This piece appears as part of our initiative on Identity & Representation, a six-month-long project highlighting different facets of identity and how they shape the practices, conventions, and conversations happening in the Highsnobiety world. Head here for the full series.

We all know how difficult budgeting can be, especially when next season’s shiniest new pieces are practically begging to be dragged into your online basket. But how much harder is it when you work in the fashion industry?

From staying on top of trends to looking the part at high-profile events, the pressure to spend more can literally be written into your job description. Despite this, the industry is notoriously opaque when it comes to money. The reality is that salaries tend to be low and unpaid internships are basically a rite of passage, but these facts are obscured by a culture of gifting and treating clothing as currency – which, as many models will tell you, isn’t exactly logic accepted by landlords.

In an industry that depends on image, are we really seeing its realities? To find out, we reached out to five industry professionals – from stylists and PRs to designers and writers – to see how working in fashion changed their spending habits. From thrifty tips and tricks to gifted goodie bags and insider money-saving tactics, their stories show that archetypes of the filthy rich fashion professional are far less accurate than most of us might think – despite what social media might lead you to believe.

Clarke, Content Strategist

"I’ve been in the industry for ten years, so now I spend more wisely. I buy from sample sales and eBay, and I pick up investment pieces on a seasonal basis – I bought a super-expensive coat from Harvey Nichols last year after watching it for six months, but it was 40% off, which almost made it affordable!

The company I work for has a clear no-gifting policy, but the discounts, pre-orders and sample sales available to those in the know gives us access to much nicer stuff. If I need good jeans or a new pair of expensive sneakers, I know enough people in the industry that I can always get a good discount. When you work in fashion, you become aware of profit margins and how the industry works – paying full price can feel foolish.

I have expenses for business purposes, but I’ve never been able to expense clothes. I use credit cards, and then pay them off with side hustle work, like DJing or freelance writing. But as someone with an extensive wardrobe (after a decade of collecting!) I find I buy much less – usually just to fill a gap, or maybe replace an old pair of jeans."

Dominique, PR

"I’ve always loved fashion, but my spending habits definitely changed coming into fashion PR – whether it’s lookbooks or working on collections, the temptation to spend was higher. Then you’re surrounded by other PRs in the latest designs, so that’s more inspiration to buy. You run into everyone from actors and clients to fashion journalists and influencers, so dressing well is important because you have to represent the industry and ‘look the part.’

I’ve always kept up-to-date with trends, and by working a few seasons in advance, I was able to put money aside for the pieces I wanted. I also had the luxury of a discount with some brands, which made it easier for me to buy designer. My first employer was really generous – they always left me sample clothing and goodie bags on my desk!

But ‘buy quality rather than quantity’ has always been one of my mantras – I was brought up to think this way. Working in fashion, you learn a lot about the industry, and I’ve been lucky to work with clients who make a conscious effort to make clothes sustainably. I actually recently got involved in a project with UNICEF to make people more aware – why buy five cheap T-shirts, which you can only wear up to three times, when you can buy one good T-shirt which not only has a longer life, but was made in fairer working conditions?"

Kevin, Founder of Streetwear Bible

"I started Streetwear Bible back in 2015, around the same time that Instagram blew up and influencer culture was on the rise. I would say that changed my spending habits – you see what people are wearing on Instagram and want it immediately, plus every day you’re bombarded by brands dropping new collections. You can’t really escape! But there is a misconception that you need to spend a lot of money to look good – I think Floyd Mayweather has proven that to be false.

I’m not going broke to get new drops – I think there’s a budget for everything, and most drops announce their release date now, so I just account for that. Surprise drops are the tricky ones, it all depends if I really like the item. At the end of the day though, it’s not that serious if you miss out – you can always get your hands on it through sites like Grailed and Depop.

My spending on clothes has increased since I started though, because I go to fashion events and shows – I have to look good. There’s different fashion weeks, Lodon, Paris and Copenhagen twice a year – and that’s a different outfit each day, so you can imagine!"

Roísin, Designer

"I’m not currently mass-producing any of my clothes. Pieces are handmade in low volumes, but the way that my garments are designed makes it difficult to know how much fabric I’ll need – some pieces end up being more labor-intensive, others use more fabric than I anticipated. I’m intentionally trying not to focus too heavily on the financial side of things right now – it would be to the detriment of my designs.

Sustainability really should be a focus right now – the industry produces an awful lot of waste, it’s disgraceful what some large-scale companies are getting away with. At the minute, my pieces are handmade in Ireland and we use zero-waste cutting, so every part of the fabric is used – even the edges, for embellishment and ruffles. This saves so much money!

Still, I can’t afford to spend on myself – I invest as much as I can back into my work. I only really shop in charity shops or on eBay, because being a designer is so hard financially – it’s extremely difficult, and you have to really want it. Coming into the industry has also made me do my best to avoid supporting any company that I see ripping off and reselling designers’ work."

Daina, Stylist

Working in fashion has totally changed my spending habits, because I know all about marketing plots and mark-up. Now I always know where to find a better deal, and where to look for ‘small print’ when shopping online. Being in the industry took the fun out of shopping in a lot of ways – I wasn’t ignorant to the problems any more, whether it be exploitation or fashion’s impact on the climate.

People are extremely naïve to how expensive being a stylist is. You don’t just walk into a store, take what you want and then leave – there’s a lot of bureaucracy involved. Part of that involves leaving your bank details, so expensive mistakes can be made! Then there’s stylist insurance, drivers and taxis, shipping costs from other countries and the usual overheads of running a business. And of course the unpaid assistant roles or internships, which young workers are encouraged to do. They cost money, and it all adds up.

People have the misconception that fashion workers are rich and glamorous, with disposable income by the truckload – especially stylists. That leads to unrealistic expectations being placed on us. Outside of fashion, people think we’re frivolous, shallow and ignorant to the impact of fashion on people and the planet. In reality, the opposite is true.

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