Leaving the Fashion Industry: Burnout, Bye

Ever since I can remember, fashion was the love of my life. I was the girl whose idol was Carine Roitfeld at age 10, who could rattle off every designer by name, and who was reading Who What Wear when it was just pictures of celebrities with yellow bars describing what they were wearing. I vividly remember seeing Emma Watson on the Harry Potter red carpet when she was about 12 wearing Lanvin and being incomprehensibly jealous. I could not imagine doing anything else with my life besides fashion — it seemed to be the only logical choice for me and it was what everyone assumed I would do, from my family, to my friends, to strangers on the street.  

Fashion was also a huge part of my social activities. I happened to have friends throughout high school and college who read about fashion and cared about it as much as I did — in an obsessive, passionate way that would manifest itself over many sushi dinners and glasses of Sancerre, where we would end up crying over the best looks at the Met Gala (this happened more than once — Blake Lively and Rihanna, never change, oh and Kirsten Dunst, you literally ARE Rodarte!).

Anyone who either works in the fashion industry or knows someone who does understands that it is a nearly impossible bubble to break into, and to do so requires dedication, hard work, and asking more of yourself physically and mentally than you ever thought possible. It was even harder, especially when I was in college and after I graduated, to get anywhere in the fashion world without some kind of amazing family connection.

Getting a job in any field was difficult enough at the time, particularly in the creative fields, but I was willing to do whatever it took to achieve my fashion dreams.

I started interning before the big fashion internship lawsuits, meaning there was no limit to what I was asked to do. I painted entire showrooms and got models coffee at 8am on Saturday mornings, cleaned bathrooms on my hands and knees, and ran errands for hours on end, hardly allowing any time to eat lunch. Once I was sent to get the president of a company I was interning at a new social security card, only to wait in line for two hours at the social security office to be told that I obviously could not get a social security card with no identification and no information for myself, let alone for someone else who wasn’t even there. And those are just the highlights. Yes, cleaning bathrooms and sweeping floors were not (and still aren’t) my favorite activities, but I knew that if I just kept on working hard, I would eventually be a part of the industry I so desperately strived for.

I interned in this manner for a few years, learning a ton along the way and working throughout six fashion weeks, which was my favorite part — the adrenaline, clothes, backstage buzz, and seeing the editors I had admired for much of my life made everything I was doing totally worth it. I finally ended up working as a freelance assistant at Interview, a magazine that is a piece of art all on its own and has the kind of history that is the most exciting thing in the world to a fashion, book, and art nerd like me.

Working at Interview was one of the most demanding experiences I have ever had. I worked 14 hour days for minimum wage (but hey, at least I was getting paid!) and most of those hours were spent carrying 20 pound bags of clothes from their amazingly chic office in SoHo to Brooklyn to the Upper East Side to the Financial District and back again, all paid for by myself and with hardly any food. According to my iPhone, I walked 18 miles a day, and since I was barely eating, I lost a ton of weight. But I got to watch Karl Templer in run-throughs, work directly with Miguel Enamorado and Julia Gall, and see how one of the most beautiful books in the industry was made.

After almost a year at the magazine, I landed my first “real” job in fashion, as a Coordinator at a respected fashion PR agency — and that is where things began to change. I had worked for years to get there, and it was hard for me to accept how much I didn’t like it. The people I worked with were catty, mean, and treated me like shit, for lack of a better word. Fashion Week, which I used to look forward to and find ways to work at every year, was the bane of my existence. I hated working late hours with people I could not stand, and I loathed standing in the freezing cold catering to people that I was beginning to think of as entitled and ridiculous, and who were only there because we begged them.

All of this was made worse by the guilt I constantly felt, having finally gotten the job I always dreamed of — only to be miserable when I finally got there.

This was also during a time — 2014 — where the world was going through a period of increased unrest, and it was becoming very hard for me to care about $1,000 rain jackets. Furthermore, everyone made fun of me for being interested in things outside office walls — things like politics and recreational reading, which I just could not understand or accept. I went through a noticeable period of rebellion during this time, which resulted in a brand new helix piercing and blonde hair (I am naturally a very dark brunette). It became clear I was reacting to what was going on around me, and I needed to make a bigger change.

