Facing Fashion Head On
Interviewing Grainger meant calculating the time difference between Brisbane and Berlin so we could meet over Skype. It’s an oddly intimate experience between strangers, but Grainger was instantly friendly and relaxed, sitting in her Berlin apartment filled with morning light. She spoke to me of her lifelong dream of working in fashion, her path to getting where she is now with Zign – and what exactly that role entails – everything from the inspirational shopping trips to the data analysis.
As a ten-year-old girl living in Warwick, a country Queensland town, Grainger decided she wanted to become a fashion designer. Appreciating her passion, Grainger’s mother found the course at QUT and moved the family to Brisbane so she could undertake her studies.
“She really wanted me to do well, to do something creative and to live in a big city,” says Grainger.
At just twenty-five Grainger now has a few big cities under her belt: Brisbane, London and Berlin.
Grainger assured me that working in the fashion industry wasn’t as glamorous as people assume. But in her casual remarks of shopping inspiration weeks in Copenhagen and visiting fashion weeks all over the world, one can’t help but admire the global cosmopolitan lifestyle she now lives.
After graduating from her dual degree in business (marketing) and fashion, Grainger worked at a fashion wholesaler in Brisbane. She described this work as a good learning experience. As someone just starting out, she undoubtedly had to do the nitty gritty jobs like packing boxes, but also learnt what was involved in selling the collections to agents and developing product for wholesale.
Then Grainger decided she was going to give being a little fish in a big pond a go, and made the move to London.
She describes this time as a huge learning curve. “Being rejected so many times for so many jobs, I just went there and really had no experience. I just kept trying until I found something,” says Grainger.
Eventually Grainger landed a job at a jewellery label called Made, which sold to Asos, Top Shop, Whistles and other big fashion retail companies. “I [now] had connection to the actual industry, which was really the next step in how I got my current job,” says Grainger.
Currently Grainger works as assistant product manager at Zign, which is a women’s shoe label out of Germany, under the online retailer Zalando. She says her role is to assist the buyer, which means doing everything from research development, to creation of the entire collection.
“We’re kind of the middle point between the design and the actual commercial side of things. Our job is basically to curate and edit the collection and also to manage it in the season,” says Grainger.
Every day, during the season the team at Zign will monitor sales and changing trends. “It’s a lot about research to see what trends are out there,” says Grainger.
The shoes at Zign are contemporary and minimal in style and there is certainly a variety considering they produce up to 300 styles a season.
“So 300 styles every six months that we have to work on and also look at the analysis of how its sold. You trial things and if they don’t work you get rid of them and if something is working you try to build on that really quickly.”
Grainger gets to go on inspirational shopping weeks (yes, this is a thing!) in order to see what trends they’ve hit and pick up on any they’ve missed, in which case they will try and develop a product and get it delivered online in six weeks.
“Last week we were in Copenhagen doing inspirational shopping. We’re going to London in a few weeks. There’s a fashion week in Berlin that we go to. We go to Italy every few months and Spain because that’s where our shoes are produced. So nearly once a month we do a trip,” says Grainger.
“It’s just my fashion dream really.”
Tools to tackle trends
In order to stay on top of all of the latest trends, Grainger enlists the help of a number of social media platforms, including Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest.
“It’s just about building my image folder on my computer. You always need to go back to that. You’re always referencing,” says Grainger.
It seems that each different platform has a quality about it that Grainger likes – Instagram is easy and quick, Snapchat is great over events like fashion week and Pinterest lets you bring order to it all.
“I love Snapchat in fashion week. You see all these bloggers who are there and immediately you get a really good quick snap of what’s going on. I wouldn’t think that that would be a good tool,” says Grainger.
“I also do really like Pinterest for finding inspiration and having it all in one place and being able to sort it out,” says Grainger.
Breaking into the fashion world
I’m sure anyone reading this who is aspiring to work in the fashion industry is feeling a little jealous of Grainger’s European fashion lifestyle. Interestingly, she attributes her success to learning how to strategically sell yourself to employers and making the most of opportunities early on so you have that first talking point.
That’s not to say she always had that self assurance. “[Initially] I didn’t actually have the courage to apply [to QUT fashion degree] because I was so scared of getting rejected,” says Grainger.
Since those early days of fearing rejection from her university portfolio application, it is clear that Grainger has overcome the so called intimidation of the fashion world.
“There’s a lot of hype that you build up yourself. If you just keep trying for something you’ll eventually get it, one way or another,” says Grainger.
“It’s not going to happen overnight. That’s the problem. I think that so many people are geared to think that they’re going to be a fashion designer the next year they graduate [but] it’s really a matter of starting at the bottom and working your way to the top,” says Grainger.
As part of her own university experiences, Grainger participated in an exchange to India and was also a part of the fleet store where she started and sold her own jewellery label.
After her exchange in India she was inspired. “I just loved making jewellery there – I got this one made there too,” she says, pointing to her earrings that I’d complimented at the beginning of our conversation.
“I went back [to India] six months later and got a whole bunch of jewellery made and then sold it in the fleet store. That was you know the first experience of working in a label and I used that again to get a job.”
She explained how these experiences showed she was passionate about fashion and that it worked as a great talking point in interviews.
“Do as many creative projects early on, as that will help you stand out. Find your point of difference about what makes you special, something that’s memorable,” says Grainger.
Grainger encourages anyone applying for jobs to present their portfolio professionally and to go to the effort to look online to see what the industry standards are.
“Get experience early if you can, wherever, even if it’s not the most glamorous,” says Grainger.
That statement can certainly ring true, coming from someone who is now living out their fashion dream in Berlin.