Ask any apparel, retail merchandising and design major about their “post-graduation” plans and chances are you will receive a slew of completely different responses.
The global fashion industry is valued at $2.4 trillion, allowing for a vast and diverse job market. Students who are studying retail merchandising or apparel design have a number of potential job opportunities in buying, visual merchandising, fashion design, technical design, marketing, sourcing, fashion journalism and many others areas.
North Dakota State alumna, Keyona Elkins, who studied both apparel studies and journalism at NDSU, now works as a technical designer for Target headquarters in Minneapolis.
Recently, I had the opportunity to chat with Keyona about her fabulous new life working for one of America’s favorite retailers and how her job is “definitely not the ‘Devil Wears Prada’ version of the fashion industry.”
Emily Wotzka (EW): Tell me about your new job with Target. What is your position; how are you liking it; what life is like in Minneapolis, etc.?
Keyona Elkins (KE): I’m an associate technical designer at Target HQ in Minneapolis. I mainly work on our “A New Day” clothing line.
Basically, I’m like a fashion engineer, putting together tech packs for our manufacturers with all the details on how each garment should be made and fitting the samples that come in. It’s my job to make our clothes fit well, ensure they are high quality and be the liaison between designers and factories.
It’s so interesting being involved in the product design and development process and making a clothing line come together. It’s also really fun seeing a product I worked on in stores and in marketing.
We work pretty far ahead, so even though I started in June, skirts I worked on are just now hitting the floor, and it’s so rewarding seeing them out in the world.
I love being in Minneapolis. There’s so much to explore and always something going on. “Minnesota nice” combined with Target’s amazing culture also means that everyone I work with is genuinely so nice and always helpful; it’s definitely not the “Devil Wears Prada” version of the fashion industry.
EW: Do you think NDSU, particularly the Apparel, Design and Hospitality Management (ADHM) department, prepared you for the real world?
KE: My classes and extracurricular experiences at NDSU have prepared me so well. I use things I learned in ARMD (apparel, retail merchandising and design) classes every single day at my job, from Illustrator sketching to textiles to pattern making to presentation skills.
Even things I once thought I’d never use (like stitch types and fabric shrinkage tests) are super important to my job now.
EW: What has been the most challenging and most exciting part of beginning your career?
KE: For me, the most challenging part of starting this career is learning how to work with everyone in the organization.
So many teams are needed to pull a fashion brand together — buyers, designers, sourcing managers, textile artists, visual merchandisers, etc. Communication and knowing who to work with for what is so important.
I love seeing a style come together, starting with just a sketch and my notes, becoming an actual sample, having the fit, construction and details changed and eventually being made by the thousands. It’s challenging and exciting to work on products that people all across the country will be wearing.
Also, Target, in general, is such a supportive and fun company to work for. I feel so blessed to be in such a great position right out of college.
EW: Do you have any advice for current apparel, retail merchandising and design students looking forward to their future careers?
Intern and get as much experience in the industry as possible. Your experience will put you ahead of others when applying for jobs, and it gives you great examples of work you’ve accomplished and how you’ve handled different situations. That’s really important to have in interviews.
Take full advantage of the classes available to you. You’re probably crazy busy in school as it is, but if you can fit in an extra class or add a minor in topics that really interest you or to gain skills you lack, do it.
You have the opportunity now, and you might not get that chance later. I was surprised at how much knowledge from school I use in my job, and there are definitely times I look back and wish I could have taken a class I didn’t get to.
Be brave and reach out to others in the industry to network. Even asking someone a few questions about their job via email is low-risk and can lead to a job shadow or internship opportunity.
I got my job at Target because my advisor at NDSU got me connected with someone at Target for a little informational interview over coffee. That person then got me an interview and is now my boss.