Friday, March 11, 2016

‘Cause I Got A Blank Page Baby

FASHION magazine’s Associate Designer, Nicole Schaeffer, on her cool career, the digital fashion industry, and the ultimate intimidator.


No one handwrites anymore. Long gone are the days of penmanship and the swift looping together of letters with the stroke of a feather—ahem—okay, pen. In the January 2016 issue of Canadian Business magazine, handwriting expert Carole Tovels explains, “by using the computer constantly you’re not using your handwriting skills anymore…you’re losing your flexibility and legibility, and your ease of writing”. Screens, keyboards, and touchpads now dominate and their functions are integral to the lives of billions of people around the globe to communicate and carry out day-to-day activities. We are waking up with our smartphones, tablets, and laptops, going to sleep with them, taking them into the shower with us, and panicking at the nightmarish thought of going a day without them.
Navigating the first stages of a career can be just as frightening as separation from the devices that have virtually become an extension of the human body. In our fast-paced, hyper-connected world, we feel lost without the instant gratification of obscenely fast information at our fingertips, and the outcome of the future is no exception. For young people entering the workforce there is no guarantee of what tomorrow will bring, and neither Siri nor Cortana can provide any certainty.
Thankfully we are not alone. And sometimes, we are in the exceptional company of those who inspire us to make our own impact on the industry we are tiptoeing or blazing into. This issue, we caught up with Nicole Schaeffer, a cool-as-they-come Torontonian and FASHION magazine’s Associate Designer. A resume lit up by a Bachelor of Design from Ryerson University, internships at FLARE magazine, The Society, and Narrative PR, the latter two of which she also worked at, on top of her current design role at Canada’s number one fashion and beauty magazine, tells us that she not only makes paper look good, but looks really good on paper. With her equal love of both writing and designing, we’re willing to bet she has pretty fancy handwriting too.
Lucky for us, we’ve exchanged notes of our own kind with Schaeffer, and been given a sneak peak into the behind-the-scenes of her highly coveted position. A typical day starts with a digital team meeting where current news and fresh ideas for web posts are shared. “If we are in production for the magazine (2.5 weeks a month) my focus is on designing pages; taking editors copy and laying it out on the page, along with selecting art that will make it the most compelling. When we’re not in production, we’re shooting products that will be featured in the next issue with our in-house photographer, as well as banking images and GIFs for Instagram,” she says.
In line with the most striking of handwritten words, she calls the career path that led her to where she is “anything but linear”. The now savvy FASHION magazine associate describes learning how the magazine was put together in the first few weeks on the job as “foreign territory”, due to a lack of professional design experience. Though she shares that with a poised optimism, a belief in seizing opportunities, and a proven initiative to seek out new ones, all of her positions have landed her in her current job with a well-rounded skill set.
Schaeffer’s experience represents the reality of entering the Canadian job market in which, “Employers do not expect students and new grads to have a lot of work experience”, though they are, “drawn to applicants who have some real-world experience”, as reported by Virginia Galt in The Globe and Mail (November 27, 2015).  Galt highlights the importance of leveraging all part-time work, summer jobs, volunteer work, and personal connections for those making the transition from colleges and universities into the competitive workforce. As well, The Globe writers Don Drummond, Ross Finnie, and Harvey Weingarten report individuals joining the workforce now “will likely have many jobs and several careers before they retire,” raising the importance of general competencies that “provide the fundamental and foundational skills that are transferable across jobs” (October 20, 2015).
Diversification of your skills is especially critical for graduating students as industries evolve to meet the needs of consumers. In the fashion industry, there’s been a significant shift in power in recent years, largely attributed to the rise of celebrity culture, fashion bloggers, fast-fashion retailers, and smartphones, as examined by Karen Von Hahn in “R.I.P. Tide”, in the March 2016 issue of FASHION magazine.
Our it-girl comments, “Everyone is desperately trying to determine which way the tide is going to go. If trends are dead, and fashion weeks are dead, then is the consumer, and not content, king? I don’t think anyone knows right now, but it is my belief that there will always be a place for a long-lead, thoroughly researched articles and beautifully laid-out pages. We live in such a digital age, the premium placed on something tangible like print has made it rarer than ever—that has to count for something, doesn’t it?” In adaptation to the rapidly changing activities of the industry and consumer engagement with print and digital media, Schaeffer describes that she and her team are looking to provide content for whoever their readers are, be that in print, online, or on social.

For young aspiring fashion students, the FASHION magazine designer advises, “The road is long, and not as glamorous as it seems. Salaries are not lucrative. You will have multiple internships. You will need to take criticism and work independently without direction. Your successes will not always be acknowledged. Everyone in this industry is not here for the accolades, but because they love it—they eat, breathe, and sleep fashion.”
Searching for a job and stepping out from the comforts of classrooms into the “real world”, no matter the industry, can feel intimidating, but we all start somewhere. Schaeffer’s ultimate intimidator? A blank page. “Where to start? Nothing makes me procrastinate more than a blank page,” she says. “However, if you can force yourself to put something on the page, regardless of whether it works or not, you at least have a foothold you can build on.” You cannot forecast, control, or Google the future, and you’ll never know if you never try, so put your pen to paper and, “Just keep going and revise later. Revising is always easier than building”.


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