The fashion industry gets a bad name at times and for the most part, unfairly. So do the people employed within it. Many negative assumptions are made about the way fashion companies are run and in response, the cut-throat nature necessary to survive. Jade Roberts, designer for high street hero River Island, is a testament to the inaccurate nature of the fashion industry stereotypes.
She’s one of the few people whose passion for her future career was clear from the outset. Fashion was always on the cards for her and the natural next steps were a result of hard work, commitment and an unshakeable work ethic. Here, she tells The Style Edit about her route into the industry, the role New York city played and the most challenging aspects of her job often overlooked by outsiders.
For those interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry, buckle up. You’ll want to take notes on this one.
How did you get your start in fashion?
I’ve known for a very, very long time that this was the career I wanted to end up in and so it’s been something I’ve been able to spend a lot of time getting good at. I’ve done it all from helping out behind the scenes at local fashion shows during my degree BA Hons Fashion Design & Textiles at the University of Ulster and showcasing my own collections at the Galway Fashion Innovation Awards to interning for four major fashion companies in NYC which have all lead me to where I am now. Its key to get as much experience as possible to ensure you and your portfolio stand out amongst the many people desperate to break into this industry.
Did you always want to work in fashion?
Always! I’ve never had a plan B. I truly do live it and breathe it. I have always been very creative and I was quite a geeky kid. I absolutely loved to read, I loved maths & arts & crafts. I insisted on styling my little sisters and holding fashion shows in my back garden.
At age 13 in my second year of secondary school, I was scanning through a list of all the possible career routes that Art & Design can lead and there it was – “Fashion designer”. From that moment on my journey began. I spent every free minute I had in that classroom with my little sketchbook, mannequin and sewing machine.
How did you start at River Island and how has your job evolved since then?
Starting in May 2015 as a design assistant I really have worked from the very bottom up. I now lead my own department with my little superstar assistant Abbie. I specialize in multi-product woven softs produced out of India. The product has got a very pretty, modern bohemian vibe working with special embellishments, embroideries, prints, lace the list goes on and on. It’s very intricate and really designed into. We often refer to it as the “Brand within the Brand”.
I cried the day I was offered this job. There isn’t a more perfect role for me. That’s what I truly love about working for River Island. They allow us to truly express ourselves freely, we aren’t micro-managed and that’s when the magic happens.
“I cried the day I was offered this job. There isn’t a more perfect role for me. That’s what I truly love about working for River Island. They allow us to truly express ourselves freely, we aren’t micro-managed and that’s when the magic happens.”
What does a typical day look like for you?
The thing with fashion is no day ever is the same nor can I ever predict how a day might turn out. Its chaotic, exciting and there is a lot of adrenaline to the extent it might be 5pm and I’ll realise I haven’t eaten lunch yet. I get bored very easily and hate routine so I’m able to adapt to this very fast paced ever changing industry.
Can you tell us more about your time spent in New York?
NY was honestly the ultimate dream and such a defining point in my life both career-wise and personally. I grew up with the idea that if you really wanted something, you can do it and that you become what you believe.
I was putting in 110% into absolutely everything I did. While all my friends were going out and spending all their student loans in Topshop, I was doing a lot of overtime at University (sometimes I even stayed over) and I was saving as much as I could to afford my flights, visa and everything else that comes with living in this dream city. The experience and insight into the industry that I got while I was there was better than even I could have imagined.
Upon arriving I was shortlisted to work behind the scenes at Fashion Week, so during my first week I had my screening and got the call, it was the perfect start to an exciting year. I then went on to intern for Jonathan Simkhai,(4 months) Diane Von Furstenburg,(3 months) Carolina Herrera (3 months) and finishing my last month with Anna Sui. I even had to decline a placement with Marc Jacobs.
As you can imagine it’s an extremely competitive industry. Your portfolio and resume really must stand out to even get an interview and the majority are not paid or will give you a weekly stipend of 100 dollars (covering travel and lunch). Because of this, I needed some sort of income to pay my rent and survive so I waitressed on the side. I would intern 9am – 7pm and then go straight to my bar job and sometimes work to 1-2am. It was tough. I was extremely sleep deprived and lost a lot of weight but I was in NY doing the exact thing I had dreamt of all my life. I knew that it would all be worth it.
“I grew up with the idea that if you really wanted something, you can do it and that you become what you believe.”
What was the biggest lesson you learned while interning in New York?
If you want something you need to go out there and get it. Nothing comes easy.
NY honestly was the making of me, not just in terms of what it did for my career but more importantly, I figured out exactly who I was. I spent a lot of time alone while I was there and I changed a lot. I knew what was important in life and what simply just wasn’t for me anymore.
Looking back on your career so far, what’s been the most memorable experience?
