Meet The Woman On A Mission To Help You Break Into The Fashion Industry

With over 15 years of experience, Elizabeth Stiles is unpicking the seams to reveal how she made it and how you can too

By Hannah Connolly

27 January 2022

aving worked for retail giants including Next, Arcadia and Urban Outfitters, Elizabeth Stiles has built up 15 years worth of insider industry knowledge from buying, supplying and launching brands. Now she has opened the (virtual) doors to her own practice on The Stack World Clubs feature: The Fashion Brand Clinic, helping you take the temperature of your company and prescribing what is needed to get to the next level.

But how did she get there and what does it take to make it in an industry renowned for its private member's club attitude? Here Elizabeth shares her story and some lessons she picked up along the way.

“I have always known I wanted to work in fashion”, she says. Speaking over zoom, Stiles radiates positivity, which is to be expected considering her knowledge-sharing approach to propelling creatives towards business success. “You can actually get ahead and be a nice person, I am half your older sister and the other half of me is the experience – smash it together and I can help you.”

During schooling, she quickly learnt the negative connotations often placed on creativities and their ambitions: “I didn’t even know you could study fashion at university” going away to discover a world where fashion and business worked hand-in-hand, a eureka moment filled with excitement before the bubble was temporarily burst.

"I have been told if you don't pull your socks up there is someone snapping at your heels for your job so you best be grateful, even if you are deeply unhappy.”

“I went back into school and said this is what I want to do so my headmistress pulled me into her office and said ‘if you only need two grade C’s you want to have a serious think about the type of people you will be mixing with.’” This interaction ignited a fire in Stiles still blazing today: the misconception of creatives and indeed the harsh front of fashion being one that needs to be addressed and one she is on a mission to change.

Whilst studying Fashion Retail & Buying Stiles won a competition with Next. She would go on to work for the retailer for 5 years as a buyer, before moving on to, what she described as, the “worst job” of her life. Adding “I walked into the Arcadia head office thinking I had made it, on day one I knew it was a massive mistake, the energy was so nasty, a very Devil Wears Prada vibe.”

Again, not one to be thrown off course, Stiles moved on and worked for several other household names before pivoting over to the supplier side, operating as the inverse of her previous roles, gathering yet more invaluable knowledge. “After about four years, I was maybe bored and in this time the company set up their own brand so I asked if I could manage the launch”, she explained.

What she quickly realised, despite investment and over a decade of her own knowledge, this was no easy task. “I wondered if other people were finding this difficult. So I started asking Facebook groups saying, this is my experience if you want help let me know, I got a shit tonne of replies and thought, if all of these people need advice and it's second nature to me, I wonder if there is a business in this?” Stiles said. Leaving her job in 2018, she hasn’t looked back since.

"My advice is you can start a business selling products with pictures you have taken on your iPhone through DMs on Instagram.”

Spending the last 4 years helping businesses reach the next level, and now, with The Fashion Brand Clinic, helping more people break through into the fashion world. But why is it such a difficult industry to crack? What perpetuates the fictional Miranda Preisty perception and even enables her very real-world counterpart? Stiles thinks it’s embedded in the culture.

She noted the small nature of the industry: “Everyone knows each other and it is extremely competitive. I think it is ingrained in us that if you have knowledge you are just not going to tell anyone and I have been told on a weekly basis before, if you don't pull your socks up there is someone snapping at your heels for your job so you best be grateful, even if you are deeply unhappy.”

It would seem to be a systemic problem, in a study conducted by The Sutton Trust, over a quarter of UK graduates have worked in unpaid roles and fashion is one of the biggest culprits. “It is a privilege to be able to do an internship. I did have work experience because I lived near London, and the brand paid for the train ticket and not all brands even do that. I knew I had the option to borrow some money if it was available but that isn’t available for everybody.” Stiles shared, going on to add: “I think that is why the creative industries are not that diverse because only certain people can take part.”

Though, Stiles is keen to point out the perception that you need thousands of pounds to start your own brand is not always the case, clarifying the idea that all start-ups require at least £15thousand in capital is misleading.“It could be a candle brand it could be a furniture brand, my advice is you can start a business selling products with pictures you have taken on your iPhone through DMs on Instagram.”

A proven method from Stiles’ previous experience, “I have worked with multi-million-pound companies who started taking pictures of clothes, put them on DEPOP and sold out, scaling up from there to a seven, if not an eight-figure business. So do not fall into the trap of thinking you have to spend a certain amount of money.”

January 26th marked Elizabeth’s first instalment in what is 12-month programming of events, but don’t worry it's all on-demand. If you want to hear more from Elizabeth become a member of The Fashion Brand Clinic now and tune in for weekly agony aunt sessions on top of practical and actionable sessions focusing on every aspect of your business.

The Short Stack

Making it in the fashion industry is no easy feat but Elizabeth Stiles is on hand to help you on your way.

By Hannah Connolly

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