Three expats reveal what it is like to move out of their comfort zone and carve out a fashion career outside the UK.
Job Senior menswear design – jersey and knitwear, Mango
Location Barcelona, Spain
Londoner Christopher Menezes decided five years ago that he’d embrace the idea of working overseas in his chosen profession of fashion design. With five years’ design experience already under his belt, his overseas venture began by joining Adidas – a global company that employs a truly diverse mix of nationalities in offices spread around the world.
He enjoyed three productive years working in Germany for the sports brand before taking a job with US designer brand DKNY in Singapore, gaining experience within the luxury Club 21 group. A year later he underwent a further relocation with the help of Cressida Pye at design-focused fashion recruitment agency Smith & Pye, this time joining Spanish brand Mango as a senior menswear designer for jersey and knitwear, and setting up home in the sun-kissed city of Barcelona.
Menezes is full of praise about sportswear giant Adidas’s efforts to successfully relocate employees in new countries, ensuring as smooth a transition as possible. “Adidas was a great starting point because as a company they help you relocate and get adjusted to a new country,” says the 34-year-old.
However, he warns that this is not always the case: “Other companies don’t necessarily do so much because they don’t hire lots of international staff, so it’s a case of finding your own accommodation and acclimatising yourself to a new culture and working environment.”
But this is exactly what Menezes loves about working outside of the UK. “It’s rewarding just to experience living in a totally different part of the world,” he says. “Socially it opens up new horizons and for me, particularly in Singapore and now Barcelona, it feels like you’re on holiday every weekend, with the great weather and the beach.”
He loves the climate of Spain, the food, the social scene and the ability to get back to London relatively easily and quickly to see family and friends.
The challenges are learning new languages – though he has picked up basic German and Spanish through working in these jobs – and also fitting into a different working culture overseas. He says: “In Germany, there are very rigid systems and structures in the way you work, which can be frustrating, while in Spain they are more open-minded but with a tendency towards indecision. It can take a while to adjust.”
Menezes says British design graduates are particularly attractive to international fashion brands, and that in his case a degree from the London College of Fashion has stood him in good stead for his career overseas. “British people with specialist fashion skills are highly valued and in demand,” he says.
However, he does add a word of caution to those thinking of making the move about what to expect when they get there: “Working abroad might not suit everyone. You’ve got to be open-minded, able to adapt to different ways of working, and you can’t assume you’ll get lots of support from employers. It might be a case of getting stuck in and doing it for yourself.”
Job Babywear technician, C&A
Location Senneberg, Belgium
Clothing technician Kim Du-Buisson, 30, has been working for value retailer C&A at the company’s head office in Senneberg, Belgium since May 2012 and hasn’t regretted upping sticks from her native Liverpool for one second. She says she enjoys the supportive culture of C&A, the friendly expat community, and the work itself. Her babywear technician role involves working on fit, fabric testing and planning production.
Setting up home overseas and meeting new people hasn’t been a problem for Du-Buisson. Her outgoing personality has ensured she’s made new friends in her close-knit team at work – with colleagues gradually teaching her to speak French and Dutch.
She says the positives from the experience have far outweighed any negatives. “You miss family, of course, and it’s hard when you realise you can’t join your best mate on the shopping trip she’s planning that weekend and mentioned on Facebook. But it’s very easy to keep connected with people by phone and online, and I can easily travel back once a month or so,” says Du-Buisson. “There are direct flights from Brussels to Liverpool.”
In terms of education and experience, Du-Buisson has a BTech Higher National Diploma in fashion and clothing from Liverpool Community College and has previously spent time as a dressmaker and working for a clothing supplier in Manchester.
So what prompted her to take the C&A job? “I’d never moved out of Liverpool before, but once I’d had the phone interview with C&A
and was boarding the plane to go to the full interview I just knew,” she says. “I had nothing to lose, so I went for it.”
