Where to Start if You Want a Career in Sustainable Fashion

career advice sustainability Aug 09, 2022

Ever wondered how people get positions like Head of Sustainability, VP of Sustainability, or Director of CSR? Does one get a Bachelor’s degree in supply chain management and a minor in social responsibility? Can you choose a “triple bottom line” emphasis? There’s no perfect formula (or many options), so how do these people get the dream job? 

We all have to start somewhere, so why not right here, right now? If you want to have a career in sustainable apparel, our 3 tips can help you get going on the right path - especially if you’re in college trying to figure out how to get your foot in the door.

If you prefer to watch, check out Derek’s video “Where to Start if You Want a Career in Sustainable Fashion.” Otherwise, let’s get into how to jumpstart your sustainability career!

1. Get a job in the fashion industry

I know how hard it can be to balance school, work, relationships, and extracurricular activities while you’re in college, but if your schedule can allow it we highly recommend getting a job in the fashion industry as soon as possible. 

If you can score a part-time job working retail, this is a great way to start getting to know the fashion industry. You’ll get to know what materials are used in each product category, what their performance features are, and how it benefits the customer. On the back end, you’ll learn about distribution (and the struggles that come with supply chains), network with other people in the organization, and learn about the brand’s culture or DNA.

While I was in college, I worked for two major brands in the surf/skate/snow industry and although they both supplied clothing to the same demographic, their DNA was completely different. 

The first one put a huge emphasis on team building - we had regular team bonding nights, friendly competitions with other stores, and community events within the store. Not to mention, sustainability was becoming a big topic of conversation at the brand. 

The second one was dedicated to empowering retail employees through consistent pay raises and promotions (plus, they paid all of us throughout the COVID shut down - something I’ll always be grateful for!). This brand also put an emphasis on creativity, diversity, and inclusion, which meant there were a lot of collabs and fundraisers for different causes. Learning about a brand’s DNA can really help you narrow your scope and find the right fit for you to direct your sights. 

And, Hey Students! While you’re in school, you can - scratch that - should also utilize internship opportunities that the brand may offer. Most well-known brands offer some sort of internship program for employees who are in school and this can be a great way to get your foot in the door and start networking with people in the organization - or at least get you some strong references. 

2. Learn everything you can

So you got the job or the internship, and you’ve made it to the “other side” (of the reception desk :), now comes the fun - and crucial -  part. Dive into every piece of information you can get your hands on. 

Even working in one department or one area of the business, learning everything you can set you apart from the others that are just there for the college credit or experience. This can be overwhelming, but hopefully, this will fuel your fire and make you even more passionate about the apparel industry. 

If you’re anything like me, you’ll probably be nervous, shy, or even a little awkward - that’s okay! No one’s expecting you to be perfect, you’re a newbie after all, so use this opportunity to ask every question you can think of. Your managers and supervisors will be more than happy to answer them and help you on your learning journey - you may even find yourself a mentor who will stick by your side and go the extra mile to help you succeed!

3. Learn everything about sustainability

This is probably the trickiest step. There’s a lot of information and chatter out there when it comes to sustainability and sustainable apparel, so it can be daunting. Instead of trying to learn everything all at once, start with something you're really passionate about. If materials are your thing, start researching preferred materials and innovations. Maybe you’re more interested in end-of-life and waste, dive into circularity information. You get what I’m saying - start somewhere and go from there (have you considered starting here with Derek’s Essentials course!? Sorry, couldn’t help it)

You’ll soon find that it’s all connected and like a puzzle, all the pieces will start to come together to create a clear image. It’ll take time, but be patient. It’s all worth it!

In conclusion, researching and learning about sustainability is awesome, but communicating our passion for the topic is vital. We need strong voices like yours to help push sustainability forward. With enough time and persistence, people around the office will soon come to know you as the “sustainability go-to.” As you progress through the brand, you’ll have more influence to help create change and shift the brand DNA to really ingrain sustainability into all business practices. Are you up for the challenge?

Do you already work in sustainable fashion and do you have any tips/advice for people looking to get a career in the industry? Leave us a comment below for all the future sustainability leaders! 

Ready to get your sustainability career started? Join our open house on August 17th at 11:30 AM PT - we hope to see you there!

Thank you for joining us and we’ll catch you guys next time!


#careeradvice #sustainablefashion #sustainability

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