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A Day in the Life of a Clothing/Jewelry/Cosmetics Generalist

People in jewelry, clothing, cosmetics production and sales all need a similar set of day-to-day skills. Each industry employs designers, buyers, production personnel, retail salespeople, and inventory control personnel, but with the exception of designers, most initial entrants are hired as "generalists" who rotate from department to department until a match is found between their skills and a department's needs. A generalist must be flexible and able to switch from task to task on a moment's notice. The skills this occupation requires are best cultivated in someone who has the desire to learn, the ability to take direction, and strong decision-making abilities. Professionals spend their days attending meetings, planning production and shipping, and working with different departments. About 25 percent of their time is spent on paperwork and over 20 percent is spent on the phone. Working with others is a large part of this profession: Wrote one cosmetics executive, "If you don't listen to people in your division, expect to lose their respect." Over 80 percent of our respondents rated communication skills as either the first or second most important ability to have. Strong decision-making abilities and aesthetic skills are valued in generalists. Since specialization occurs later in this career than most--after ten years or more--in manufacturing, inventory management, distribution networks, retail sales or advertising, one has a chance to explore the field thoroughly. It is not unusual to be transferred to five, six, even seven different areas during the first three years before spending any significant time at one. This rapid and broad exposure to the full range of career options within the industry is both praised and denounced. "Knowing the whole production process helps me in sales," mentioned one high-end jewelry salesman, referring to an earlier five-month stint abroad at his company's South African manufacturing facilities. Another advertising buyer in the clothing industry countered, "working on the manufacturing floor in Columbus was the biggest waste of two months. Ever." Satisfaction recorded is below average in this profession, and this discontent is linked to the short-term reliability and the lack of continuity of jobs. Forty percent of people in the industry change jobs either between companies or within the same company every single year. Also, because the work environment is so fluid and fast-paced, the camaraderie between workers seems to suffer: "For the first two years, I'd look over my shoulder and see a new face every month," said one manager. The competitiveness within these industries and the challenge of achieving success are high, so for those who like a difficult test of their abilities, a career in clothing, jewelry or cosmetics seems a perfect fit.

Paying Your Dues

No specific bachelor's degree is required for someone to enter the clothing, jewelry or cosmetics fields, but applicants with finance or inventory backgrounds, communications skills, or computer skills have an advantage. Candidates go through extensive cutthroat training programs which involve them in all aspects of clothing, jewelry and cosmetics manufacturing and sales. Trainees are educated in the entire process, from product conception and development, through raw material purchasing, product manufacturing, marketing, sales, and customer service. The bulk of the cost of becoming a professional in these fields is front-loaded into the early years, with their retail-sales-like rotational structures, low pay, fierce competition, and long hours. Some members spend hours outside work socializing with colleagues, attending seminars, and taking additional courses to enhance their profile.

Present and Future

Clothing, cosmetics, and jewelry have been around for centuries. Significant inventions in the clothing industry were the spinning jenny (spinning wheel) in 1764 by James Hargreaves and the invention of the cotton gin, which allowed the mass milling of cotton from plant to usable fiber by Eli Whitney in 1793. All of these industries are extremely sensitive to imports, and with the dropping of North American tariffs as per the recently signed NAFTA agreement, they may face additional competition. Moreover, since over 70 percent of the companies in these industries employ fewer than fifty workers, sensitivity to one bad season or one bad market cycle may prove disastrous to smaller, less well-capitalized companies. Despite these vulnerabilities, the market for these products is strong, and should remain unchanging throughout the end of the decade.

Quality of Life

PRESENT AND FUTURE

Two-year generalists rotate among a variety of departments. Duties may include warehouse inventory control, production assisting, buyers assisting, retail sales agenting, and client complaint department work. These early years provide the generalist with a broad range of experience and determine a solid match between the generalist's temperament and skills and available positions. Satisfaction and wages are low during the first two years, when over 25 percent of new hires leave the occupation.

FIVE YEARS OUT

Generalists with specific skills who have found a good match begin the process of specialization. Most, however, rotate on an annual basis between different positions. Many are promoted and earn different titles, such as "inventory manager" or "quality control supervisor." Salaries and responsibilities increase, and hours can become very long. Many generalists switch firms to gain higher salaries and greater responsibility.

TEN YEARS OUT

Ten-year veterans have found their specialties and earn such titles as "executive materials buyer," or "senior management generalist." They set large-scale policies, manage professionals in charge of day-to-day functioning of each department, and do long-term strategic planning. Salaries rise (beyond cost-of-living increases) only for those who move onto senior executive management. Hours decrease and quality of life improves.


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