How to make it in the fashion industry

“My favourite moments' involved disasters of some kind that we overcame to make the show go on”. - Yolanda Finch

Whenever people with successful careers in fashion give interviews, there seems to be one thing we all want to know first: How did you get your start? While the path to success usually involves a combination of hard work, the right attitude, good timing and creative brilliance, there are often secrets to success that only those who have walked the path will be privy to.

Yolanda Finch, the newly appointed General Manager, Programming and Operations, is one of the key players in bringing the Festival to life. Previously the Programming Manager, she's well versed in all facets of the Festival.

With 15 years of experience in the Australian fashion industry under her belt, most of which has been at the Festival, she’s wise to the fact that flair alone is not enough to get noticed in the world of fashion.

We asked Yolanda to share her secrets to a long lasting career in the fashion industry. As you can imagine, her answers are endlessly fascinating and offer lessons you can take away if you’re looking to make it big in the world of fashion.

1. How did you break into fashion? 
My first instinct was to say ‘by accident’, but in fact considering, I staged my first fashion show in Grade 4 at Macedon Primary School, the universe may say that it was inevitable even if I wasn’t focused on steering towards it. In plain terms, I had an attentive teacher at RMIT who found me a work placement at the event management company that produced the Festival’s runways and events, and I was on my way from intern to producer to being brought in-house here at the Festival in a management capacity.

2. What does a typical day look like to you?
Desk. Meetings. Documents. Emails. Reports. Super fun party, designers, models, stylists, collections. Desk. Meetings…repeat. Essentially, it takes a lot of planning, negotiating, collaborating, reporting, convincing and a healthy dose of creativity and humour to run the business and the event that is the Festival. I work with people in a range of different roles to create the activity that services multiple stakeholders, achieves top-tier creative outcomes, resonates with our community and audience, and does so with best practice integrity.

3. Most memorable ‘pinch yourself’ moment?
Sitting in the Ballroom at Government House on Opening Day of one Festival years ago, overseeing the rehearsal of in a wildly jubilant fashion/music/theatrical fashion presentation that I had written the script for, directed a unique music score performed by an MSO quartet and an authentic rockabilly band, worked with stylist Jolyon Mason on his insane styling of models and dancers in custom Romance Was Born, Alex Perry, Maticevski, with Andrew Hallsworth on the choreography to accompany the score, with Jules Lund playing a ‘50s radio announcer and a jazz singer dressed in J’Aton doing a rockabilly version of a Sneaky Sound System song. All of which we had devised from an outline brief from the then Editor of Harper’s BAZAAR, Alison Veness. And I believe I sat on the media riser and thought, ‘Is this my life? This is pretty fantastic’.

4. Top 3 career highlights?
Most of my highlights involve that inimitable feeling that live events give you, especially when you have lived and died to make it happen, in combination with the joy of working with truly exceptional people. As I try to choose just 3 I realise all my favourite moments involved disasters of some kind that we overcame to make the show go on; my first ever event which was a 10 day sports activation in Sydney, working with my bestie and surviving a minor hurricane that ripped through our site on day 4 (it hasn’t all been fashion!). The terror and jubilation of the first runway series I did as lead producer, where I was regularly to be found crying at the tech desk from sheer exhaustion. Loved it. Shooting the Festival campaign in New York with a killer creative team and Aussie supermodels. But honestly there are so many extraordinary moments working in events and at the Festival, I could name 300!

5. Best and worst thing about your job?
The best thing is when a simple idea turns into something significant and real that audiences love, that receives industry validation, and that gets great results for the team. The worst thing is not getting funded for what would have been really great ideas, that people would have really loved….you get the picture.

6. What was the outfit you got hired in?
Originally? Not a clue, although considering how poor I was then, it would have likely been a combination of something I’d sewn myself, something I found in an opp shop and various random finds all put together.

7. What’s the best career advice you’ve ever been given? 
We’re not curing cancer here. Meaning, take it seriously, give it all you’ve got, but when it all seems to be going into meltdown, remember that our first world problems mean nothing in the context to the world’s real issues. Taking a step back and breathing is always the answer.

8. Advice for people looking to break into the fashion and creative industries world?
I always advise that people should look for experience whenever and however they can access it, take on roles even if the benefit isn’t immediately obvious (creative industry learnings are rarely obviously acquired), chase down all possible opportunities, to respect the time it takes to learn a craft and be courteous and helpful to everyone.

9. Where do you see the Fashion Industry going in the next 10 years?
Where I hope to see it going is to a place where ethical, sustainable and responsible practice is highly valued by garment creators as well as consumers. Where good design is the hero in all things, and where a whole ecosystem of fashion makers and end users feel proud to be a part of a thriving creative economy.

10. What’s next for Yolanda?
To play a part in the journey towards Question 9 coming to life.

Feeling inspired?  If you love fashion, culture and all things creativity, why don't you join us? We’re currently recruiting for a Business Development Coordinator. You can view the full position description and find out further information here. 

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