How to get into fashion management with an MBA

How to get into fashion management with an MBA main image

The fashion industry is big business, generating over US$250 billion in sales and US$20 billion in profits every year. It stands to reason then, that the industry would need smart, business brains behind the scenes. In the last decade, the fashion industry has become markedly more sleek and professionalized as markets and brands go global and the frail global economy means businesses can’t afford to make mistakes.

The fashion world is now beginning to embrace the business world on multiple fronts, efficiently, economically and ecologically. For this, brands, designers and fashion businesses as a whole are finally willing to admit that they need MBAs.

With New York and London's Fashion Weeks having concluded in the past few days, Milan Fashion Week Underway (19th-24th February 2014) and Paris Fashion Week (25th February-5thMarch) to come, it is the opportune time to think about how business students interested in pursuing fashion management careers can get their feet in the door.

Brand management in a constantly changing market

With the emergence of new markets in countries such as Russia, Brazil, China and India, along with the increasing prominence on ethics and sustainability in today’s market, the way the fashion industry does business has shifted hugely.

The digital revolution has also changed a lot within retail and the fashion industry, meaning those who seek a career in fashion and brand management must understand how the industry is continuing to develop in a global market and how this affects business. A specialized MBA in fashion will teach you how to work with these changes and how to develop a business with them in mind.

Fashion industry is relationship driven

As with many creative industries, the fashion world is incredibly relationship-driven. Both lucrative and highly competitive, those interested in working in fashion will often have to spend a long time developing contacts and, more importantly, friends within the industry in order to be in with a chance of getting into fashion.

The editor-in-chief of BusinessOfFashion.com, Imran Amed was a management consultant before entering the fashion industry. For him, relationships are everything. “Over time, I have learned that fashion is a relationship-driven industry, a community of people who are all connected in some way or another. This means that everybody you meet will know somebody else you should meet.”

Amed’s advice is to take the time to meet and get to know everyone when you first start out. “When I was first exploring fashion, I met with everybody I could possibly convince to take 30 minutes out of their schedule – from senior fashion executives and young designers to merchandisers, wholesale agents and industry veterans – and did much more listening than talking. Some of my best teachers have been the friends I have made from across the industry. And as we share the same interests, we learn from each other.”

From this it is clear that although a fashion career will require you to network, it does not have to be a chore. Developing friendships and working relationships will be one of the most important factors in advancing your career within fashion management so it is vital for you to relish this aspect.

Commitment to the fashion industry

Whether you study for a specialized MBA in fashion or a more traditional MBA, an interest in fashion itself is very important. It may not necessarily be an interest in wearing fashion, but a passion for the creativity or artistic nature of fashion is essential.

Amed says, “When I meet MBAs who want to break into the industry today, I usually ask them who their favorite designers are. The truly passionate and well prepared individuals are the ones who see and can talk about the creative and the business sides of fashion as intertwined.”

He goes on to say that it is imperative to “understand the various roles that exist in a fashion company, the various steps of the fashion value chain, and [to] have a good understanding of where your skills may be appreciated along each step.”

Getting into fashion management: starting from the ground up

Getting into fashion management within a big global brand may not happen overnight. Entering the industry is often down to lucky encounters as much as it is through painstaking determination. Many graduate MBAs have entered the industry through entrepreneurial ventures or work in advisory roles.

During your MBA you may want to consider interning for a smaller company within the industry. For businesses starting out, MBAs can offer valuable insights and skills in professional management, and, in return, the company can give you a place to test out and showcase your ideas. It’s all very well knowing you’re brilliant, but employers will want evidence of your professional experiences and the only way to do this at the very beginning is to offer your spare time to those in need but with limited funds. Who knows, it could even lead to a post-MBA job title better than you ever expected.

Another plus side to working with a smaller company is that you’ll be able to get to know more sides of the business, gaining a better understanding of the company as a whole. In a bigger company, job roles are often distinctly divided, disallowing a new recruit to gain a rounded view of how the industry works. “In a small business, you will be able to more easily see how all the parts fit together, and where the best future opportunities for you may lie,” Amed agrees.

Get a specialized MBA in fashion or luxury brand management

ESSEC International Luxury Brand Management MBA

One of the first of its kind, the ESSEC International Luxury Brand Management MBA has been established since 1995.

SDA Bocconi track in Luxury Business Management

SDA Bocconi offers a specialization Luxury Business Management for its full-time MBA students based in Italy.

Stern MBA specialization in Luxury Marketing

NYU’s Stern School of Business offers a specialization in Luxury Marketing for its full-time MBA students.

UAL CPD Executive MBA (Fashion)

The University of the Arts London launched their continuing professional development Executive MBA in fashion in September of last year.

MBA fashion startups

Bonobos – A men’s online fashion startup founded by two Stanford MBAs Brian Spaly and Andy Dunn.

The Fold – A London based fashion company specializing in contemporary business wear for women, launched by Polly McMaster, MBA graduate from London Business School.

Of Mercer – A clothing company for businesswomen launched by Wharton MBA Graduates Dorie Golkin and Emelyn Northway.

Image credit: Ian Gavan, Getty Images

Learn more about gaining a master's in fashion management >

Written by Laura Tucker
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