When Nathan Dance returned to his college campus at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore last fall after several semesters of pandemic-induced virtual learning, he had altered his career ambitions.
The 22-year-old high school student always wanted to become creative director for a luxury fashion brand and possibly his own label – but there was a footnote: ‘Now I want to make an impact…I want to change the world’ he said.
Like thousands of his peers, the pandemic has forced Dance, a prominent Norfolk, Virginia fashion retailer, to return home and watch alongside his family members as Covid cases surge around the world and the death of George Floyd was helping to reinvigorate the racial justice movement.
“Covid was my time to really reflect on the situation in the world… the Black Lives Matter marches and protests inspired me,” he said. “I really wanted to take what I had learned and start incorporating it into my work. Now I want my work to be representative of my [community].”
Dance, who graduated this month, is among dozens of students and early-career professionals whose ambitions have been fundamentally reframed by the events of the past two years. For those pursuing careers in the fashion industry, a tight labor market, global health crises and heightened attention to racial equity and climate change have opened up new career paths and dramatically altered some. or closed others.
This revamp includes what fashion-conscious graduates expect from their future employers. Flexible working hours and inclusive HR policies are table stakes and companies that haven’t shown they’re taking climate change seriously or aren’t ahead of the curve in technology and digital innovation find themselves working overtime to attract talent.
“These [students] already come with the idea that their opinion really matters and that they want a voice at the table,” said Marie Driscoll, managing director of luxury and fashion at Coresight Research and adjunct professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. . “And I think retailers and brands – knowing they’re the next generation of consumers – should have them around the table and listen to them.”
Compared to previous generations, today’s group of students and recent graduates are more likely to see the job search and interview process as a two-way street, where they ask potential employers about everything, from the benefits of flexibility and well-being to the sustainability and sustainability of a business. diversity efforts, experts say.
Thanks in large part to social media and the wider proliferation of information around the world, Gen Z, aged around nine to 24, has become obsessed with climate change and equality. But for many students, heightened awareness and personal experiences drive their ambitions to seek impactful work.
In 2010, while studying computer science at Sri Jayachamarajendra College of Engineering in Mysore, India, Impana Srikantappa, now an MBA student at Columbia University in New York, teamed up with a friend to launch a startup of clothing, GoTee Apparel. It was a venture born out of luck when Srikantappa designed a t-shirt for herself – featuring cartoon faces known as “rage comics” – that caught the eye of her peers.
In three years, GoTee has sold half a million t-shirts. But by the time she closed the business, Srikantappa was deeply concerned about the problems she was seeing in garment manufacturing.
“I got to really see behind the scenes of how the fashion industry works…supply chain issues, pricing and hubs – like in South India where some workers would be paid $10 or even less per month,” she said. . “I have seen how the industry [practices] could be for the worker, his family, the people around them.
Srikantappa now aspires to work as a strategy manager focused on sustainability and community impact for a fashion or beauty brand. She has previously worked as a consultant for a few small labels in the US, but as she plans to graduate next year, she has firm expectations from brands who might want to woo her: a competitive salary (of $200,000 or more); a focus on sustainable and ethical business practices and a flexible model that allows for in-person and remote working.
Forward-thinking graduates don’t expect fashion and beauty brands to have all of their DEI and sustainability policies buttoned down or all of their leaders to have cracked the code on the latest tech innovation, but they do want to see an effort from companies to prioritize them, said Thomaï Serdari, professor of marketing at NYU’s Stern Business School and director of the Fashion & Luxury MBA.
“The two areas to highlight are sustainability and DEI initiatives, as these are drivers that determine which companies a candidate is going to choose,” she said. “[Still] I think it would be naive to expect companies to have made all these changes – they are huge and require real structural changes with new people in leadership positions.
Future graduates, especially those in graduate programs, should take the current job market – where applicants have an advantage over their employers and job openings far outnumber available workers – as a signal that the industry will be more apt to embrace new ideas, she said.
Most students still take traditional routes to access fashion jobs, including internships and many networks. Apprenticeships and programs for new graduates have always been important in helping students solidify their career goals, and these programs have become more valuable to fashion companies by strengthening their connections with the next generation of talent in a global marketplace. tense work.
Maggie Shanus is graduating from the University of Pennsylvania in 2021 with a degree in international relations and a minor in consumer psychology. In his senior year, Shanus – whose dream job is marketing director or creative director of a beauty brand – used the university’s QuakerNet, a database of resources for students that includes contact details for ‘notable alumni, to find email addresses for executives and recruiters from leading fashion and beauty brands.
Dozens of cold emails and several job applications led to an internship at The Estée Lauder Companies that helped secure her a spot as “global associate president” at the beauty conglomerate when she graduated last May. The Estée Lauder CEO Global Presidential Program is a paid opportunity offered annually to a group of approximately 75 recent graduates from around the world. Participants occupy various roles in the company in areas such as marketing and content creation. After 18 to 24 months, many of them end up in permanent positions with the company, Estee Lauder said.
“What I love about the company and this specific program is the fact that they really focus on developing young talent, they focus on ‘what are my long-term career goals?'” , Shanus said. “A few weeks ago we had a fireside chat with [executive chairman] William Lauder and we had discussions with brand presidents and I met people from research and design and different [global] markets”.
An internship at a popular sneaker brand and another at a major luxury brand helped Gracen Fling, a senior at Clark University in Atlanta, clarify her ambition to one day own her own fashion label specializing in stylish suits. for black women. She also became realistic that she might have to pursue entry-level work as a “trend forecaster” in order to get the process started.
Like Dance, which says it has narrowed its entry-level job prospects to companies that prioritize inclusion and have high levels of minority representation, the pandemic and social justice protests have helped Fling — who will begin an internship focused on design apparel innovation with denim-maker Levis this summer — determine the types of companies that would give him the best experience.
“I care about [cachet] of the company I work with because the name has a story and is loaded, but that doesn’t make the overall experience for me,” she said. “I want to see what the company is doing to improve the lives of black people or just other marginalized people.”
In the United States, employers plan to hire 26.6% of new graduates from the class of 2022 compared to the previous year’s cohort, according to a November report from the National Association of Colleges and Employers. Future graduates will enter a market with 11 million job openings, nearly double the number of job seekers, according to the latest data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“I don’t know what tomorrow can bring – or next week, or the next two years. All I know is the ball is in my court,” Dance said. opinion, I have a skill set, all I need is a platform.”