becoming a designer: Jessica Quirk

Today’s guest in our Becoming a Designer series, is my dear friend Jessica Quirk. Jessica worked for many years as a designer before leaving her job to blog full time, and write her book. I really hope you enjoy reading about her experiences, and how Jessica became a designer.

One of the most commonly asked questions I get in e-mails is along the lines of “how can I get into the fashion industry?” First I’ll explain the path I took and then give you a couple of suggestions if you want to explore fashion as well.

I’ve been sewing since I was very young (I can remember doing hand made projects when I was 7 or 8 and started using my mom’s sewing machine around 10 years old). Before that, I was sketching and drawing around 3. From then on it was practice, practice, practice.

In college I majored in Apparel Merchandising at Indiana University – Bloomington, which is basically the business of the fashion industry. A lot of my fellow students went on to become buyers and planners. I also did an associate’s degree in Costume Construction Technology. This was two years of sewing, pattern making, tailoring, hat making, glove making, Costume History classes, and design classes. Think Project Runway in the studio. I logged many hours cutting, sewing, ripping out stitches, repeating and ironing. I was also a TA for the beginning level classes. So that’s my educational background.

Then come the internships- I did one with Target on the store side and another with Betsey Johnson in New York City. I thrived at both spots because I wanted to learn. In the case of Betsey Johnson, I started by being the best organizer, coffee getting and errand runner. There’s very little glamour in the fashion industry. But, if you work hard, you’ll get to catch a glimpse of it here and there. Many of the best people I’ve worked with have been clear to explain that you’ve gotta work really hard and keep it real. There’s really nothing worse than an intern showing up expecting to drink champagne and critique the upcoming line with the name sake designer. Its not going to happen. I had really great role models at Betsey Johnson and the head designer was very kind to me. But I worked hard for him, stayed late, followed the rules, did anything and everything to be helpful. No excuses when I messed up and an all around good attitude. As the summer progressed I started to get some opportunities- I started to sketch and put together tech packs and really started to learn.

Fast forward to 2009. I worked for the same company for four years. I started as an assistant designer and left as the head designer. I had a really strong portfolio coming out of college that I slaved away on (I’m estimating I worked over 500 hours on it). I don’t design ball gowns or even cocktail dresses. I’ve worked until 3 in the morning, in a foreign country a few nights in a row. Taken way too many red eyes and sat in a lot of bad seats on the plane. I’ve had some excellent perks (hello Paris! London! Amsterdam! free clothes!) and I’ve worked with some really excellent people.

So, what I basically want to say is that being in fashion is being in business. You have a boss and a client and ultimately a customer you want to sell to. And the market isn’t always kind and dollars talk!

I get my fashion kicks out of my blog— my passion project. I do and make things on the side that let my creativity really come out. I make my own life fashionable, instead of relying on my job to make that happen. If you want to be involved in fashion just get out there! Start a blog, cultivate your own personal style and surround yourself with inspiration. If you don’t have a design degree apply to be in the sales department or even the receptionist. Intern!! Its the best way to network and get your foot in the door! Start an online store! Be your own boss. Have fun and get into it. Make the path you want to take.

Good luck!

Becoming a Designer series by Megan Nielsen

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  1. Annelise says

    So interesting to hear your story, I always wondered how people started in the industry!