Written by S.M. Audsley

Got a passion for fashion? Then you will also want to have knowledge of a second (or even third) foreign language under your perfectly cinched belt. In today’s fashion industry, speaking another language, especially fluently, can give you the competitive edge. It is no surprise that such a global industry, with hubs in Milan, New York, and Paris, demands those who want to jumpstart a career in the industry to be skilled in more than just the English language. Let's take a look at five languages for a career in fashion.

Fashion as a field of study that requires a diverse skill set. Most fashion students are well versed in business. The savvy fashion designer knows he or she must predict trends and understand how to market and advertise all of their products from the haute couture evening wear, party dresses, bracelets, and accessories, to the casual everyday ready-to-wear. Aside from business acumen, fashion designers are truly artists -- their palette is clothing and accessories. Drawing, sketching, and imagining the flow of fabric over a model to create new inventive forms, a fashion designer will 'paint' with different textures of fabric and try new stitching techniques and textiles.

A successful fashion designer knows collaboration is key to their success. Being able to speak multiple languages gives them a leg up in a competitive, fast-paced, quickly evolving, and trend-setting industry. Speaking another language allows for more seamless collaborations and business partnerships. Obvious choices for language knowledge and study include the big three: English, French, and Italian. Kate Forster of The Guardian points out that, “Although English is widely spoken in the fashion industry, foreign language skills are becoming increasingly important for those aiming for the top of this highly globalised trade.”

A recent study also shows some of the best fashion design schools are located in countries where English, French, and Italian are the primary languages. Choosing where you will get an education in the history of fashion design and also learn the skills you will need to succeed in this field is one of the most important decisions you will make. Research the overall fashion design school rankings, then consider studying another foreign language (or even two!) to give you an edge in the job market.

Think like a trendsetter -- study a language that will help you become poised to succeed in other big and emerging fashion markets. Here's a look at five fashionable languages. 

1. Spanish or Portuguese

The Daily Telegraph named Tulum, Mexico, as one of the top ten most stylish cities in the world and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is renowned as being a fashionable, cosmopolitan city. And have we mentioned how stylish everyone in Portugal is? If you are fluent in Spanish or Portuguese you will have better access to these markets and many others where these are the primary languages. A recent study from the Spanish Fashion Designers’ Association reported that its members’ revenue in 2015 was €405 million and that they employ 5,600 people. Big business!

Christin Parcerisa of Fashion United reports, “According to BMI research, the Latin American fashion market was worth over $160 billion dollars in 2016, but because of the way the region is spending on clothing and footwear, the annual growth rate between 2017 and 2021 is estimated to be 7.2 percent, reaching a total of 220 billion US dollars.”

Portugal and Spain are revamping the Iberian fashion market. Fashion trends are exploding in these two European countries and designers are focusing on the “Generation Next”, as well as showing how domestic labels can thrive. Victoria Berezhna and Graciela Martin write in the Business of Fashion, “Global brands would be wise to revisit their strategies or consider reigniting some of their business activities there.”

For example, young designers in Spain are reclaiming traditions. Flamenco, flowery dresses, and religious iconography are all making their way back into Spanish fashion. There is an "awakening" among Spanish consumers who feel pride in their country. Learning Spanish or Portuguese will help you participate and collaborate with the cutting-edge designers in these markets.

2. Chinese

Asia is no stranger to the rise and fall of fashion trends. With approximately 1.4 billion people, and growing, China is a force to be reckoned with in the global economy, including in the fashion world. Recent studies show China is set to overtake the US as the world’s largest fashion market in 2019. Marc Bain writes, “Many luxury labels already depend heavily on Chinese customers, who have for some time been the world’s biggest buyers of luxury goods, counting the purchases they make both inside their home country and while traveling. Thanks to the ascendance of young shoppers, as well as government policies meant to encourage shopping inside the country, much of that spending is moving back inside Greater China’s borders.”

