Fashion Graduates: Where Do You Go From Here?

Stepping out of school and in to the career world can be daunting, especially so for those who’s career path involves launching a business. Entrepreneurship can be the most stressful, but also the most rewarding path to success, and for many in the arts or working with new technologies, it may also be the only option.

Thankfully there is a wealth of information and support for small business startups. Governments recognize the important contribution entrepreneurs make to the regional economy and offer educational programs, networks and low-interest loans. What’s more, entrepreneurs themselves recognize the benefit of peer support and feedback (and the hazards of working in isolation). Entrepreneurs tend to form the most active, innovative and enriching community groups, loosely organized around ideas and critiques, and meeting community workspaces like incubators and cowork studios.

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For fashion designers, the path to career advancement is rarely a conventional one. Independent designers need to master not just their craft, but also marketing themselves, setting their own price points, and all of the administration that goes along with running a business. It’s not just in design but also in technology, media, and the arts, being your own boss is increasingly becoming the norm.

It can be daunting to know where to look for assistance, so we have narrowed down a list of some of the most useful resources to help you get started.

There are plenty of services offered at various levels of government. Enterprise Toronto is Toronto’s hub for all things small-business, offering free consultation and coaching. The government of Canada has a wealth of information on regulations, resources and funding at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/selfemployed/. At the provincial level, there is further support from CanadaBusinessOntario, and the Toronto Public Library offers free small business programs and seminars.

Online communities, consulting services and non-profits offering assistance with funding, mentoring and strategic consultation include Start Up Canada, MentorWorks, CanadaOne, Futurpreneur, the Canadian Innovation Centre, and the Ontario Network of Entrepreneurs.

For fashion designers specifically, large events like Fashion Art Toronto, Startup Fashion Week and Toronto Men’s Fashion Week offer networking and publicity opportunities. To stay informed on the business trends in the industry check out Women’s Wear Daily, and The Business of Fashion. The Fashion Group International Toronto is a non-profit organization that promotes the fashion industry, and offers mentorship and talks.

Incubators can help launch small businesses with intensive one-on-one programs where an entrepreneur works closely with an experienced mentor. Incubators have a limited membership capacity, applicants are required to submit a business plan or proof of concept, and only a few applicants are approved for membership. Toronto Fashion Incubator and Ryerson Fashion Zone both operate with this structure. MaRS Discovery District is Toronto’s biggest business incubator for health and technology, including the technology of apparel.

Cowork studios and makerspaces, like Raw Finery Studio offer open membership for an unlimited time, workshops, seminars, community meetups, and networking with professionals in related fields. In Toronto, Raw Finery Studio is the only space offering access to industrial sewing equipment in a cowork environment.