What Is It Like Planning Your Future During a Global Pandemic?
When I graduated from Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) last June, I was relieved to be done with homework forever, but especially excited to begin my career in fashion. I have known since I was about five years old that I wanted to work in fashion and after four-and-a-half years of grueling schoolwork, difficult professors and hundreds of all-nighters, I finally had the piece of paper that told everyone: I am qualified.
I spent the first few months after graduation staying up late on weeknights with the excitement of not having class the next day and celebrating that I now had freedom to let my creativity soar.
By September, I realized I needed to get serious about planning my future.
I traveled to New York City – the place I’ve wanted to live since I was 12. I took a chance volunteering during New York Fashion Week 2019, mainly finding work with PR companies. Although I spent nearly five years in design school, I didn’t know much about fashion PR. Because NYFW is a lengthy event, the other volunteers and I spent plenty of time setting up showrooms and catwalks, watching model run-throughs, and standing behind photographers as they feverishly took photos.
It never occurred to me to attempt a career in PR, but it was everything I loved about fashion with virtually none of the stuff I hated.
I made the decision by October 2019 that PR was the move. I applied to Liz Lapidus Public Relations and worked a seasonal job at the mall over the holidays. Once accepted, I began my internship with LLPR in January. So far, everything was right on track – I found a job where I would save money waiting tables at night, and an internship where I could garner career experience in the morning.
Then, a global pandemic hit.
Everything shut down. I lost my job that was helping me save for my move and I lost the opportunity to assist in the events that were canceled and postponed. Summer across the U.S. has virtually been canceled: no concerts, no malls, no parties, no clubs, and, of course, no PR events.
While many industries have been hit hard, fashion and retail came screeching to a halt. The Met Gala was squashed and fashion weeks around the globe were postponed indefinitely.
My best friend Miranda, who also graduated from SCAD, said that retailers have cancelled orders of her brand for the next three seasons. “All of their orders are just sitting there. They can’t sell anything right now, so what’s the point in buying more?” Before this pandemic hit, Miranda was working as a design assistant. She was living at home hoping that her salaried job would allow her to move out of her family’s house and get a place of her own. That’s no longer happening.
Fashion is a tough business; many retailers were struggling before this. With stores like Macy’s having to close over 80 brick and mortar stores, this pandemic could bleed multiple retail stores dry. Neiman Marcus and J. Crew are just a couple of the brands that have fallen prey to bankruptcy, laying off thousands of employees nationwide. And for those of us who want to work in high fashion, the toll it’s taken is even worse. SCAD alum and Georgia native, Christopher John Rogers was having a fantastic brand launch before this -- flying to Paris, winning the highly coveted CFDA Vogue Fashion Fund and getting orders from the top high fashion retailers like Net-a-Porter. In an interview with New York Times, Rogers mentions that only one retailer out of 10 can commit to fall orders of his highly praised line from late last year.
Another fellow SCAD alum and friend, Kula is currently living in Brooklyn with his roommates. He recently completed an internship at Marc Jacobs in February and was hoping to jump right into the next position. “It’s already so difficult to get an entry level paid position in the fashion industry with steep competition, money, or lack thereof, and location. Now the pandemic is exacerbating all of this,” said Kula. Companies are on a hiring freeze across the board so any of us that were in the middle of looking for new work are going to have to wait a while to find it. “The locations where fashion is the most prominent have been hit the hardest. I honestly cannot imagine what the job market will look like for us after this.”
“Essential” is a word that we constantly hear in conversation now. Unfortunately, during arduous times, arts and entertainment are at the bottom of the list. However, with many of us stuck indoors with virtually nowhere to go, social media and streaming sites are flooded with incessant viewers and scrollers alike.
For someone like my friend Anthony, this pandemic has panned out well for him. We graduated at the same time and he received a Bachelors in Fashion Marketing. While we were in school, he always dreamed of working for Cartier or Hermes but to have the opportunity to live in New York, he took a job at an advertising agency. He wasn't thrilled about the decision a year ago, but now feels much more comfortable in his choice. “It’s strange being in a job field that I am not passionate about, but now I feel grateful that I didn’t get a job in fashion. Had I pursued my dream job, I would likely be unemployed and living with my parents again.” Anthony is one of my only friends who is still employed. He moved into a new apartment a few months before the virus hit and has been setting up the building blocks for his future steadily. “While I understand everyone doesn’t have the space to be positive, I believe this is a fantastic time to prepare. There will be so many opportunities once this [crisis] passes and we are literally entering into a new era of humanity and civilization.”
Many new graduates, whether out of high school or college, tend to be somewhere in between all of these scenarios. Maybe they’re finishing up an apprenticeship, looking for one or just trying to find something that pays the bills for now -- but this pandemic somewhat levels the playing field.
“I felt really bad about not having a job before this but now we’re all in the same boat,” said Calvin, another SCAD alum. Calvin was living in Miami, working as a host in a restaurant before he got laid off due to COVID-19. He believes our whole industry will change with us. “Everything is about the essentials now; how can we make fashion essential?” Calvin asked.
Fashion conglomerate LVMH recently switched production from cosmetics in favor of making hand sanitizers to put into Dior bottles. Christian Siriano, a gown designer in New York spent weeks with his team creating medical grade face masks.
Calvin is right -- fashion’s priorities are different now, because they must be. “The positive aspect of all of this is we have so much time to reflect and decide what direction we want this industry to move in.”
The rest of 2020 will be a roller coaster ride for those of us trying to adjust into adulthood and find our places in the world. My confidence comes from the fact that I am blessed to be healthy when so many people are not. I am thankful that I don’t have to be concerned with the essentials of having a roof over my head or food to eat. I am using this time to expand my skills and learn more about the industry I want to enter.
Ideally, I would like to be living in my own apartment in New York City by the end of the year. I would hope to have a job at a fashion PR agency while still creating for my personal brand. But I have also come to peace with the fact that this may not happen. I may have to get a job outside of fashion for a few years, I may have to move back in with my mom, but the best part of these circumstances is that I’m only 24. These would still be real possibilities because being in your twenties is rocky -- pandemic or not.
My peers and I have been given a unique opportunity to truly define art and fashion for our generation and encapsulate the feeling of the 2020s and beyond.
Who will be the first creative to have a live fashion show on Instagram? Which photographers will be able to shoot amazing campaigns without even being in the room? Ultimately, which designers will define fashion in the new world we are entering?