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How to stay grounded in the fashion industry

Photographs: Unsplash / Ophelia Wu

Text: Ophelia Wu

It was Copenhagen Fashion Week a while ago, and it’s been a while since COVID hit, so I returned to my industry and decided to check in with what’s the latest vibe these days. Having been a fashion stylist and editor for over 15 years, the whole landscape and my inner world have definitely changed.

Over the years of countless events and shows I’ve attended, I have seen and met many personalities. While I’ve made many wonderful life-long friendships and professional work relationships with amazing people, many others come with a huge ego and an over-the-top vanity. Think “Devil Wears Prada”; that poor Andie was me when I started fresh from university. I am grateful that during the very first days of my career, a wise mentor gave me some golden words that served as my work protocol and kept me grounded, sane and detached throughout all these years.

It’s not all it seems

Staying grounded in an industry where everything is glitz and glam from the outside is hard work. But, it is not all it seems. From the outside, especially with all sorts of social media, it portrayed a façade full of the false impression that anyone can achieve overnight fame and VIP treatment without proper work and having any talents or skills. In a digital and physical world where it’s an environment of vanity overload, the first thing to stay grounded is to leave your ego outside the door. You are not who you really are presented on social media or the company you work for; you get invited to events because you serve a purpose, for doing a job or task in return. Unless you’re at Angelina Jolie’s level of fame and talent, it is never about you as a person, good and bad. Finding your identity, your role in the industry, and what you offer takes time. Equating your self-worth and value with a title or a front-row seat at any fashion show is hazardous. But it isn’t. Your value and self-worth are not directly linked to your job or how many likes and followers you have on TikTok or Instagram. If you cannot detach yourself from that, it’s a tough road to be on because that outside validation and attention you’re seeking are what crush your soul daily.

"Staying grounded in an industry where everything is glitz and glam from the outside is hard work. It is not all it seems."

Know that it’s hard work

Staying grounded also requires a solid understanding of how this is a business. It requires skills, talents, creativity and many personal skills to survive and know that it is a job. It is the icing on the cake if you are genuinely passionate about the industry, but the cake is lots of knowledge and years of hard work. As you get used to the industry and all the circus that runs around it, you also quickly identify who is there for work and who isn’t.

The glamourous bubble of the fashion industry can be tough to navigate sometimes. But if you know what it takes to deliver, the clarity of your role and how you can contribute to a larger collective movement. In that case, it will become the anchor of your sanity.

Don’t compare yourself with others. There is a lot of secret comparison and competitiveness in the industry: who is getting invited to the coolest parties, being dressed by a specific brand, sitting in the front row, getting photographed…that doesn’t matter. Honestly, read that again. None of those really matter because we are all unique in our own ways, and if we compare ourselves to others in this fluffy fashion world, it’s a dark hole that will spiral down. So there will always be designs and people who are newer, skinnier, cooler, and younger; how are we supposed to compete with that?

Respect is earned

The industry earns respect through years of hard work - it’s big but small. People talk, and news travels fast. So the only way to stay grounded in the fashion industry is to be secure with your inner self, keep a distance and leave the ego outside the door. If you want to prove your worth and value, do it through your work and talent. At the end of the day, it is just a job, a creative career that seems different to the social norm.

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