Words by Mia Alafaci
Rachel Sharp has been an inspiration for all students at The Fashion Institute since early 2018, beginning the year prior as a guest speaker. Her cheerful attitude is immediately felt as soon as she walks into the classroom, with her caffeinated drink of choice in hand, ready to teach the class. Her optimistic outlook and words of encouragement are contagious and she leaves the students feeling uplifted at the end of the day. When I inevitably start my full-time career, I only hope I can be half as skillful and positive as she is in her work life.
Rachel’s talents and achievements don’t go unnoticed during classes when she details her experiences, thoughts and beliefs regarding the fashion industry and the amazing individuals she’s collaborated with; the true definition of girl-boss. Her success seems so unreachable but she never fails to remind us how it is merely hard work and self-belief that have gotten her there. Walking into class, she arrives in her polished outfit, further insinuating her goddess like nature, until she tells us she quickly did her makeup in the makeup room, five minutes prior.
“You have to remember that I started my career in a very different time. If I was starting now, I’d absolutely do workshops and internships - they’re fundamentals for getting jobs.”
Beginning her career in the fashion industry in the mid-2000s and in journalism in the mid-90s, Rachel has incredible experience and talent in these areas of work, “By the time I landed in magazines in my mid-twenties, I had quite a body of work behind means a full contact book, so I stepped into a great job in London with the number-one selling mag (NOW Magazine) in the country.”
Since starting journalism in the mid-90s, Rachel has so much experience in many different areas including; clinical and political newspapers, celebrity magazines and fashion magazines, “I first finished a degree in Medical Science at Sydney University. When I came to the realisation I didn’t really want to be a doctor, I did a Masters in Media at Macquarie, then fell into television for a while before travelling overseas.”
Aside from teaching at TFI weekly, Rachel is an owner/director of Grace Publishing(including rights to Graziaand Icon Magazinesin Australia), as well as a freelance writer and editor, specialising in celebrity and fashion features and digital comms. She also develops and executes communications and content strategy to Barre Body, the number 1 fitness boutique in Australia. Her wide range of experience and jobs is one that is shocking yet undeniable in regards to her talents.
With such a hands-on career, it is indisputable that the pandemic outbreak has affected her career, especially when she is physically editing at other magazine corporations, as many of these companies have closed indefinitely. However, this abrupt change has also enabled her to work in different areas, “I never imagined myself working in the commercial content space, but it’s incredibly fun, challenging and rewarding. And it’s a seriously major growth industry.”
Rachel’s adaptability is one that is truly inspiring, having a career that is very practical become online and home-based, is a large change for anyone to experience, as well as raising four young and teenage children. Additionally, being able to come in every week, teach all the students, go home and continue to work, and be able to participate in her ‘wind-down’ activities, is truly jaw-dropping, “I grew up in Port Macquarie, so I love the beach. I study martial arts - specifically Japanese Jujitsu - and am in the dojo four times a week and training toward my black belt exams in early 2021. It’s my version of getting Zen (I’m SO not a yoga and meditation person!).”
Rachel’s hard-working attitude never goes unnoticed as she teaches two groups of students in two different classrooms whilst maintaining a good attitude with said students. Originally, July intake students were to come into classes twice a week, Wednesday and Friday, until Rachel and the TFI staff decided to reduce the traffic to one day a week, for extended hours (due to COVID-19 restrictions and practicing safe social distancing). Being able to maintain her elegance and professionalism after hours of dealing with loud students, is aspiring. However, she keeps everything light-hearted and bright, which truly makes all the students feel welcomed and comfortable (including myself!).
“I love bouncing ideas around with students, and even getting their advice on social media and influencers for my own work. I’d like to think (or at least hope) I’m a pretty conversational, inclusive instructor.”
Her secret to productiveness being; caffeine. As well as being able to participate in her favourite activities and a good party. Despite not having too much time to wind down, “I truly have almost every minute of my week accounted for. I’m either working (until late most nights when the family’s asleep), liaising with my Grace business partner (who lives in Milan, which means lots of odd-hour Zoom calls) or juggling a young family and all the sports, play dates, parties and homework that rule their lives.”
Rachel values being able to participate in her fitness as she finds, “...the more time I dedicate to fitness (specifically martial arts) the more focused I am the rest of the time. Especially after my third Nespresso of the day.”Her priority of engaging in fun activities in order to be more focused, is a concept that personally hasn’t come to mind before, but is one that I, myself, may take up.
Working in the print industry in the digital age is a challenging job with the increase in digital media is a challenge no doubt, especially with the recent outbreak, as most people are at home and newspapers aren’t getting sold as much anymore. Being able to stay focused while working at home, and conversing with her partner who lives on the opposite side of the world, is a very difficult task to overcome, but Rachel perseveres with the help of fitness activities and a glass of Chardonnay.
Being the student of such a productive and professional trainer is a blessing, as being able to be taught by someone with large amounts of experience enables students to gain a stronger insight into what it takes to work in such a growing and changing industry. Rachel ensures we are aware that getting a full-time career in the fashion industry is more difficult than anticipated. Nevertheless, she encourages us to try as it is a highly rewarding industry to be a part of. “Don’t expect it to be glamorous. It is most definitely NOT - not in the beginning, not in the middle and not in the very senior years of your career. Trust me. But it’s insanely rewarding and there are moments of pure gold if you’re willing to just roll up your sleeves, do anything, and just be proud of the finished product.”
It is important that we as students are aware that the fashion industry is a difficult job to find, which Rachel tells us, however she ensures us that it is very possible and rewarding in the end. Rachel’s million-dollar advice is reassuring for us as students, “Don’t be afraid to ask for advice! Seek out people who can help, ask them for coffee, then ask them for help. That’s precisely what I did and it worked.”
As well as the importance of truly wanting to do our job because we enjoy it and not for a paycheck, “Don’t do it for the money. That’s not to say financial benefits don’t flow in the fashion biz - they absolutely do - but don’t expect it… The most successful editors, fashion photographers, designers, marketing directors, visual merchandisers, bookers and even buyers do their jobs because they’re so incredibly passionate and connected to the creativity of it. Loving what you do in life is everything.”
Learning about the business side of fashion opened my eyes into the intimidating and confusing world of the fashion industry, but having Rachel Sharp as our trainer, reassures us that although it can be scary, with dedication, patience and a little bit of caffeine, we too can be just as successful as she is. Furthermore, I know that many students, including myself will be forever grateful for all that she’s taught us.