When it comes to succeeding in highly competitive fields or changing careers, gaining access to key players is your best bet to get your foot in the door, but it also may be your greatest challenge. How do you gain real-world insights about your desired field? How do you bridge the skills gap for potential clients or employers? Well, if your career goals are set on the fashion industry, you’re in luck.
Entrepreneur and educator Elaine Mensah launched BMCAbroad to provide emerging fashion designers, makers, brands, and executives access to influential leaders in fashion. “I know what it’s like not to have access to movers and shakers in the luxury world,” says Mensah. “I know how it feels to carry the weight of someone else’s doubt because you took a non-traditional path to success. And I definitely know what it’s like to have a dream for a business or a career and no clue what to do with it. But it starts with investing in yourself, traveling outside your comfort zone, and taking advantage of professional development experiences like BMCAbroad.”
In the Fashion Industry: Rejection is Often Redirection
While working as a corporate consultant in the federal contracting space, Mensah decided to switch careers and tap into her passion for fashion. First, she applied for the Fashion Institute of Technology’s Global Fashion Management Program—but wasn’t accepted. Then she assumed if you wanted to do fashion you had to know retail, so she decided to work at a department store but quit halfway through the day. This is when she had an epiphany. “I wanted to work more on the business side of the industry—strategy, branding, communication, forecasting, production, and supply chain. But I realized I was going to have to hustle and network to get ahead—and did I mention I live in a city not particularly known for fashion and I was not looking to move to NY?”
“I was fortunate to be given a chance to get my foot in the door by a PR director at a fashion house. That crack is how I got in. It had nothing to do with academia or who I knew. It was all about being given access to places and spaces and making the most of those opportunities once I got there. I took it upon myself to go to Europe to round out my knowledge and experience and that is when I knew that learning, running a business, and understanding the industry was about experiencing it—touching, feeling, tasting. No classroom alone could provide that,” she says.
Now, 12 years later, she’s running her own consulting business, Brand Meets Creative, teaching fashion at Kogod School of Business and running BMCAbroad for fashion industry professionals looking to expand their brands into the UK/global markets. “It’s an opportunity to step outside of the hustle and bustle of the grind, focus on fresh strategy, and/or a means to deepen their network. Be it through the chance to ask direct questions to buyers, executives, and retailers at Harrods and William & Son, be inspired by visits to the offices of Rachel Trevor-Morgan and British Fashion Council, or being in the room with high level execs and creatives at London Evening Standard or Adjaye & Associates or Alistair Guy, BMCAbroad offers all of that.”
BMCAbroad’s confirmed participants include British Fashion Council, Harrods, London Evening Standard, Rachel Trevor-Morgan (personal milliner to the Queen of England luxury retailer and Royal Warrant Holder William & Son), architecture firm Adjaye & Associates, and fashion photographer extraordinaire Alistair Guy.
Take note, creating access and opportunity is not the only mark Mensah wants to leave in the fashion industry. “My biggest pet peeve is the constant fight for legitimacy,” she says.
“Credibility and experience are pre-determined by a well-curated social media presence and not the receipts that can only come from hard work and creating results.”
“Unfortunately, the industry today requires you to not only shout your success from the rooftop, but to be savvy, witty, and confident (whether real or projected). Not to mention the #TeamNoSleep culture that subconsciously shames any of us who dare to desire time for family or self-care. As a self-proclaimed extroverted introvert and someone who seeks success in business and life, it can be a challenge to not succumb to the social media pressure, remain authentic, and stay focused on the success that I want to create for my clients, my family, and myself. But I am committed to that.”
“In my consulting work with clients focused on building their businesses and brands, I preach authenticity as a necessity. Success is inevitable when you can effectively communicate what you do, live it out in integrity, and find safe spaces, like BMCAbroad, where you can climb up with people who want to do the same.”