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Kill or be killed: Kimberley Jenneskens' 7 tips for aspiring fashion designers

At just 21, this Dutch designer already has a wealth of experience

Our piece last year on Kimberley Jenneskens was Fashionweek.nl's most widely read article of 2016. The young, New-York-based fashion designer was recently back in the Netherlands and she shared her tips for other creatives who want to start their own label.

Sweet, serious businesswoman

Kimberley Jenneskens is just 21, but she's already got a wealth of fashion experience behind her. She's spent the last two years studying at Parsons, The New School for Design, has her own label and has had pop-up stores at fashion weeks in Paris and New York. She's officially still a Parsons student, but she's put her studies on the back burner to focus all her efforts on starting her brand. At the moment, she's travelling the world in search of sponsors to help her take the next step, because interest in her designs is off the charts. Last month, she was in the Netherlands, celebrating the holidays with friends and family, but even then she never stopped working. "Make no mistake, I may seem like a sweet girl from Limburg, and I am, but I'm also a serious businesswoman," she says. "To make it in the fashion world, you've got to play the game." She sat down with Fashionweek.nl to share her tips for staying afloat in the fashion world. 

Campagnebeeld voor collectie ‘Street’.
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Campagnebeeld voor collectie ‘Street’.

Tip 1: Stay down-to-earth

"Dutch levelheadedness is so important, especially in New York. If you want to work in fashion and you meet more and more people, including celebrities, you run the risk of getting on your high horse. Don't do it. Be yourself, because people can see through that posturing. Of course you can be happy to have met Marc Jacobs or Anna Wintour, I am, but at the end of the day, they're just people. So don't let it bowl you over. Also, you can look up to them for what they've achieved, but act normal in their company. If you treat them as equals, they’ll treat you the same. When I saw Anna Wintour and Grace Coddington sitting together at a fashion week, I just walked up them, and they thought that was great." 

Tip 2: Network, network, network

"Fashion is hard work, but it's also seeing and being seen. Get to know new people, make friends. The more people you know, the more chain reactions there will be. If someone likes you, they’ll tell five other people about you. And before you know it, you're sitting at a table with those same five people. That's how it happened for me. The first fashion week I went to in New York, I just went to shows in outfits I'd made myself. I got in with the streetstyle photographers, so they photographed me and I had a chat with them. Because I didn’t have tickets for any of the shows, I stood outside and talked with the photographers while the shows were going on. I met so many people that way!" 

"Because I didn’t have tickets for any of the shows, I stood outside and talked with the photographers while the shows were going on "
Campaign Pictures for collection Dreamscape. © Cibelle Levi
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Campaign Pictures for collection Dreamscape. © Cibelle Levi

Tip 3: Turn your dream into a plan

"A lot of people dream about a career in fashion, but first you have to break down your goal into a step-by-step plan. I wanted to be a designer, but I took a hard look at what I had to do first. And it turned out that step one was being accepted to Parsons, step two was moving to New York, step three was getting to know people, step four was opening pop-up stores, et cetera. The plan worked, but just step by step." 

Tip 4: Fashion academies aren't everything

"Of course you learn an unbelievable amount at Parsons, and you can learn a lot from other fashion courses, too, but at the end of the day, what you're learning at school is methods and theory. If you really want to be good at something, you have to know and understand it in practice. So don't spend all your money on your studies, invest in other things, too. This is a financial tip that mostly applies to overseas courses, because schools in the Netherlands are relatively cheap. Parsons is really expensive, almost no one pays for it themselves; everyone has a scholarship or a sponsor in America." 

"If you really want to be good at something, you have to know and understand it in practice"
"Find out what you're good at and bite you fix it." © Jose Martinez
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"Find out what you're good at and bite you fix it." © Jose Martinez

Tip 5: Find your own specialty

"Find something you're good at and dive into it. You have to make choices, no one's good at everything. In school and in life, you don't have to get a 10 on everything. That's a mantra I tell myself all the time. I'm a major perfectionist, which is why I go for things I want to be good at. At school, your professors can be a real help in that sense. They know a lot and they knew people, including those professors that you didn’t expect to be so cool. Get to know your professors and other supervisors as much as you can! I've become really good friends with my professors at Parsons." 

Tip 6: Find a professional environment that feels right for you

"Get out of your comfort zone and go live and work somewhere where you can be the best version of yourself, even if that means that you have to leave your friends and family behind. For me, that place is New York City. I love the high level of pressure you're under there. You have to be able to handle it, because it's like I always say, kill or be killed. In other words, you’ve got to play that harsh game. Make no mistake, I may seem like a sweet girl from Limburg, and I am, but I'm also a serious businesswoman. To make it in the fashion world, you've got to play the game."

Campaign Pictures for collection Dreamscape. © Cibelle Levi
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Campaign Pictures for collection Dreamscape. © Cibelle Levi
"Get out of your comfort zone and go live and work somewhere where you can be the best version of yourself"
"You have to play hard game." © Jose Martinez
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"You have to play hard game." © Jose Martinez

Tip 7: Make sure you're brand has a good image

"As a brand, especially in the era of social media, you really have to be visible. I'm still in the orienting phase myself and I'm still developing in that area, but I'm realising more and more that a good image is essential. It may even be more important than a show or a pop-up at the fashion weeks. Your campaign and look books don't have to be to out there, but they need to fit with who you are. I'm about to go spend three weeks in California to shoot some new images. I can't wait!" 

Aspire to a career in fashion? Then come to the upcoming Mercedes-Benz FashionWeek Amsterdam, where you can meet many people from the fashion world. 

"If you want something to be good at it, you should know the practice and understanding." © Jose Martinez
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"If you want something to be good at it, you should know the practice and understanding." © Jose Martinez
"Dutch sobriety is so important, especially in New York." © Jose Martinez
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"Dutch sobriety is so important, especially in New York." © Jose Martinez
Campaign Images for collection Dreamscape. Photography: Cibelle Levi
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Campaign Images for collection Dreamscape. Photography: Cibelle Levi
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