Hard work pays off as fashion alum finds success

Rachel Duthie

Blake Campbell moved to New York City with no money and no job. It was 2015 and she graduated from Kent State with her fashion merchandising degree two weeks earlier. Her family did not favor the decision, but Campbell didn’t care — to her, it was the only way to begin her career.

Three years later, she is working as an assistant merchandiser at the Ann Taylor LOFT corporate office. The journey to get there, however, wasn’t as glossy as one might expect.

“It really opened my eyes to what I was getting myself into,” Campbell said. “It’s a really fast-paced environment and it’s not as glamorous as people might seem to think.”

Campbell is among many alumni who defy the stereotypes of the fashion industry with gritty, exhausting and sometimes not-so-vogue work.

“Most of us are not pulling designer samples out of a closet and wearing Louboutins to our jobs every day,” Campbell said. “There is a lot more to it.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the employment of fashion designers is projected to grow three percent from 2014 to 2024, slower than the average of all occupations. The outlook for fashion merchandisers is even lower, with employment for purchasing managers only growing one percent.

“I’m scared of the competitive nature of the industry, although I’m also excited for it,” said Danielle Ritter, a freshman fashion merchandising major. “I believe it’s all about meeting the right people and getting into the company I most like.”

Despite New York City being the second best city for fashion, at first, Campbell could not find a job in her field. She said she was so desperate for money that she spent her first several months working at Designer Shoe Warehouse, now called DSW Inc.

“It typically takes eight months to a year for someone to get started in the industry,” said Tameka Ellington, assistant professor of fashion design. “It all depends on the economy, as the fashion industry relies a lot off that.”

It isn’t as reminiscent of “The Devil Wears Prada” either, with sleek offices full of employees who spend all day picking and choosing their favorite clothes. “It’s not that fluffy,” Ellington said.

Computer work, Excel spreadsheets and lots of numbers are what Campbell — and a lot of first hires — had when starting in the industry.

As an assistant merchandiser, Campbell is responsible for developing each seasonal collection for Ann Taylor LOFT. She sources the best materials at the best value, finding pieces that fit in with the brand.

Her occupation requires so much math that she finds herself constantly looking back at her retail notes from her day as an undergraduate at Kent State.

“I think we don’t get credit for that work and we are made out to be shallow, materialistic people,” Campbell said. “I love the argument that fashion isn’t a real major, because it’s not true.”

The fashion industry isn’t to be viewed as abysmal, though, Ellington said.

“There is real money to be made in fashion,” Ellington said. “A lot of money, actually. This is a real career that pays the same tolls as any other occupation.”

Rachel Duthie is the student life reporter, contact her at [email protected].