if I’m honest, not much. But what I would like to see is greater support for young people whilst they navigate the career crossroads. The jump from education to employment leaves a big gaping hole for new development such as confidence training, salary negotiation, money management, self-advocacy, building professional networks – there’s so much learning that nobody is covering. That’s where I like to think we come in. I want every young person to feel that they can come to us for all this support.
From what you have seen, what is the most challenging part of career progression?
Every step has presented it’s challenges but challenges are opportunities for growth. I spent three amazing years working for Elite on the retail side but was honest with myself when I felt I had outgrown that phase of my life. The challenge there was to begin to visualise myself as an ‘office’ person. This requires a whole new set of personal and professional skills.
Then once I landed a head office role, within the first two years I felt I had learnt enough to move on. It took me 6 more months to figure out what my next step would be. That’s a part of the process that many young people don’t consider. It’s important to ask yourself real questions such as “Do I have transferable skills to move onto the next phase of my career?”
And now, working for myself and supporting young creatives, I feel like I’ve started from the bottom all over again. Needless to say, that’s a challenge within itself but by now I’m sure you can tell I see obstacles as stepping stones.
What kind of people succeed in their search and what advice can you give to someone who is still struggling to break in?
When I think back to when I started, I received one rejection and that crushed my spirit – just after one! There were many more to come and developing a thick skin from the outset was absolutely crucial.
The successful people understand that opportunities won’t fall from the sky! You have to network, dedicate time to submit strong applications, tailor your CV to each role, stay curious by reading, attending events and speaking to new people.
You also can’t be phased when things don’t work out your way, which is easier said than done. Every application you submit is a chance to get better at it. Every interview you go for is a chance to practice presenting yourself, every interviewer is a potential new contact. Once you view the whole process through a positive lense everything works for you and not against you.