Op-Ed: How Being Made Redundant is Reshaping My Career in Fashion

by Milan Ball

2020 has been a challenging year for many industries, fashion included. From how we consume the industry to its production, COVID-19 is changing the fashion landscape.  In a global pandemic, fashion is forced to review its inner workings at hefty costs. The past year saw talented designers such as Sander Lark, known for his bold use of colors, and Carly Cushnie, one of the most prominent black designers in the American scene, shut their brands down due to the virus. But it was not only independent brands that suffered. Giants such as the American department store Neiman Marcus filed for bankruptcy; meanwhile, massive British institutions such as Debenhams and Topshop are going through tumultuous times. And while the media focuses on the companies collapsing, fashion workers are losing their jobs. Being made redundant is a daunting process, let alone with an economic crisis looming thanks to Miss Corona.  I personally know this harsh reality, as one of the fashion workers who lost their livelihood.

 

We live in an unprecedented time, and that is when redundancy ‘thrives.’ This form of job dismissal happens in times of crisis, i.e. a global pandemic. In such a situation, fashion companies have to do what they would have never done (or would have done, but much slowly): reducing their workforce to keep going.

 

Make the most of being made redundant by reviewing where you are at in your career.

 

For almost three years, I worked as a sub-editor for MATCHESFASHION, an online fashion luxury destination. I already lost a job before, so when I learned at the end of June 2020, I was being made redundant – though it would be a lie to say I wasn’t shocked; I was better prepared psychologically than the first time. The thing with redundancy is that, at least in my case, I had time. I had three months between the collective and individual consultations before being let go, so I did a little bit of thinking and research. It was the occasion to turn the tables and change my career path.

I have always worked in fashion, albeit in a very niche part: the French market. Despite having learned a lot working in localization (the creation/translation/transcription of copy for my market) I became complacent about my job rightly because it wasn’t challenging me anymore. But at the same time, I was lost. When working in such a niche area of fashion, you can easily forget your strengths and what you have learned so far. Furthermore, the security of having a 9 to 5 didn’t help me focus on my future. In other words, I was plateauing. 

 

Use internal applications to gauge your next step.

 

The three months I had remaining at  MATCHESFASHION were the occasion to go through my last appraisal and individuate the skills I sharpened and the new ones I developed. This exercise confirmed something I already knew: I am a storyteller, and writing is my passion. Despite taking part in journalism and creative writing workshops and some articles published here and there, not being a native English speaker made me feel like an imposter. But who knew? Losing a job makes you bold.

I applied internally for the Digital Editor’s role. Internal applications are the best because you are already part of the company, meaning you already know how things work; plus, you can get information about the job by asking people in the department you want to work in, which I did. Despite not securing the job, I learned a lot about the Digital Editor’s role in the context of the online luxury world. A kind co-worker in the editorial department took her time through a Zoom call to give me the low-down on the job.

Meanwhile, the assignment they gave me was an excellent opportunity to slip into the soles of a Digital Editor. Finally, the most valuable thing about applying internally was receiving thorough feedback from my interviewer. Her words gave me the confidence to shake my imposter syndrome while giving me a clearer idea of the type of jobs I should apply for going on. 

 

 

Staying positive throughout the process…

 

Though I decided my redundancy was the time to turn a new leaf, it didn’t mean the process didn’t take a toll on me. As a Virgo, knowing where I am heading is a top priority, and here I was in unknown territory. The first time I lost a job was because I made the wrong choice, so the process was much more straightforward. In other words, I got fired.  Here, I had to get familiar with a system I would have never thought I could be a victim of. It wasn’t just a matter of looking for jobs, preparing for interviews, or assignments. It was also a matter of fighting to stay at MATCHESFASHION, a company I  loved. To do so, I needed to research my rights and start thinking of re-organizing my finances.

Long story short, my three months notice wasn’t a sweet ride at all. It was a lot of pressure. I also wanted to stay positive and professional for my team. My colleagues and manager were a dream to work with and supported me through all the mayhem, so the least I could do was to show it through my work. This said, at a higher level, I don’t think executives realize how much pressure (depending on the department you’re working in) there is for the people made redundant to stay focused and productive. Thanking outgoing workers for their motivation despite the situation would have done wonders. 

 

Take advantage of your redundancy package.

 

Even within the same company, nobody has the same redundancy experience. In my case, I was lucky to have a nice way out thanks to excellent representatives who, during the collective consultations, advocated for us to get our rights respected and a nice redundancy package. On the other hand, my individual consultations gave me more clarity than the collective ones. Finally, I knew when my last day was and what I was due. It meant I could now plan better my next step.

Another thing my redundancy package included was three months of coaching by a recruiter. It was fantastic to have that kind of support, especially when I was thinking about changing my career direction slightly. My coach helped re-working my CV to adapt it for the type of roles I wanted, advised me where to post it, and prepared me for interviews. The best thing I got out of our coaching sessions was how to read a job offer properly. We all know how to read, but we usually think about our skills as a match or a miss when we apply. With my coach, I learned to read through a job offer to understand the type of questions the interviewer had in mind. And each time, I interviewed it worked. The questions I thought the interviewer would ask me popped out, so I prepared carefully.

 

Go with the flow.

We may be in difficult times, but the job market in my field of expertise – content creation – doesn’t seem to be suffering as much as I thought. I have applied for many permanent positions, but right now, I am a happy freelancer. Freelancing is allowing me to build a better portfolio for my future applications, but not only that.

There is a versatility to freelancing that I am enjoying. Today I might be writing for a publication such as ATPB, while tomorrow, I’ll be a content consultant for a friend who works on creating her homeware brand. I am also freelancing for MATCHESFASHION and sharpening my SEO skills thanks to a Dutch company specialized in providing SEO driven copy to many brands. Like I said earlier, I am a Virgo, so I am horrified at the idea of not knowing what tomorrow will be made of. But ultimately, I am also finding myself enjoying not being part of a corporate environment.

Freelancing is still a learning process for me. I did it in the past through an agency, but this time, I am doing it on my own. With the agency, I didn’t have to think about tax returns; now it’s a necessity. Working a 9 to 5 versus freelancing means managing your time differently. Nobody is checking on you. You have to learn to say no, not to overwork yourself, and know when to rest. 

A permanent position might seem the best now, given the global crisis, but I am also not in a hurry to find one. Redundancy has made me more flexible and adaptable. I wouldn’t say I have financial stability yet, but I am working on it. What I do have, though, is the possibility to expand my horizon and reboot my career in fashion, learning new things and doing what I love.

 

Images by Frank Busch  

 

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