Dear Ask Alexis,
I have been interested in beginning a career in the nonprofit sector for a long time, but I'm not really sure where to start. I am a fashion designer, and have been working in that industry for the last 10 years. I love design and fashion, but I'm not sure how my skills and experience can translate into nonprofit work. How could someone with my background find meaningful work in the nonprofit world?
Fashion (Pay It) Forward
Hi Fashion (Pay It) Forward,
I love this question! Whenever I hear about a professional who is interested in applying expertise that we may not traditionally associate with the nonprofit sector, it gets my wheels turning! But where to begin?
Fashion in the nonprofit sector
The best place to start is with a quick search of organizations listed on Idealist.org that live at the intersection of social impact and fashion. Look through your search results and spend time researching each organization, asking yourself the following questions:
- What kind of work does this organization do?
- If they are on the advocacy/policy end of the spectrum (which many fashion-related nonprofits may be), is this a path I may want to pursue?
- If they don't have a role that fits my skill set, how else can I apply my design experience to the work that they do? (Hint: after 10 years of fashion design, the network you have built is likely to an incredibly valuable resource an organization looking to make an impact in the fashion industry.)
- What are some of the job titles at this organization? Are any of these a fit for me?
Hopefully, this exercise will give you a preliminary lay of the land as well as a sense of the types of organizations that may be a fit for your skills and professional trajectory.
What's happening in "conscious fashion"
And now, on to some of my favorite places to go digging when I want to know who is making waves and innovating in the social-impact world.
There are a number of grant-making organizations that, each year, select an impressive class of fellows who are often on the front-lines of the difficult work of large-scale social change. Here are my favorites:
- Ashoka Fellows (for you, I'd check out their collaborative "Fabric of Change" initiative)
- Acumen Fellows
- Echoing Green Fellows (here's a fellow, handpicked for you, who is working to decelerate climate change by selling "climate-positive clothing and textiles")
Use these very public lists as a resource to find potential organizations and companies with whom you may want to work, brush up on the important issues of the day, and identify leads to grow your network.
Sustainable fashion in the private sector
The cool thing about fashion is that it is a tremendous category and you'll find organizations, foundations, and private companies all working somewhere in the space.
I love that you're interested in sector switching, but before you leave the private sector behind, consider taking another look at the fashion companies doing ethical work that you admire. There are a lot of companies out there working to promote sustainable fashion and fix fast fashion, all operating with a triple bottom line.
It's important to have a concrete sense of who is in the space, what is available to you, and what may be a fit, so while I hate to assign you more homework, I have to do it! I'd recommend repeating the same exercise that you did for fashion-related nonprofits for any ethical and sustainable fashion companies in the private sector as well.
I hope that this feels like a concrete way for you to kick off your research. I'm genuinely excited to hear where you land because I think there are so many exciting options available to you!
Send your questions and comments to me at AskAlexis@idealist.org, and if we plan to publish your question, I’ll be sure to give you a heads up (and I'll also be sure to keep your info anonymous, of course).
Looking forward to reading your stories and answering your questions!
As the Associate Director of Marketing and Communications at Idealist and a lifelong nonprofit professional, Alexis offers job seekers, game changers, and do gooders actionable tips, career resources, and social-impact advice.