How To Get A Career In Fashion: Top Tips From The Girls At River Island

newwwlarge6666666With over 60 years of fashion retailing experience, River Island is one of the most popular brands on the high street.

Here we talk to Melissa Collins, the UK PR Manager for Womenswear and Emma Goble, the Social Media and Marketing Editor, who provide us with insights into their career paths and current role at the company.

What were your aspirations as a child?

MELISSA: I have always had a love for fashion, even when I was a young teenager people called me ‘Imelda Marcos’ because I had a huge shoe obsession. Because I was always shopping (my mother’s fault!) and loved piecing together outfits, it was always my dream to work on a fashion magazine. I used to tear out the main fashion pages in Sunday Times Style and stick them on my wall. They were always so well produced with such imaginative sets, amazing hair and make-up and the clothes were just incredible.

Melissa 1  Emma Image 2-1

Melisssa left and Emma right

EMMA: I actually wanted to be an actress or a TV presenter, I guess all of those years at drama school led to that, I always enjoyed performing but didn’t have the confidence to see it through. I always had a passion and flair for writing from a young age, I used to write stories and poems in my spare time and was obsessed with spelling contests. I taught myself to spell ‘antidisestablishmentarianism’ off by heart when I was about 8. When I was around 16 I realised I had a naturally colloquial tone of voice which led me to wanting to write for magazines.

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Beige Colour Block Dress

What was your first job?

MELISSA: I started off by doing work experience at the Daily Mail, on the Femail fashion desk. I was there for 4 weeks and then I was asked to cover the fashion secretary whilst she went on holiday for two weeks. It was a great introduction into the world of fashion. I was surrounded by interesting fashion editors, photographers, cupboards full of new season designer clothes and was introduced to DEADLINES!!

Even though I had relatively mundane jobs of making cups of tea, booking samples in and out, collecting credits, I also managed to style some ‘real people’ shoots for the paper.  It certainly was eye opening but after this I knew fashion was the route I wanted to go to.

EMMA: My first ever work experience (that you do in school at the age of 15) was at Vidal Sassoon salon in Covent Garden. It was my first taste of ‘glamour’ and I encountered a few celeb clients which gave me the bug for a ‘glamorous’ working environment. My first career led job was here, at River Island. I joined the marketing team as a temp when I first graduated! I was over the moon when I got a permanent role a few years later.

How would you describe your role at River Island?

MELISSA: As PR Manager for River Island, my role is to help develop and present a consistent brand identity and image to the media. I liaise with journalists, stylists and bloggers on a daily basis, to ensure that River Island has a strong presence within all types of media – including national papers, glossy magazines, regional publications, broadcast, online and blogs.

A big part of my role is to help coordinate and host various press/blogger facing events, including seasonal press days, blogger events, hospitality trips to festivals, Ibiza etc. It’s not all glamour and glitz and can be quite stressful, but the actual event and outcome of the event always outweighs all the stress and hard work you put in.

EMMA: I’m the Social Media & Marketing Editor, so as you can imagine it’s very fast paced. My role covers creative elements as well as more analytical ones such as reporting. One day I could be in the studio shooting something for Instagram or our magazine, the next I could be at an event doing some live coverage, or on a Monday you’ll find me glued to my computer screen reporting on the previous week’s activity and numbers.

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Wardrobe essentials

What has been one of your biggest career challenges? How did you overcome it?

MELISSA: Getting onto the fashion career ladder has been the biggest challenge for me. I carried out A LOT of work experience within magazines and fashion brands, and after two years of either no pay or minimum pay, I finally got a full time paid job.

I would have to say that being good at assisting is the utmost important aspect of getting a job, but it is also very much about being in the right place at the right time. The fashion industry is very competitive and there are hundreds of other fashion-hungry girls gunning for the same job as you. You mustn’t be disheartened if you don’t get the first job you apply for, persistence and patience pays off.

EMMA: For me, when I first graduated it was a very challenging time. I didn’t have the urge to go travelling the world; I just wanted to start out in my career. I had worked solidly since I was 16, even throughout University where I worked as a Visual Merchandiser and Supervisor at Topshop. I had done various internships across retail and magazines, but trying to find your first graduate role is hard work. I persisted in applying for multiple roles, reaching out to any contacts I had and continued with internships. Persistence pays off; I got the job at River Island not long after graduation.

What is the best advice you’ve ever received?

MELISSA: ‘If at first you don’t succeed, try and try again’. It is far too easy to give up at the first hurdle ,  if  there is one thing I have learnt it is persistence. It applies to everything, from when you’re looking for your first job to working on a specific project, if at first you don’t get the results you initially wanted; just try a different approach next time. Never give up.

EMMA: I’d like to say, ‘work extremely hard when you’re younger so you can enjoy yourself when you’re older’ which came from my Dad. But I guess it’s too soon to tell! It certainly gave me a good grounding though.