Finally, after about a year, I moved on to another agency — it was a vertical move with a lot more responsibility and some lifestyle clients mixed in. I was so excited! I knew that this job was going to make me realize that fashion PR was where I was meant to be — I was finally living my dream, and I had gotten there all on my own. I had a chic job, a great boyfriend who I was (and still am) living with in Williamsburg, a new hair color — I thought I was killing it!

I will say this: that job — my last job in fashion — was the greatest learning experience I have ever had, both as a professional and as a person. I learned more than I can put into words from that agency — about myself, the public relations industry, and what it means to be a young professional in this world, as well as a young woman. That said, I was completely miserable.

The people at this job were just as bad, if not worse, than the people at my old job, and I was so unhappy that after a certain point I could not function. Everything was a constant competition and nothing was collaborative. People were constantly screaming and finding things wrong, no matter what I did. I also had an unhealthy relationship with my boss — one minute we would be best friends and “like sisters” and the next minute she would be calling me worthless. Things kept on getting worse and worse and finally came to a head when I started having almost daily panic attacks about six months in. My boyfriend and parents were extremely concerned, and to be honest, so was I. I cried all the time and it was awful to be around me.

My personal life was being affected. Not only was I terrible to hang out with, I had zero interest in talking about fashion. Something I used to discuss so passionately whenever I could became something that reminded me of work and that I couldn’t stand to even think about outside the walls of my office. My friends would bring up Karl Lagerfeld and Cushnie et Ochs over drinks and I would shut down the conversation immediately, either by changing the subject or saying something sarcastic and completely uncalled for. It only made me feel worse that something that had been one of the great joys of my life just annoyed and upset me whenever it came up.  

After months of abuse, tears, and panic attacks, I came to an important realization. I always thought that by 26, I would be working in fashion PR, and have a promising career trajectory ahead of me. I realized that I was exactly where I thought I would be at my age, and I was at a crossroads. I could keep going on the path in front of me and force myself to continue what I was doing, or I could finally listen to what my heart had been telling me for so long now. The industry I had worked to be in my entire life wasn’t for me, and I couldn’t stay.  

This crossroads is one that people from all walks of life face at some point on their journey — what you thought you wanted to do, and who you thought you were going to be, is not always where you will end up.

A passion you were happy to dedicate your life to can remain just that: a passion, and not a career. You can still take time for your hobbies and pursue what interests you — without relying on them to pay the rent.

The fashion world is increasingly becoming one full of so-called “influencers” — people who exemplify turning what you love most into a full-time job. However, they also epitomize a lack of the elusive “work-life-balance.” Being constantly photographed and constantly immersed in what you love, 24/7 (basically making a living by being yourself) is a surefire way to ensure you won’t love it for very much longer — a lesson I learned firsthand when I reached a stage of almost complete burnout.  

I decided to move on to a job at a corporate public relations firm, not working with any fashion clients at all, where I came to understand two very important things. One: there are work environments out there that pay you a livable wage and don’t make you break down every day, and two: I am actually good at my job. It turned out that not being constantly beaten down allowed me to finally accept what I had always known deep down inside: I have talent, and I can finally show what I can do. On top of that, I am so much happier, healthier, and more tolerable than I have been in years.   

I am tasting food again, seeing colors again, and can finally breathe. As it turns out, being in a better place at a job outside of fashion has allowed me to regain the love I had for the industry in the first place. I can talk about it again. I can offer opinions on my favorite models, obsess over Ellie Bamber and Brianna Lance, and be just as happy as I used to be, before my career in fashion.   

Most importantly, I have learned hard, but vital lessons about the world and what it means to exist in it. People can take on different roles at different points in their lives and wear hats they never thought they would — or could — pull off. What you have worked your whole life to be, and spent years thinking you wanted, can be the very thing holding you back from what will make you the happiest. Leaving the fashion industry and what promised to be a long and successful career made me rediscover my love of fashion, and I will never look back.   

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2 responses to Leaving the Fashion Industry: Burnout, Bye

Loved this article. I had the same experience in the fashion industry, and noticing how unhealthy everyone was is what pushed me towards nutrition and health 🙂

Wow, very similar experience happened exactly at the same age! Currently going through a re- organization of my career , it’s great to hear a happy ending story 🙂

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