Saturday, 22 October 2011

Survival Guide to Volunteering at Toronto Fashion Week

For as long as I can remember, it’s been my dream to work in the Fashion PR industry. This past May, I was lucky enough to meet the public relations machine (and my only living idol) Kelly Cutrone and she said to me, “Babe, if you want it bad enough you can make it happen. Take every opportunity you get because you don’t know where it will take you”.

Keeping this in mind, I jumped on the opportunity to volunteer at Toronto Fashion Week. What Kelly Cutrone didn’t tell me was the amount of manual labour to expect.

So here is my list on how to make the most of your volunteer experience at TFW:

1. Just go with it: On my first day (which was the day before TFW launched), I wasn’t expecting to walk in to a full-blown construction site. I also wasn’t prepared to do more heavy lifting than I’ve ever done in my life. Luckily, I brought a pair of flats in my purse, so I ditched my heels and did exactly what I was told – unloading trucks of furniture, throwing out garbage, etc. – and I didn’t make a fuss about it. Bottom line is, hard work never goes unnoticed. Neither does a positive attitude; the FDCC (Fashion Design Council of Canada – the lovely company that produces TFW) crew were definitely not impressed with the volunteers who spent the whole day complaining and I can’t blame them one bit.

2. Act like you know what you’re doing: More often than not, I found myself in situations where I didn’t know what to do or I was asked questions I didn’t know the answer to. My advice is to act like you know what you’re talking about. It’s better to give someone some kind of answer, even if it’s “oh that person over there will be able to help you out” than saying “I don’t know”. Then, once they leave, run around and do whatever is required to find out what the answer actually is so you know for next time.

3. Always say yes – preferably with a smile in tact: As a volunteer at fashion week, you’re going to be asked to do a lot of things, from doing coffee runs to fixing the internet in the media lounge, and it is so essential to do this with as much enthusiasm as you can muster up after a long day of running around in uncomfortable shoes. Don’t get me wrong, this is exhausting, but it will pay off.

4. Free water goes a long way: As the team lead for the Media/PR section, I dealt with a lot of press and it was my job to make them as happy as possible. What didn’t make them happy was when on the opening night the internet in both the media lounge and inside the venue crashed. I had quite a few angry photographers and journalists taking out their frustration on me and in effort to ease the tension I went around handing out bottles of Vitamin Water and explained that we were doing everything we could to fix the technical difficulties and asked them to bear with us. Instantly, their attitudes switched from annoyed to understanding, almost sympathetic. Point is, for some reason people get really excited over free stuff so use this tactic as much as possible to get you out of sticky situations. (Side note: handing out free Vitamin Water scored me the chance to meet notorious fashion blogger Spiro Georges Mandylor)

5. Network, network, network: You are presented with endless networking opportunities during TFW. Take them. This is how you’re being compensated for all your hard work. It is so important to make connections, especially with people who have the same interests as you do or already work in the field.

Volunteering at Toronto Fashion Week was one of the most hectic experiences of my life. It was also one of the most enriching. Although working 12 hour days 5 days straight was stressful and exhausting, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. The connections I made completely made it worth it. I’m already looking forward to next season!


  1. Your experience has definitely inspired me to volunteer at fashion week in the future. I'll keep these tips in mind if I get the opportunity next season. How did you make the connection to volunteer this season?

  2. This blog was very informative. I liked that you included realistic and helpful tips. In the past I have completed serveral fashion public relations internships and found Faulhaber pr useful in addition to TFW. They have a lot of great events. Their website is

  3. I want to volunteer for the spring shows this year. Where do I find the information for PR volunteers?