What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned?

MELISSA: Don’t be afraid to make mistakes! My older brother has always told me that ‘you can’t succeed through life without making mistakes, just make sure you learn from them’, because if everything you did was perfect then you wouldn’t be pushing yourself forward, and sometimes you just have to take risks to get the best results.

EMMA: To always remain calm in every situation. Work can be stressful and things don’t always go to plan, but keeping a cool head allows you to approach and resolve the situation in a much better way.

What is your favourite office outfit?

MELISSA: I wear a lot of black and my go to outfit is always a little black T-shirt dress. It’s perfect! For dress down days I throw on with a pair of converse trainers and leather biker, and if I have a last minute press appointment or party, I can just swap the trainers for some heels and a stick of red lippy and I’m good to go.

EMMA: I don’t really have any rules for dressing for work, it’s pretty relaxed here at River Island and part of the reason I love it is that everybody has a unique style. I tend to stick to a monochrome colour palette, and I love relaxed tailoring such as an oversized blazer, loose fitting shirt or cropped trousers.

Perfect black heels

What do you do on your downtime to relax and recharge after work?

MELISSA: I am a bit of a homebody and love cooking. I find it really therapeutic, just escaping to the kitchen and working with different ingredients, it’s the perfect activity for taking my mind off work, plus I get to eat delicious food at the end of it. I follow the likes of Madeleine Shaw, Deliciously Ella and Gizzi Erskine on Instagram for inspiration, they do healthy but delightful recipes.

EMMA: In the social media world, work never really stops. My team is ‘always on’ as we find it really important to be speaking to our audience at all times, not just between 9-5. However, when I do unwind I like to practice yoga, catch up with my favourite TV shows and I spend at least an hour browsing Pinterest every night (and I bet you thought I’d steer clear of all things digital in my spare time!)

What is the best part of your career?

MELISSA: The people. From the designers/buyers that I get to work with at River Island, to the fashion press and bloggers I have met along the way. I just love working with such creative types, knowing what they do and their journey to how they got to where they are now. I think everyone has a story to tell on their experiences in the fashion world, I find it so interesting.

EMMA: There are so many great aspects about working in social media and marketing. I really do count myself very lucky to have a job that I enjoy. I’d say my favourite things are getting to attend events such as London Fashion Week, film premieres and festivals, also I will never tire of being around so many clothes!

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Baroque Print Skirt

How do you think the online world has influenced your careers and the fashion world in general?

MELISSA: When I first started in PR there wasn’t any online magazines or fashion blogs so the focus was on print press (magazines and newspapers) and broadcast (TV/radio) but slowly but surely over the years, more and more magazines have introduced digital platforms, and the whole bloggersphere has blown up quite considerably over the last 7 years. It’s great for me, as I love meeting and working with new people. I just have to be more time effective and divvy up my time and attention between online and print, it’s hard to juggle between the two but I relish being busy, it makes the days and weeks fly by.

EMMA: When I started University in 2007, I wanted to work for a magazine. So did a million other people for that matter, it’s a very competitive space. My tutors were really savvy, so they taught us how to start blogging. I loved the nature of online and had already been obsessed with MySpace for quite some time and I had so many girl crushes on bloggers I’d found via BlogLovin’. As I watched some of my favourite magazines fold, I soon realised that print was, unfortunately a bit of a dying industry. This is when I decided that my career path was better suited online, as opposed to offline. In regards to the fashion world in general, it has allowed us to have so much more access to something that used to only be available to more of an elite and exclusive crowd. I love that we live in a world where if you have a passion for something, whether it be fashion or not, you can inspire people from showcasing your own writing/photography/styling online and it really opens doors to some big opportunities.

Networking is the biggest fear of many career girls; do you have any networking tips or advice that has come in handy in your career?

MELISSA: Work experience is key and is the perfect introduction to the fashion industry. It’s important to get yourself out there and make yourself known, whether that’s with PR’s or Fashion Assistants/Editors. These are the contacts that you need to build relationships with, as they will all be the first to know about any job openings and opportunities before they are advertised.
It’s also worth networking on social media. is a great tool for reaching out to people and seeking out opportunities.

EMMA: Networking isn’t for everyone; if you want to be a PR then it really should come naturally to you otherwise you’ll struggle in everyday situations. Being a great communicator and being personable is a fantastic skill set to have. If you’re at university, then start there. There are often groups and forums you can join with like-minded people. Also, just getting out and about is so important. I have met so many people at events, exhibitions and bars that I like over the years – if you hang out at places you truly love, you’ll come across a similar circle of people. LinkedIn is also a really useful social media tool which allows you to communicate with all different kinds of people from different fields across the industry.


Managing Editor

Beth is the Managing Editor of CGD. She is a graduate of the Penguin Writer's Academy, has published a short story and loves to read creative writing manuals in her spare time.

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