Isabelle ‘Izzy’ Shearstone had a chance encounter with WhichPLM’s CEO & Founder, Mark Harrop, on a flight to NYC last year. Travelling to her placement year at LF Americas, Izzy has kept in contact with WhichPLM over the last twelve months, and here she shares her experience in the big city via a first-hand account designed to help students in the same position as she was.
Like most British millenials (and I issue apology to fellow millenials for using the term) I have always dreamt of living in the States. Whether it’s the excitement in American programming Netflix has made so readily available, the glamour of New York Fashion Week, the lure of a hectic corporate world, or the magnetism of ‘college life’, there’s a pull for almost everyone in our generation.
So, in late 2014 when the opportunity arose for a working placement in New York, suffice to say I jumped at the chance. I was in my second year on the Fashion Buying & Merchandising course at MMU (Manchester Metropolitan University) and, as a Fashion student, what could be better than working in New York City? What could be better than being able to call one of the fashion capitals of the world ‘home’ for the next twelve months?
The internship was for LF Americas, part of the Li & Fung Group, and to be in with a chance of being shortlisted I had to submit a selection of CAD drawings, as well as a retail report on two stores of my choosing before the close of December 2014. I won’t bore you with the ins and outs of the process, but let’s just say I persevered and submitted my work before the deadline.
A short while later, I was informed I’d been selected for an interview via Skype, and thus began the restless waiting game.
The interview date was set for February 2015. To prepare for this, which so happened to be my first Skype interview, I researched the company online, looked on LinkedIn, on their company website, and studied brands that they supply to; my aim was to be as well-informed as possible, to put me ahead of my competition. I can’t stress enough the importance of this process. Fortunately my interview went swimmingly, but some companies will try to catch interviewees out on trickier questions, which can really blindside you if you haven’t conducted the proper research ahead of time. I was interviewed by the current (at the time) LF Americas interns, which allowed me to relax and answer questions confidently.
The interview combined more common questions around my own abilities (“What can you bring to this internship?”) as well as more creative ones (“Who is your idol, and why?”). Having been able to answer these with ease, I was quietly confident by the time the interview was over.
Around a month later (mid-March 2015) I was awarded the placement. What followed the initial elation was tumult; I had three months before I was to be on a plane, flying over the Atlantic. Three months may sound like a long time to most, but not to a second year university student.
Sorting my Visa, saying goodbye to my friends and family, and packing a years’ worth of belongings, whilst finishing my second year of university, was a juggling act, but I made it work (with the support of my parents). Anyone who has applied for a working Visa before will know that it really is a case of ‘the sooner the better’. I know of other interns at LF Americas who started work later than expected because of this.
As someone obsessed with fashion, I’m still not sure how I was able to fit everything into my suitcase.
And so it began
I wouldn’t say I’m one for fate, but it just so happened that during my flight to New York, I had a chance encounter with WhichPLM’s very own Mark Harrop, who was sitting right next to me. Once I mentioned my situation we fell into an effortless conversation about the fashion industry, his career, WhichPLM, my internship and more. It was then that Mark told me of the WhichPLM Academy courses, which would go on to be a vital piece in my understanding of PLM as a whole. What’s more, Mark put me in touch with Elle Thompson, former VP Product Operations at Marc Jacobs, whom I got in touch with once I had arrived in New York. Like Mark, Elle had plenty of experience in the industry, and was able to offer plenty of great advice.
Having flown out a week before I was due to start working, I had met up with some fellow interns and was able to explore the city with them; although still nerve-wracking, showing up to work on the first day was that much easier knowing that I already knew some colleagues.
The internship consisted of two 6-month placements, within different areas of the same company. For the first 6 months I was placed in the sweater sales area, which consisted of me completing weekly sales charts, creating retail reports for Target and Macy’s and working amongst the sales and design teams to help where needed. My manager, Lisa Conklin, Account Executive for Target, was fantastic; she was extremely helpful and friendly and made my time in sales that much better. Over these first 6 months, I gained a lot of responsibility, and as I continued to impress Lisa, I was given more and more. This paved the way for my second 6 months as a production intern – a more difficult and more rewarding role.
I was working 40+ hours a week – something I wasn’t used to, but quickly got into the swing of. As well as completing my daily tasks, I was involved in an intern project consisting of three separate intern groups coming up with a ‘white space idea’ that the company would be interested in taking on. It was great working with the other interns as it allowed me to expand my teamworking and communication skills even further. We presented our ideas to the VPs of the company, which not only allowed me to enhance my presentation skills (an area I’ll openly admit I needed to work on), but also allowed me to interact with members of staff that I otherwise wouldn’t have connected with.
As production was never really an area I wanted to pursue, I was less enthusiastic going into my second 6-month placement as I was my first. To me, production consisted of too much work with trims and fabrics – something I had never been fully confident in – but I was of course proven wrong. This role was more challenging, but allowed me to grow in confidence in all areas. I completed fabric submits, sent from the overseas factories for me to review with different design teams depending on what brand the fabric was for; I worked on a few different brands for Amazon and Target, as well as special projects, which were for the upcoming designer collaboration with Target. I also tracked samples, that were being sent from overseas to ours and Target’s offices. I developed my teamwork, time management, communication and computer skills and appreciated everything my manager, Jen Zawadski, Production Manager for various Target brands & Amazon, had to offer.
Having never been away from what I know for such a long period of time, living in NYC definitely took me out of my comfort zone. But, during this time I had numerous visits from family and friends, which made it difficult to miss home for too long. It was some months before I finally felt comfortable living abroad, and I’ve gained huge independence from this experience. I even visited Philadelphia, Boston, Washington, Orlando and L.A;. I went to a music festival, visited each of the NYC boroughs, ate my way through some of NYC’s best restaurants and soaked up the panoramic views from New York’s best rooftop bars.
Not being used to the warm weather (I’m from England, after all) I spent a great deal of time in museums and art galleries during the summer months, taking full advantage of their air conditioning. I was a tour guide for visiting friends and family, and I can’t count the times I walked the Brooklyn Bridge, the Highline, or joined the crowds of Times Square. Despite the repetition, I am aware just how lucky I have been.
While I was gearing up to finish my placement, I had a visit from Mark Harrop and Ben Hanson, who were in New York on business, so we took the opportunity to meet up for a catch up over dinner in the fashionable meat packing district. This time Mark was able to see the content and comfortable me in New York – a completely different picture from the me who first met him on the plane 12 months ago.
I am sharing my experience on what it’s been like to be a student on placement and of my chance meeting with Mark and as he suggested, for any students gearing up for a placement abroad. There aren’t many first-hand accounts out there that can help them prepare.
For any student, or indeed anyone, considering taking the leap to a different country, I say ‘leap’. Although there were some tough times living alone in an unfamiliar city, it was the best experience of my life, and has prepared me for my future in the fashion industry. I have gained invaluable knowledge, through my internship, through completing WhichPLM Academy, and through living abroad alone. I feel a lot more comfortable and confident going into my final year of university because of this opportunity.
Students, if you are having any doubts about a placement year abroad and think it “wont be worth the hassle”, I can tell you now, it will be.