As an industry placement project my class got to take on real-world experience for a month at different establishments. We had the option of being placed by our lecturers or finding our own places to work. Some students went to retailers like Woolworths and Keedo, some went to high fashion brands like Gavin Rajah and Rosenworth, and a few even worked in couture, one of them with Hendrik Vermeulen. I decided a while ago that I’m not going to be a designer right away, so I wanted to make sure I got experience that aligned with that, widening my portfolio a bit, toward trend forecasting and fashion journalism. A former classmate is the assistant trend forecaster at South African online retailer Zando.co.za, and when I asked her to send me the contact details of their HR department so I could ask about applying for a placement there, she got back to me by telling me she’d get me the job! Thanks Zak, it was super awesome of you. So for 4 weeks, I assisted her with research and compiled trend reports, and it was great. I miss it now; the pace, the work, the orange floors. But it had to end, since we still have graduate collections to finish, history papers to write, and business classes to suffer through. So here’s what I learned at Zando:
1. I’m better at wearing heels than I thought. Sure, I sat at a desk a lot, but I had to walk across the street to catch a taxi, walk across again when I got off to get to work, and walk around the office a bit. It was a whole month and I didn’t fall once. For me, that’s HUGE.
2. Don’t believe everything people tell you. The CEO of the Cape Town Fashion Council used to lecture at CPUT, and he happened to be visiting the department on the day we finalised our placements. He told me I shouldn’t have picked Zando, that I would be a slave there. Err, not. Everyone was great about helping me with my project and I learned so much in such a short time.
3. There’s more to retail than buying and advertising. There’s planning, and customer support, and a ridiculous amount of logistics involved. There’s a lot to be done when you run a shop with that much product (around 20,000 items), whether it’s brick and mortar or online. Also, being online doesn’t mean less work, it just means different work.
4. SA needs a serious fashion education. When they first arrived, I thought Zando was slightly boring on the fashion front. As it turns out, they’re not – but South Africans are. Be more adventurous people! Spending a few extra rand on a quality product really won’t kill you. Neither will looking a little different from everyone else. Or wearing pastels. That took 2 years to catch on here. 2 years.
5. Trend forecasting is tedious, but still as fun as it sounds. With Style.com open on one side of the screen and an excel spreadsheet on the other, I worked through fashion show after fashion show – 70 to be exact, and they were all for one report (and at 70, I wasn’t even anywhere near half of that season’s runway presentations). Images start to blur together, and words stop making sense, but trends emerge. Common threads become apparent, in shows with designers whose aesthetics would never even cross paths. Watching trends rise is amazing. Cropping images to put together a presentation that proves their existence isn’t all that fun, but writing copy for the presentation that will direct a group of buyers for a season is pretty cool. Daunting, because if you get it wrong there’s so much riding on it, but still pretty cool.