News & Runway

Tim Gunn: How to Make It in the Fashion Industry



De-personalizing the process and developing an armor is hugely important.

Develop a Thick Skin

To begin with, I am making certain assumptions as far as talent and point of view, but those factors given, it's essential to have an unflagging tenacity. One needs to be able to be knocked down over and over again and bounce back every single time. In tandem with this, it's crucial to have an unconditional love and passion for the industry so that nothing will deter you otherwise…don't even go there, sister. Honestly, just forget about it because if you're going to cry a river every time you get knocked down, this isn't the industry for you. It's incredibly tough; I cannot underline this point enough. In fact, designers quite frankly hate each other! People are always surprised to hear me say that, but it's so incredibly competitive and if two designers are sitting next to one another, odds are they are seeing each other as competition and thinking if you didn't exist I would sell more clothes! It's brutally cut-throat. American fashion designers have a particularly challenging time because we have no anti-piracy laws here. I can present innovative work on a runway and you can legally copy everything I've done; this is not true in any other industrial nation. I've spent a good deal of time on Capitol Hill trying to change this.

Study Fashion

I always recommend that people study fashion. I can't imagine navigating this industry as someone who is entirely self-taught. You benefit so much from teachers and mentors who can share their war stories and who really know the industry. A huge part of going to school is also the social experience via critiques. You learn that it's not about you, but rather about your work. De-personalizing the process and developing an armor is hugely important. It's also critical for every designer to know fashion history — it would be irresponsible not to.

Internships Are Key

Internships tend to be unpaid, so most brands are eager to welcome students. It's crucial to have at least two or three, but I suggest more if you can because every fashion company has its own culture. You could think you hate this industry, but really have only experienced one isolated moment. Further, don't think that just because you are interning or going to school outside of a major city like New York that what you are doing is not relevant, especially because, thanks to the Internet, we can take a magical tour anywhere. I wasn't in London, but thanks to the Internet, I feel like I was just there for their Men's Fashion Week shows! Never limit yourself because of geographic boundaries.