5 Reasons I Changed Careers in my Twenties

Photograph by     Anna Malgina

Photograph by  Anna Malgina

By Sacha Columbia

According to the infinite wisdom of the MTV reality show The City, there are two types of people in the fashion industry – workhorses and show ponies. I have always been a workhorse. I excelled at Canada’s toughest Fashion Design program, was selected to do a semester abroad and then got a solid buying job once I graduated. After four years at a Canadian denim retailer I was recruited to be a merchandiser for my dream company in Philadelphia. I had made it to the big leagues at the age of 26. It was the hardest thing I’d ever done and I was proud of my work.

But after only a year, my boyfriend started getting phone calls from major tech companies on the west coast. He had moved with me from Toronto and been my biggest supporter. So we packed our bags, bought a TSA-approved cat carrier and moved to Seattle. After years of determination and struggling to climb the fashion ladder, I was in a new city with no job and a almost no social network. So what did I do? I switched careers and became a graphic designer.

I had to adapt

Adaptability is not one of my strong suits. I like structure and schedules and day planners. But my Philadelphia dream job gave me visa sponsorship that the Seattle apparel companies wouldn’t consider. So after getting over my initial shock, I designed a portfolio which my boyfriend developed into a website. I had some experience in design, so decided to apply these skills to the burgeoning opportunities in the Seattle tech world.

I needed work-life balance

I loved working in fashion but the hours were killing me. I was exhausted and it affected every aspect of my life. If I wanted to stay sane, having a work-life balance was going to be a deal-breaker for my next career move. In Philadelphia I had started to experiment with photography and ceramics, and I wanted more time for these things. Although designers can sometimes work long hours, I finally had more me-time compared to the 7am to midnight days of a buyer.


I had the foundational knowledge

I had flirted with graphic design and art direction for years before I made the switch. I have a Bachelor of Design, so I knew Adobe and color theory and illustration. This move to Seattle was the perfect excuse to justify applying these skills to a completely new industry.

I was attracted to e-commerce

I’m obsessed with online retail and find it fascinating. After a few weeks of interviewing I landed a year-long contract position with an e-comm giant. Being a contractor allowed me to dip my toes into the water without fear of over-committing myself to something I was unsure about. It was a crash-course and I met some wonderful humans who helped me transition to a full-time position at the same company.


I wanted to be more creative

I’m a creative person. It’s my jam, my wheelhouse, my cup of tea. Buying forced me to expand my left-brain by making decisions based on excel docs and logistics. Working as a corporate designer has become a sweet spot, where I can flex my creative muscles while still being involved in the business side of things. In the future, I hope to take everything I’ve learned and lead the digital experience of a fashion brand. One day I’ll combine my merchandising, my design knowledge and my new found adaptability into the next career chapter, because now I know that the only constant is change.

In short

I have stopped trying to chase a 5 year plan, and instead have focused on what makes me happy in the moment. Instead of focusing on road-blocks, I’ve challenged myself to make the most out of opportunities that are unique to my new life in Seattle. Perspective changes everything!

Sacha is a visual designer and art director based in Seattle. When she’s not in front of a computer, you can find her at her pottery studio or running around with a camera in hand. Right now she’s probably sipping green tea and listening to a podcast. You can check her out at SachaColumbia.com. 

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