The Need-To-Know Network Helping Young Fashion Professionals

Establishing yourself within any industry is a daunting and testing experience but in fashion – where nepotism is rife and contacts are crucial – getting your foot in, when you don't know the right people, is nigh on impossible. To address this problem, last year Dior Bediako founded The Junior Network – a welcome space where her peers and entry-level fashion professionals could connect, learn and share experiences. Quitting her job at Burberry, Bediako, a fashion promotions graduate, launched Pepper Your Talk, a unique platform created to fill the void for those caught in the limbo between studies and finding their feet within the industry. Members' club, The Junior Network, soon followed.
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The Junior Network officially launched last week with an event including a panel talk with designer Henry Holland, Clara Mercer, communications director at the British Fashion Council, PR director, Adam Shapiro, and Pip Jamieson, founder of The Dots; regular future events, open to Junior Network members, will be hosted by similar top-tier talent. The network also offers a members-only forum for job vacancies, networking experiences and invaluable advice from industry experts. But before you sign up, we spoke to Dior (yes, that is actually her name) about setting up her business to support women in fashion and how she walked away from an enviable job at Burberry to go it alone.
When did you conceive the idea of The Junior Network, when did you quit your job at Burberry and how did you bring the idea to fruition?
I left my job at Burberry in December 2015, travelled for a month and started building the Pepper Your Talk platform, which supports and inspires fashion creatives. Honestly, I didn’t know what I was doing but I never stopped. Every day I’d wake up and add one more piece to the puzzle. I call PYT my baby because the process took me from January to October when the website launched, which is the same amount of time a woman would carry a baby full-term.
The idea for The Junior Network came one year later, in December 2016. I was enjoying all the work I was doing with PYT, guest lecturing at universities, hosting events and workshops and landing people their first fashion jobs but something was still missing. I read my old diary and realised that I still hadn’t solved my ‘entry-level professional’ problems.
I landed my job at Burberry one month after I graduated in 2013. I had just finished university with no real idea about what I was doing, yet I had a boss, targets, expectations and a salary. It’s already a scary industry and the pressure to perform while trying to learn EVERYTHING was tough! No external support existed for junior talent in fashion so I created The Junior Network.
Did you study fashion?
I’ve always wanted to work in fashion – my mum did a great job with naming me – yet I didn’t know which part exactly. In college I studied fashion and clothing and soon found my hands to be far too big and clumsy for the delicate process of making clothes.
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I had no idea what to do in uni, so I opted to do an art and design foundation at the London College of Fashion and used that year to figure it out. That’s where I crossed photography, fine art and textiles off my list. Everyone said I’d be great at PR – I didn’t really know what it was but a fashion promotion degree seemed logical. I’m glad I took that long but worthwhile route because it really set me on the path I’m on now.
Why do you think The Junior Network is so crucial?
I’ve looked into many people’s journeys and everyone speaks about what they wish they knew in the beginning! I’ve also read somewhere that the first five years of your career determine the rest of it. With The Junior Network we’re right there on the battlefield with the industry's newbies, helping them figure it out, building their confidence and connecting them to peers and mentors. I also feel very strongly about having a judgement-free zone for people to talk, network and share.
We give our juniors the opportunity to connect to the breadth of the industry, which is rare when you’re at the bottom of the food chain. In a way, we’re flipping the standard model and putting all the emphasis on the people with the least confidence, training or experience and telling them that they’re the most important and hold the keys to the future of the fashion industry.
Who have been your biggest mentors and professional heroes?
I’ll be forever grateful to Amanda, my old manager at Burberry. She took a chance on me and gave me responsibilities from day one. I didn’t even know what press samples were when I landed the role. I’d also say Jenna Littler, she was my boss at Burberry too and I secretly admired her right from the beginning. We’ve kept in touch since I’ve left and she’s helped by being a soundboard for my ideas in a very pragmatic way.
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What does your average working day look like now?
I run Pepper Your Talk and The Junior Network independently, which means I’m in charge of all creative and business ideas, socials, PR, written content, planning and hosting events, relationship-building, etc.
I wake up between 6.15 and 7.15am, pray, have breakfast and then open my laptop (she’s called Lottie and is legitimately one of my best friends). Depending on what the day demands, I’ll either work from home, in a perfectly silent library or busy café in central London. It’s great to have the option because I get bored of one setting after some time.
I try to read all my favourite websites every morning and then get started on everything else, it keeps me inspired. I usually take out Wednesdays or Thursdays for meetings and book them all in on the same day, put on my best clothes and bang it out. My evenings are almost always spent at events. Anything from fashion, business, music, tech or product launches. I really enjoy doing so because I work alone and meeting people and socialising keeps me sane. It never feels like work and I'm back home by 10pm, which is still early to me.
What do you think are the biggest flaws within the fashion industry that make it so difficult for young, independent talent to prosper?
Confidence and contacts! Let’s be real – nepotism is a fact of life. When trying to make a start with nobody in your corner, you tend to hang around the sidelines, waiting to get picked and often never getting picked at all. The class barrier is another big divider that isn’t spoken about much. I grew up in Tottenham, in a council flat around ‘bad crowds’. My life experiences were very different to all the people I worked around and that within itself can cause a lot of anxiety and internal pressure.
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I remember never wanting to mention where I live yet also feeling a great sense of pride that I had ‘made it!’
What have been your biggest challenges since setting up your own business?
Money! I closed my eyes and threw every last bit of my savings into the business. It was so scary but I knew there was no other way. Investing everything into Pepper Your Talk and then doing it all over again for The Junior Network means I no longer had a sense of financial stability. I wish I had made better financial projections from day one. You can be creative on a limited budget but you can’t be far-reaching or very effective.
How would you like to see The Junior Network grow?
I’d love to work with brands in-house to create workshops for their junior talent. That way, we won’t only be helping the members of the club, of which the number is limited to 50, but we’ll be reaching everyone. Nobody walks into a job and feels 100% confident straightaway, it takes some nurturing, training and a lot of understanding.
What would be your advice to others who want to pursue their own ventures?
It’s impossible for everyone to buy into your vision! Not everyone will understand your passion and conviction, even your parents. I called both Pepper Your Talk and The Junior Network my babies and a mother's love is unrivalled.
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