I’ve always been interested in fashion and for a while (as part of my quarter-life crisis) I even considered going to study fashion. In Paris. And that is how I got involved in a network marketing company, but that’s a story for another day. Needless to say, I didn’t make it to Paris OR get into fashion design school. But I know people who know people and through them I’ve been given a glimpse of, no, a front-row seat to beautiful-ugly that is the fashion industry. Through Maria Kroes, whom I met thanks to the mutual friends we have on Facebook, I got to go behind the scenes of a well-known breakfast show and learn about her fashion journey.
Maria is somewhat of a detective. She employs her private eye skills on a regular basis in her job as fashion assistant for Expresso, the talk show that airs weekdays between 06:00 and 08:30 on SABC 3. Her latest assignment had her scouring the internet for four women who would (a) present a diverse panel, (b) dress equally differently and (c) be willing to speak about their style choices – not your average job!
Her social media prowess has afforded her the opportunity to meet the most interesting people and rub shoulders with South Africa’s rich and famous. Besides finding appropriate guests for the show’s various promotional inserts, Maria’s job also includes arranging the shoots, sourcing props for the set, dressing the mannequins and making frequent coffee runs to the deli down the road for some much-needed caffeine boosts. In between all that she also fits in some play time with Bob and Bella, the pugs that keep the presenters and viewers company every morning, and she gets to munch on Expresso show treats (before we see them being made on live TV – talk about a sn(e)a(c)k peek!).
Considering Maria’s success in landing this sought-after job it was interesting to learn about her round-about journey to this point. One could say she had a ten-year plan: graphic design followed by a BA and then on to fashion design school. Things didn’t go according to plan. She couldn’t do graphic design and was launched straight into a BA in Languages and Culture at Stellenbosch University. It was after an awry first year and after the umpteenth time of introducing herself with the preface that she wanted to do A but ended up doing B and will eventually go on to do C that a friend asked her why she didn’t just start doing C right away. C was going to the Elizabeth Galloway Academy of Fashion Design.
It only took a quick phone call enquiring if they were still accepting 2011 applications. That very same day she dropped off her portfolio and sent a motivational essay from her Blackberry. Motivating her application was the easiest thing to do – she had been preparing for this moment all her life, having spent hours watching Fashion TV, learning from her stylish mom, putting together outfits and crafting her own style. From her mom she learnt that “you don’t need a good reason to wear red lipstick and that dressing modestly does not mean you’re not fashionable.” More daunting a task than convincing the Elizabeth Galloway team of her talent and fashionableness was that of convincing her father. The importance of finishing what you start was drilled into them as children, so Maria had no choice but to state her case to him. By that time her dad had already been working abroad for four years and missed all the tell-tale signs that Maria was a budding fashionista. Mr Kroes was at first reluctant about his daughter’s career change, but in time he recognised her talent and before long he too developed an interest in the fashion industry.
When asked what she wished she knew about the fashion industry before choosing it as a career, she answers, “I wish someone told me how competitive this industry is in terms of positions and job opportunities.” She only realised this when she started looking for jobs and it dawned on her that it was all about ‘selling yourself’. She just couldn’t get used to the idea and knew that more convincing than an eloquent speech would be a week or two on the job. Her employers needed to see her in action. And that’s exactly what happened – after only three months at Expresso, her six-month internship was exchanged for a permanent position. Maria is relishing the many opportunities she has to learn from and network with industry experts, bearing in mind that they might collaborate in future. She calls this being in ‘sponge-mode’. So far she’s already learnt that success in the fashion industry means walking the fine line between what you know and who you know.
By my estimation Maria’s engaging personality and eye for spotting potential will take her very far. And if all goes according to plan, she’ll be featured here again – either as brand consultant, stylist or trend forecaster (like the iconic Li Edelkoort featured in my post It has been done before). I can’t wait!