With some first-hand guidance from Cherel Pacey, senior consultant at recruitment agency Fashion and Retail Personnel, Du-Buisson impressed at the interview and hasn’t looked back. C&A assisted financially with her relocation – they have a relocation team that gives advice too – and she now lives in an apartment in Senneberg.
She admits that working life, and particularly the pace of business, is different to what she has experienced in the UK. “Working in fashion in the UK is notoriously fast-paced, with an expectation that you’ll put in long hours to get the work done,” says Du-Buisson. “But here things seem a little more relaxed with a better work-life balance. We have free ice-cream, sports days, team days out, and you’re encouraged to get involved in what other departments are doing. There’s an emphasis on teamwork and mutual support. C&A couldn’t have put any more effort into helping me get settled in.”
Born Kingston upon Thames
Job Merchandise planner, StyleTread
Location Sydney, Australia
Louisa Cosky has worked in the fashion retail industry for seven years having started out as an allocator at young fashion retailer River Island in clothing and accessories. The bulk of her career in the UK was spent at footwear retailer Kurt Geiger working as an assistant merchandiser for the retailer’s branded offer before progressing on to being a merchandiser for own label.
In 2010 she travelled for a few months in Australia before pitching up in Sydney and using her UK-based experience to land a role at www.styletread.com.au, Australia’s leading online footwear retailer.
“I am now a merchandise planner at a great company and am enjoying living in Sydney,” says Cosky, who is grateful to Australian recruitment agency Jivaro for making the transition relatively seamless.
Finding a job wasn’t as much of a challenge as some might expect, she says. “I had heard that planners were in demand in Oz and that is definitely the case when you get here, so you can get a job reasonably quickly,” she says. “But even so, it can be quite daunting looking for a new job in a new country within a completely different retail market.”
For Cosky, finding the right recruitment company to work with really helped. “Jivaro really helped because they understood my skillset and what I was looking for in a role and in a company.”
Cosky is clear about her motivations for making the move. “Let’s face it, the Australian weather is certainly a massive draw,” she says. “I also wanted to gain experience working in a different country and to expand my knowledge. In addition, I just wanted to see if I could move across to the other side of the world and survive.”
Relocating was simpler than Cosky had initially anticipated. “The main thing I was concerned about was getting a visa. I went on a working holiday visa and then got my employer to sponsor me, which is quite straightforward. The working holiday visa can be done online and comes through within 24 hours.”
She says sponsorship requires a little more work “but your employer organises communication with migration lawyers, so
after completing some forms, it’s pretty straightforward”. Finding somewhere to live was another challenge, though the 29-year-old says the strong expat community means there are lots of options open to people new to the city. “There are loads of English people here so apartment sharing is really common and people are always on the lookout for housemates.”
However, Cosky warns that the Australian fashion industry is much smaller and less developed than in the UK, so expecting a job with a desirable fashion brand the minute you arrive is over-optimistic. “You need a degree
of luck and also to be in the right place at the right time,” she says. “Online is relatively new too, so it has its challenges, but you find new ways of working and how to make your experience relevant.”
On the plus side, she says UK experience speaks volumes and you can make an immediate impact on a business by putting forward new ideas and processes “and can progress quicker and further than you could in the UK”.
Cosky says that while the pace of working life is similar to the UK, the way of life as a whole has significant upsides. “You still work hard, but at the end of the day you get to hang out at the beach,” she says.
Making new friends shouldn’t be too much of a problem either, she adds. “You also meet a breadth of people from all over the world who are doing the exact same thing as you are. It’s a great way to meet new people.”
Cosky tells Drapers that she would recommend an international fashion role to anybody considering doing it themselves. “The feeling when you first move to a new country is amazing, exciting and scary.”
But you must expect to be out of your comfort zone at times if you’re going to fully embrace everything Australia has to offer, she says. “The lifestyle is completely different and it makes you re-evaluate what you spend your free time doing.”