Shanghai, as featured in the blockbuster romantic comedy Crazy Rich Asians, is not only one of the fastest developing cities in the world, it is also a cultural, arts, and fashion hub. Designers and those in the fashion world know that the growth potential in China is exponential. Chic Shanghai, an international fashion show hosted in Shanghai, is just one example of how important this market is right now in fashion. There is no doubt that learning (Mandarin) Chinese will help you in your career in fashion.

3. Korean

Koreans are trendsetters in their own right. Remember Gangnam Style? Are you a fan of BTS, a Korean exported boy band that Time Magazine just named as one of the most influential artists of 2019? Seoul, the capital of South Korea, was recently featured in Vogue for its K-Pop trendsetters with their version of chic -- “K-Fashion.” Many are claiming Seoul is now Asia’s hottest fashion city. Hypebeast writes, “Marked by promising design talent, glittering street style and a genuine interest in all things style-related, Seoul’s reputation as South Asia’s leading fashion capital doesn’t seem to waning any time soon.” We recommend getting on this bandwagon and learning Korean. Not only will you be able to converse and collaborate with Koreans, and be involved with trend-driven Asian fashion, you’ll also be able to sing along with your favorite BTS songs!

4. Arabic or Turkish

Turkey and the Middle East in general have been at the forefront of the fashion world for decades and they are gaining traction. Arab Fashion Week is an annual fashion event that world-renowned designers, models, and trendsetters never miss. Highlighting many Arab designers, this event is also open to international players, and “proudly, the Arab Fashion Week (AFW) is the world’s only platform promoting the ‘ready-couture’ collections”. It is currently hosted in Dubai twice a year.

The growing demand for Arab women in fashion is explored in a recent article in Vogue. Whether they are raising funds for charities or advocating for the environment, Arab women designers are trailblazers and they are dedicated to making a difference in the world. For example, writes Khaoula Ghanem, “Syrian-born Yara Tlass, designer and founder behind jewelry label uSfuur, works in partnership with grassroots charity organization Watanili so that a percentage from each sale goes towards supporting displaced Syrian communities in need.” Fashion ComPassion is another excellent example of how fashion brands are empowering women in developing countries.

Istanbul, where the East meets the West, is included in The Telegraph's list of the ten most stylish cities in the world. A country resilient as ever to the changing fashion market, Turkey is known for its textile development where there is ample opportunity to increase exportation of its specialty textiles for companies and international brands like Zara and H&M.

Turkish and Arabic are two more languages you might want to consider as you enter into fashion studies. They may just open up worlds you never knew existed!

5. A Scandinavian Language - Norwegian, Swedish, or Danish 

The stereotype of Scandinavian cool persists -- and rightly so. Scandinavian fashion is pushing the envelope on what is possible with sustainability. The Nordic Fashion Association explains, “Scandinavian Design is an internationally renowned trademark based on simple aesthetics and functional lifestyles. The design heritage has a functionalistic approach to clothes and has a shared feature of accessible, democratic fashion. The five Nordic countries are globally known for a socially responsible business conduct and Nordic fashion has a unique opportunity to position itself based on these values and use it as an international competitive advantage.”

Norwegian fashion is setting the standards for sustainability. Prioritizing consumer consciousness and trying to reduce the “mountains of unsold clothing,” Norwegian designers are working with textile companies to use more sustainable fabrics like wool. These designers know that they have influence, especially with the rise in popularity of the “Scandinavian It-Girl.”

Similarly, in Sweden, designers are taking the “long-term perspective” and trying to keep sustainability in mind when creating new lines. They now desire clothing that is more durable and will last longer, which is better than “throw-away” fashion trends.

If sustainability in fashion appeals to you, then you’ll want to consider learning a Scandinavian language to help you access all of these markets. What's more, Danish, Swedish, and Norwegian are very similar languages -- so much so that speakers of all three can usually quite easily understand each other when speaking in their native tongue.

Our global economy demands collaboration and communication in all fields. And the fashion industry in particular thrives on the interconnectedness of its markets. Fashion is a wearable and universal art -- everyone puts on something in the morning. If you want to be a part of the fashion world, and you know that a career in fashion studies is for you, then take a moment and think about what other languages might open new doors for you!

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