A lot of people write to me about what to put into a fashion business or marketing portfolio when applying colleges or universities, so I have decided to compile a list of suggestions. But before you go through the list and frantically start writing business plans and creating assortment sheets, the best piece of advice I can give you is to read the portfolio requirements. Most courses will either have requirements or will give suggestions as to what you include in your portfolio. If they don’t , I strongly suggest you contact them and ask for suggestions. Only then should you resort to this list, or consult it for filler ideas, if your portfolio already fills requirements but needs a few more things to impress. First and foremost, you should bring them what they ask for. Then by all means show off your business and marketing skills with a few of these:
1. Shop Reports: The course director on one of the degrees I taught on was a really big fan of shop reports and she was right to think that a shop report is a very good way to assess a student’s skills. A good shop report should firstly be concise, lots of bullet points and subtitles, this is not an essay. Include things like store name, location, opening hours, brands sold, type of layout, merchandising, customers, change rooms, marketing, service, product, price point, and more. Great images, charts, tables, and maybe even a SWOT demonstrate that you are an observant individual who understands what people are looking for when they research retail. If you are feeling brave, add in some recommendations for improvement, you can get creative here, but be sure to justify the recommendations.
2. Trend Boards: Trend boards can be a great way to show you are able to identify or forecast trends, which is a valuable skill in the fashion world. Whether you are identifying or forecasting trends, timeliness will be an issue here. You don’t want to create a trend board for a future trend and then include it in a fashion business or marketing portfolio 12 months later when it is no longer relevant (unless you can prove you were correct in the forecast!) Identifying trends could be either through catwalk or social and cultural trends, using art, music, street style, lifestyle, and technology. Forecasting should also use cultural and social “landmarks” but will also require some intuition in order to predict how what is going on now and what is about to happen will impact how we will be dressing in 6-18 months. Either way, your board should include a really good trend name, a few words describing it, some key words, and lots of visuals of inspiration, silhouettes, materials, styling and anything else relevant to communicating the trend to your market. You may also want to consider whether your board is aimed at designers or consumers.
3. Business Plans: Business plans aren’t exactly the most fun suggestion on this list but if you can do one, it will be definitely be an asset. Plan structures vary depending on whether you are writing one for en existing business or one that hasn’t started yet, but there is a lot of information online on how to write one, so start with a google search for ideas on a structure. I found this business plan outline to be a good basic one, although even a very simple one would be great in a fashion business or marketing portfolio.
4. Marketing Plans (including Social Media): A marketing plan is a great addition to a portfolio. Ideally a short one, with a clear outcome, such as a store launch, new product launch, or social media campaign to promote something (make sure you identify what it is you are hoping to achieve with the plan.) Shopify has some great tips on writing marketing plans and I suggest you use subtitles, charts, tables, bullet points and visuals so that someone can skim it. This is a great place to show off your ideas for social media contests, campaigns, events, shows, celebrity endorsements, etc…
5. Fashion Writing and Social Media: Published fashion writing is a great way to show off some very practical skills in a business or marketing course interview. And the good news, anyone can create a blog and publish content. If you aren’t able to contribute writing to a local newspaper, blog, or magazine, then write your own content and publish it on a basic blog. This is especially important with student wishing to work in fashion publishing of any sort. Be sure to have a clear vision with your writing, and ensure that everything that is published is quality writing, whether is it an analytical article, investigative journalism, a trend story, copy for an online retailer, or a shopping page. Consider layouts, especially if you are interested in print. You should also be active on social media, no excuses! And if you want personal profiles, be sure to make them private so fashion schools don’t know that you drank 15 tequila shots last weekend.
6. Buying plans and/or Assortment sheets: If you are interested in buying and merchandising (most people are until they figure out it is a job that requires a lot of maths) then buying plans or an assortment plan could be a great addition to a portfolio. Something simple with a trend board, a small number of SKUs (with images, price, construction), quantities, and merchandising is great, and if you want to be more detailed, then look into a detailed assortment plan. If you are working in a retail store (which is always a good idea if you are preparing for a career in the fashion industry) then doing a sample season buy would be great, and you’ll already have a space, customer, and style to buy for.
7. Consumer Profiles: We use consumer profiles in many roles within the fashion industry, so demonstrating an understanding of them and an ability to put one together will be very beneficial for your portfolio. It could be a profile or profiles of the consumers for a brand in particular or profiles of new or highly relevant current fashion consumers. Like the trend boards, you’ll want to have great names for your customers and lots of visuals. Don’t forget to include segmentation, interviews, market research, and pen profiles!
8. Branding and/or graphic design projects: If you are interested in the more creative side of the fashion business or marketing world, then some samples of graphics and branding work will look great in your book. Whether it is a logo design for a new brand, a sample webpage for an online store, a magazine layout, a store design concept, or a complete re-branding of an existing company, be sure to include inspiration, justification, campaign goal, and execution ideas – and of course it needs to be really well presented.
9. Photography and Styling Work: If you’ve ever done any fashion photography or styling work that you think is portfolio worthy (and think hard about this – your friend in a strapless dress posing is not going to get you into a fashion school) then feel free to add it. Both are skills that are useful in fashion and will certainly make you a stronger candidate. Visual merchandising displays you have done could also be photographed and included in a portfolio.
10. Other related works: Whether your background is in science or sewing, don’t be afraid to include your strongest work in your portfolio. This could be an essay, research paper, website you designer, an essay, or any other achievements that demonstrate skills that are transferable to business or the fashion industry. A good school will be open to accepting students who have diverse skills, even if they aren’t directly related to fashion marketing or business.
And don’t forget to make your portfolio slick! Clearly label each project and explain what the purpose was, present everything beautifully, and if you are presenting it in person (and not via PDF) then be sure to have a professional looking book.
Here’s some further reading on fashion schools and careers in the industry.