When she was in college studying fashion design, Janie Bryant (neé Katherine Jane Bryant) could not have conceived where her career would lead her: to five Emmy nominations, one win, and limitless accolades for her costume design work on Mad Men and Deadwood.
"I studied fashion design, and I had all the intentions in the world to go into fashion design," the Cleveland, Tennessee, native told us of the humble beginnings of her fashion career. "I was at a party one night and met a costume designer and started talking to her about her job—it really interested me, and I just started pursuing this dream. I started calling every single person I knew in the film business and telling them that I wanted to be a costume designer and work in the costume department."
Fast-forward 10 years or so, and Bryant's name is practically a household fixture (at least for those of us obsessed with Mad Men)—but how did she really do it? We got the chance to sit down with Bryant, who shared with us her coveted tips for success. Keep scrolling for to learn her magic sauce for career success!
In what is an increasingly unpopular perspective, Bryant says that when you're just starting out, you might have to agree to work for no pay—which is just what she did.
"My first job, I was an assistant costume designer and I worked for free—I had a lot of jobs where I worked for free," Bryant reveals. "I looked at it as an internship: I was getting experience, and I was creating my résumé through having all these different film experiences. I really looked at it as an investment in my career. Through every job, I got experience and I built my career. I took on about three costume design jobs where I did not get paid. Those were the years that I struggled financially, but I guess it all paid off."
"I think a lot of young people are worried about going out into the world of the fashion business, about being rejected," Bryant says. "But the thing is that they can’t say no to you forever! Somebody will say yes eventually. I remember when I first moved to NYC and was interviewing, I was going around to a lot of different places trying to get a job, and so many people told me no. I think it’s about staying focused on what it is you truly want and going for it."
"I think the other thing that's really important to remember is that you cannot compare yourself to others," Bryant advises. "It can be a serious distraction. It’s a good habit to create to just start thinking about your own self, goals, needs, and dreams. Everybody has individual dreams, and they’re all varied and different. It’s about creating your own experience. It’s the only way, isn’t it? Even if you try to copy what someone else is doing, you’re not going to be able to."
"Trusting my instincts has always served me very well," Bryant says. "There have been so many moments, from going on a job interview and knowing in my gut that it was the job for me, to going on an interview and having a bad experience and still maybe forging through with it, then discovering eventually that I wasn’t happy with the job. When I didn’t follow my instinct, I always look back on it and say I should have listened to myself. I think we all know that truth for ourselves—what does your gut tell you? I have always found that instinct and intuition are two very important aspects of my job."
"I think it’s really important to listen to yourself," Bryant says. "Only you know what’s right for you. I think it’s just such an important thing to really just have your own vision. You can only be you, and that’s the most important thing—persistence. You have to be persistent, and it’s also about being focused on what you really want. If you’re thinking about your goals and your dreams, if it’s truly what you want, and if that’s what you put out there, it's what you’ll get back eventually."
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