It was a cloudy Sunday in New York City. I hurried off the F train at Lexington & 63 St. and headed towards the adjacent Starbucks to find her waiting. She looked every bit the part of a fashion PR girl, effortlessly cool in her black tank and black-based printed skirt, accessorized subtly and appropriately. She was sitting and sipping her refresher that had the most comical spelling of her name on the label, abysmal to the point that I did a double take in whether it was really her. Taking my chances with the only brown girl in the coffee shop, I tapped her shoulder.
Although easily mistaken for a New Yorker, 21-year-old Ryerson fashion student Kirthiga Rajanayagam had only been in the States for a month. She is currently a summer intern for Karla Otto Ltd., an international fashion PR agency. She found out about the position through a friend, decided to apply and within weeks suddenly found herself living in Brooklyn.
“New York is like a bigger Toronto,” she says. “Here the people are more blunt. They go after what they want. You really have to be your own person.” This concept is nothing new to Kirthiga, who has proven to be a go-getter long before coming to New York. Just this past spring, she took on the role of producer for Mass Exodus, the largest student-run fashion event in North America. She was responsible for synchronizing the work of nine committees, including casting, hair and makeup, and ticket sales while overseeing the overall production and promotion of the event – a major responsibility that she was determined to take on since high school. “My parents always taught me to work really hard and that you need to be committed and really want to do it.”
Her career path, however, was not her parent’s first choice for her. Her father initially wanted her to become a doctor and it took her two years of convincing before they accepted her pursuit of a career in fashion PR. “I was volunteering and completing other internships and once he saw that I was really committed, it became a lot easier for him to be on board.” That is why she advises anyone wishing to pursue a career outside the norm to be very dedicated. “If you’re not going to put in hard work, you’re not going to make it.”
Her attitude applies across the board, even when dealing with hurdles stemming from being a minority in the industry. “I try not to let it bother me. It shouldn’t matter. I mean if you can keep up with everyone, take on challenges…then the work speaks for itself. Then it won’t matter that I may be more tan than everyone else in the room.” She admits that the motivation behind this career choice is to prove that she can do it. “If I’m capable and really talented in it, why not go for it?”
With that segway, she shares her three golden tips on pursuing your dream career:
- Professionalism is key. Whether you are on the phone, sending an email, or working on your portfolio, “don’t be lazy,” she says firmly. “Sometimes all you get is a quick glance and if you are not taking the time to perfect it, you’ll be underselling yourself.”
- Dress the part. “Don’t wear a shirt that has wrinkles and don’t wear heels that you can’t walk in! If you look messy, people will think you’re messy.”
- Get experience. Breaking into the world of PR can be difficult and unfortunately it is currently filled with unpaid internships. “However you can, get experience. Volunteer if you have to. Employers need to see that you have been exposed to the environment before and that you can handle it.”
Note: This piece was originally published in our summer anniversary print magazine.
- Images by Arthur Mola