In recent years, however, the changes that technology and social media have brought upon the business landscape have seen the doors to the fashion industry prised open.
The rise of influencer marketing has meant that individuals, and particularly young women, are gaining power in an industry previously controlled by established gatekeepers, and where once traditional dressmaking might have been the way to start a business in fashion, e-commerce is now an increasingly popular option for ambitious women in business.
For Shope Delano, the path to fashion entrepreneurship started when she was in her teens, when she created a blog to document her interest in clothes and style.
This interest carried on parallel to her academic and career ambitions as she grew older, manifesting in editing the style section of the university magazine as an undergraduate; working with big fashion brands like Depop, Nike, Puma, and Missguided alongside essays for her economics and philosophy classes; even starting her own e-commerce brand and selling clothes she made herself.
“I almost had a bit of a double life at university,” she reflects now. “But as my undergrad drew to a close, I knew that I wanted to formalize my interest in being in startups—I thought the best way to do that was to study entrepreneurship.”
To do this, Shope chose to enrol at Cranfield School of Management on the Master’s in Management and Entrepreneurship course, to which she gained a partial scholarship thanks to her good grades at undergraduate level.
A platform for new experiences
When she arrived at Cranfield, the first thing that Shope was struck by was the variety of student perspectives that were present in the classroom. Hoping to go into a global industry like fashion, learning to do business in this kind of dynamic environment would be essential.
“There were students from all around the world,” Shope recalls. “From Europe, Asia, Africa—there were diverse contributions and viewpoints that really enhanced my understanding of business, and of communication more generally.
“You naturally learn how to become a better communicator when you’re talking to people who have different customs and values to you.”
Besides the exposure to different personalities and cultures that Shope gained through her classmates, the course teaching was also an important platform for networking and experience with startups.
“The theoretical side of the course was good in the sense that it gave you a grounding, and there were multiple opportunities throughout the course to pitch your ideas to tutors and get involved in competitions,” Shope says.
Access to industry
Through the industry network available at Cranfield School of Management, Shope managed to secure an internship with an incubator called Immense Simulations, which focused on AI travel simulation software.
Her main role was market research, bringing with her the marketing savvy she had gained in her time as a blogger and marketer as a teenager and applying it in a dynamic startup space.
Now, post-graduation, she has expanded these skills even further. Shope currently works in marketing at Common Objective, a startup connecting professionals with the tools they need to do sustainable business.
She says that Cranfield has a large part to play in why she has been so successful in her startup career, largely due to the practical information she gained around startup funding and evolution.
“I would not have learned that had I not been at Cranfield,” she asserts.
What the future holds
Now, Shope’s sights are firmly set on a career in startups, whether as a CMO for a fashion tech company, or taking her own business ideas out into the world.
Indeed, the business plan that she put forward for her master’s project, detailing her plans for a sustainable e-commerce venture, as well as winning her a university award, has also earned her a place in a pitching competition to investors at Cranfield School of Management, which she will be going ahead with this year.
“There’s lots of industry trends and consumer trends that are all moving towards this huge fashion economy,” she observes. “I’d love to create an e-commerce brand that capitalizes on all of that.”
For ambitious self-starters like herself, Shope sees the MSc in Management and Entrepreneurship at Cranfield as a launch pad.
“If you want to work in a startup, it’s a great way to get a foot in the door,” she says. “And, if you go in with an idea and determination, you come out of it with so many opportunities to talk to investors to pitch to.”