Oh, 100% interning for DVF. She had always been a huge inspiration to me. I once took a picture of her HQ in the Meatpacking district and posted it with #oneday tagged. Exactly one month later this came true.
What’s your favourite part of your job?
I am very fortunate that I get to travel to India for my job. It’s important that I spend a lot of time there, seeing the newest techniques, trims and fabrics. It is so much easier to get inspired and create while you’re in the mix of it and it’s a bonus that I leave my emails, meetings and phone back in the office too. I have a tattoo on my arm that says “Namaste” which I got way before I ever travelled to India so it’s quite ironic that out there this is how we greet each other, I’m telling you every part of your life always leads you to the next!
“If you want something you need to go out there and get it. Nothing comes easy.”
What do you think the most challenging part of your job is?
That I can never switch off – ever! I get inspired anytime, any place. I even keep my sketchbook beside my bed at night for times I wake up with an idea to scribble it down so I don’t forget it. I’m extremely passionate but it’s a very unhealthy habit to get into to the point where it has made me very unwell. It’s important to take time out when you need it.
The last year or so has been a challenging time in fashion. People aren’t shopping as much as they used to, especially in the womenswear market and retailers are really struggling. It’s hard and we are all feeling the increased pressure.
Where do you see your career progressing in the next ten years?
Oh wow, 10 years I will be in my late 30’s so I try not to think that far ahead…
I just hope I’m still as in love with designing as I am today. A very important role model in my life has always told me “Keep doing what you love, the moment you stop loving and learning is the moment you need a new adventure”. So let’s just see….
“Keep doing what you love, the moment you stop loving and learning is the moment you need a new adventure.”
What do you think people misunderstand about your job?
Where do I even begin… A few common phrases “so do you just sit & draw all day long?” or “is your job like the Devil Wears Prada or The Hills”. Insert eye roll…
The real behind-the-scenes situation is nowhere as glamorous as how it’s portrayed.
Is there anything you wish you’d known before you started out?
I wish I knew more about my inner critic and mindset and how to manage that a lot better. I’m confident and I have a very thick skin but I overthink ALOT and over this last year that definitely has been my biggest struggle. If your voice inside your head is telling you that you’re a terrible person today or that you’re the world’s worst designer that doesn’t make it true it’s important to be kind to yourself and tell “Susan” in my case to have a day off.
What excites you most about the fashion industry?
You’re never comfortable. Each day you’re pushed waaaay out of your comfort zone. It’s fast paced, always evolving and I just love how all walks of life express themselves through fashion.
What advice would you give to someone hoping to follow in your footsteps?
It takes a tremendous amount of dedication and passion to be successful, so stay focused and most importantly stay true to you (never ever lose that) even if you make a mistake that’s ok because at least you stand for it.
What’s your ultimate career goal?
As you now know I live by what “you believe, you become” and to date anything that I ever wanted to do, I have! So at this present moment, I’m not sure if I can say it out loud just yet. I have two ultimate career goals but it’s an either/or situation, therefore I need a little more time working out which one my heart lies with before I commit … watch this space!
What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion should be easy. Try not to overthink it or over-complicate it. I rely on my instinct impulse and passion. I trust my gut and never ever try to be someone I’m not.
How would you describe your personal style?
A bit bohemian and a bit rock’n’roll. I like to appear as if I haven’t really tried. I’ll either wear an edgy rock tee and some leather pants or a pretty frilly smock/midi dress always dressed down with my DM’s, converse or vans to toughen the look up. I’m quite clever with my wardrobe and I like to have very versatile pieces that I can style in several different ways I keep it simple nothing too flash.
Which items in your wardrobe could you not live without?
It has to be jewellery for me. I have a lot of gorgeous bits from Missoma that my mum bought me. I really don’t feel like myself if I leave the house without them and because she got me them it almost makes me feel like they are keeping me safe too.
Tell us about the most sentimental item in your wardrobe?
I’m very sentimental so I have a lot of stories about a lot of my wardrobe but my top two has to be a knitted sweater from Carolina Herrera which was the counter sample from when we worked on Olivia Palermo’s wedding look & my granny’s vintage Mac coat. She is my style icon.
High street hero?
Well obviously River Island. What’s great is that we are like the designer of the high street. We follow our own rules and have our own special style that’s confident, fun and flirty.
(Don’t tell anyone but I LOVE & Other Stories, H&M & Zara too)
Favourite designer brand?
Isabel Marant, Chloe and The Kooples – it’s too hard to choose my absolute fav!
Hailey Bieber all day, QUEEN! She is the epitome of being effortlessly cool. I want to be her.
To stay up to date with Jade’s latest news, check out her Instagram @jademartineroberts.