What I Have Learned as a Black Woman Working in The Fashion Industry

As a black woman, working in the fashion industry can be one of the most creatively expressive jobs. The capability to architect an image of someone brings any stylist joy. The action of sewing and designing could be the one thing that wakes tailors and designers up in the morning. This industry can bring you a long and fulfilled life. However, the same industry can also bring you displeasure and heartbreak. 

“It wasn’t until I was actively participating in the industry that I understood exactly what that meant.”

Growing in the fashion industry, I was always told, “You have to love fashion.” When reading fashion books they will tell you “You have to be passionate about fashion” to succeed. Selling the dream that hard work is all you need. This is true, but sometimes other systems are active. It wasn’t until I was actively participating in the industry that I understood exactly what that meant.

Being a black woman in an industry that doesn’t value you adds an extra layer to the invisible obstacles. Most fashion companies were built during a time when the black voice, consumer, talent, and woman were not thought of. Most companies are changing now. Nonetheless, some core values are sewn into a company and will take generations to fix.  There have been tips and advice, however, I wish someone would have laid it all out when I first started instead of just hearing “you have to love fashion”. As a black woman with a career in fashion, you may struggle, but will always be a triumph. Here are some tips and advice from someone who has “been there and done that”.

Photo Credit: ShutterShock

1. Stick to your prices

No matter who the client is or the situation, you have to stick to your prices. Celebrities and big brands will challenge you and ask for a lower price. You should not be swayed or tempted because of the big name. In the beginning, it’s great to build your portfolio and name. Therefore, your prices should reflect your growth. Budging on something as big as prices gives the client control and they will use it to their advantage. The saying “When you give them an inch, they take a mile” applies perfectly.

2. Paperwork before work

One thing that doesn’t get told enough to black women is that paperwork has to be done first. The fashion industry moves fast and jobs may need to be accepted at a faster rate. However, always make sure your payment paperwork is filled out and there is a clear understanding before you start working. It’s a simple step that takes a lot of courage and confidence to demand. 

3. Keep a paper trail

You have to make sure all communication is accounted for. Takedown your mileage from jobs and job-related errands. Also, don’t delete emails from companies. Paper trails are important in all aspects. Receipts are the most important if you are a stylist but everyone should be saving them for tax purposes. Make sure you keep a detailed record of what you did for each project as well. If you sewed a button on, you need to have a record of that. At best, you have a detailed invoice. At worst, you have evidence of what you did to prove payment.

4. Ask for different net pay

Net Pay is the name it takes you to get paid. Some projects will offer you net30 (30 days until standard payment), net60, or even net90. You can ask for a net30 if they offer net60. In general, my peers didn’t ask for concern contract changes and it wasn’t offered like others were. Therefore, a good rule of thumb is to always ask. 

5. Just because they are paying you does not mean they own you

I have noticed clients have more of an ownership approach when it comes to people of color, especially black women.  Setting clear boundaries is important to any client relationship. Pleasing the client is always something that is stressed and it is important. However, it should never be at you, or your team’s expense. 

Photo Credit: ShutterShock

6. Take care of your reputation

Your work and how you treat people is the most important part of your job. The quality always has to be there, as well as a good work environment. You will be faced with doubt, however always being prepared, doing good work, and actively being a good partner is key. You will get jobs from your peers. However, if they don’t like working with you they won’t tell anyone about you or recommend you. The fashion industry is small. You have to make sure your reputation is always intact.

7. Network with your peers, but mainly the employers

Getting to know your peers is great and very needed in this industry. However, you are ultimately self-employed. Nurturing relationships with your employers is something that should also be high on your list.  In networking events, you have to talk to the people that will hire you. 

8. Tell the client no and offer other suggestions

You are the expert at your job. If the client is asking for something you can not do, it is okay to say no. However, always make sure you have other suggestions for them.  You have to make sure your client has a realistic perspective. The moment you allow your client to dream about things that cant happen in reality, you’re doing the client and your team a disservice. 

9. You don’t have to take every job

Not every job is meant for you. Some people use the tactic of taking every client and every job. Not only can that cause burnout, but you could also lose clients because your plate is too full. Another thing to think about is how the project is building your portfolio and the aesthetic you want for yourself. A great example would be if you want editorial jobs, but you keep taking commercial gigs. Again, it’s okay to say no. You should also look at red flags before taking on new jobs and clients. Examples of red flags are no realistic timeframe and no budget.

The fashion industry is full of promising and creative jobs. Following these tips will ensure you won’t have to go through the same struggles as me or my peers. As a black woman, you may face other challenges many of your other peers will not. It’s always better to be prepared for these obstacles. These tips may not solve all of your issues, but they will help you reduce some of them. The fashion industry is open for everyone and it is waiting for you.