NYC or LA? Where to Start Your Fashion Career

Comparing two major cities is a controversial act; no two cities are alike, and people are usually biased in their preference. Comparing two vastly different cities on opposite sides of the country is hardly worth the effort. Our preferences are subjective – so can one city really be better than the other? When you’re making the choice of where to start your fashion career, it can be a difficult call to make.

Considered the fashion capital of the United States, New York City has always drawn creative professionals to its midst with its unique blend of culture and fast-paced way of life. When you think of fashion in the United States, chances are you think of Fashion Week. You think of the Garment District. You think of New York street style. Yet, over the past few years, Los Angeles has gained momentum in the industry and become quite a contender as a fashion leader.

So how to know whether Los Angeles or New York is the right city for you? Let’s take a look at what each city can offer:

New York

New York City is often the obvious choice for starting a career in fashion. It’s one of the top four fashion capitals of the world, along with Paris, Milan, and London. It is home to some of the best fashion schools in the country – Parsons, FIT, Pratt, as well as countless top designers. NYC is also backed by some impressive numbers: there are 5,000 fashion showrooms, 75 major fashion trade shows, and extensive options for niche careers.

New York has been the front runner in the fashion world for decades, its East Coast climate offering four distinctive seasons. Extreme seasons provide designers with the opportunity to generate unique collections on a regular basis, fueling the demand for more. This opens up a wide range of positions in the industry, including highly specialized roles – whether it’s a Development Director for Footwear, a Specification Technician, an Embellishment designer, or an Ecommerce Upload Analyst – that might not even be an option in a smaller city.

Because it holds the highest concentration of fashion jobs, NYC is also filled with intense competition. College grads need more than their degree to get their foot in the door; they also need relevant experience and the right connections. Many struggle to find that opportunity after graduating, particularly those seeking work in fashion, simply because of the vast amounts of applicants for every open position. Although NYC is ranked the number one city in the United States for career advancement, you still have to fight to earn that job in the first place.

Los Angeles

The obvious underdog in this competition, Los Angeles is an up and coming force in the industry. Despite the media’s oversimplifications of casual beach culture and streetwear, many fashion professionals are leaving the prestige of NYC and relocating to the sunshine of the West Coast.

One reason to flee west is the changing landscape: the cost of living in NYC has skyrocketed over the past decade, while incomes have stagnated. Those that made the choice to move to Los Angeles attribute their decision to a few things: lower cost of living, new opportunities, and better weather. Considering that the average rent in Los Angeles is 40-50% lower than in NYC, LA salaries offer more take home pay. Los Angeles also offers a slower-paced, more laid-back culture when compared to the City That Never Sleeps.

While the job market in Los Angeles is still competitive, it isn’t quite as cut-throat as NYC. Fashion jobs are increasing as more California-based designers become established, opting to take advantage of the abundance of factory and warehouse space that simply doesn’t exist in New York City. California designers have the opportunity to utilize American-made factories in place of outsourcing labor from other locations. The city is no longer living in the isolation that it was twenty years ago with top designers like Saint Laurent and Tom Ford choosing to show their collections in Los Angeles. The demand of fashion jobs is not quite as high as it is in NYC, however, you might struggle with finding a highly specific, niche role in Los Angeles.

Which is right for you?

You need to figure out which city’s culture best suits your lifestyle and your goals and expectations for your career. New York has the appeal of a big city, fast-paced and crowded (there are supposedly 26,400 people per square mile) and it’s filled with diverse cultures. Its occupants are known for being career-focused and direct. Los Angeles is highly populated and spread out, leading to a slower city pace. Its streetwear and overall ambiance is considered more casual and laidback. You’ll still work hard, but you might be wearing jeans and a t-shirt. And if you’re lucky, you might have a dog or two in the office.

It all comes down to preference. New York City is generally considered the traditional route for a career in fashion; it has the top schools, renowned designers and brands, and a variety of specialized careers. Los Angeles is more of a wild card without such a distinct reputation, but it has the space and the room for growth that might be the perfect opportunity for a fresh start.