Is Fashion Translation a Good Fit for You?

Models on a catwalk to illustrate fashion translation

Written by Lucy Williams

Spanish-to-English translator and translator trainer

Fashion translation has a certain cachet. It sounds exciting and exotic. It conjures up images of gorgeous models strutting down catwalks, designer clothes and luxury handbags. But what is really involved and what are the rewards? Is it an area worth specialising in? This article looks at the what, the who and the why of fashion translation.

What does fashion translation involve?

What kinds of texts does a fashion translator work on? Well, there’s no one answer to that question. Fashion is a multimillion dollar industry. It encompasses a wide range of different businesses and various types of translation. As a translator working with the fashion industry, you might translate:

  • product descriptions for clothes and accessories
  • press releases
  • presentations and speeches
  • articles about famous or up-and-coming designers
  • bios and interviews with models
  • in-house logistics materials
  • staff manuals
  • training materials
  • annual reports
  • contracts
  • publicity and marketing materials.

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The work ranges from quite repetitive product descriptions to persuasive marketing copy. And the skills you need for those different styles vary too. You can be called on to produce captivating advertising copy one minute, and to research the difference between a welt pocket and a slash pocket the next. Sometimes you’ll need to combine that technical product information with your enticing promotional copy in the same translation.

It can be a lucrative field because of the chance to specialise and become faster.

My fashion translation work has ranged from poring over glossaries to learning about the intricacies of how shoes are constructed. I’ve learned words like penny bar, last and vamp, and proofread interviews with models. On other projects, I’ve used my literary translation skills to translate the rags-to-riches story of the man who became the director of one of Spain’s leading sportswear companies.

Who might you translate for?

This can also vary quite a lot. Your translation client might be a large fashion house or a small independent one. It could be an individual designer or a large marketing department. Luxury and sportswear brands also commission fashion translations. And don’t forget eco-friendly clothes and traditional handcrafted footwear. Lots of large companies and fashion houses use translation agencies. This is because they need translations into multiple languages. But there’s also scope for working with smaller independent fashion houses, as your direct customers.

What are the advantages of working with agencies versus direct clients when it comes to fashion translation?

Price is one thing to think about. But it’s not as cut and dried as that might sound at first. There may be a difference in the price you can command from an agency as opposed to finding a direct client. But agency work has advantages when it comes to this sector. Translation agencies can attract large companies because they can offer multiple languages. This means a reasonably steady stream of work in your language pair. Another advantage is that the agency is the one investing in finding those clients. They deal with communications with them, so you can concentrate on translating. You might command higher prices with direct clients, but you also need to go out and find them yourself. Doing that can require a big time investment.

I’ve learned words like penny bar, last and vamp, and proofread interviews with models.

Why specialise in fashion translation?

What are the rewards? For me, it can be a lucrative field because of the chance to specialise and become faster. Also, in my experience, there aren’t many translators specialising in fashion in the Spanish-to-English field. This means it represents an area where I can increase my profits. Fashion is a cyclical, varied and large industry. So, if you can find your niche, work is ongoing. Fashion changes with the seasons. Each new collection has press releases and marketing materials to accompany it, which can create a steady workflow.

If you’re working on a lot of product descriptions, these can be quite repetitive. But with a good CAT tool, they can also become quite lucrative. At first, they can be time-consuming, in terms of researching terminology. But there is a lot of material readily available online. And once you have built up some translation memories and termbases, these translations can be turned over relatively quickly. If you’ve managed to negotiate a decent rate (especially once you have some specialist experience) then it can represent a good income stream.

Press releases can be more time consuming if you’re not used to translating a lot of marketing copy. This is because they require a different skill set and a flair for transcreation, to convey the meaning in a culturally appropriate way. But, if you can offer both these skills, then you’ll be in high demand. For more information on translating press releases, read “Press Release Translation: Why, How and Who? 

Lastly, fashion is a sector I enjoy working in. Partly because of the variety, but also because it’s always changing and evolving. I enjoy evolving and improving alongside it. If you want to learn more, sign up for my on-demand webinar: “Fashion Translation – Is It the Right Specialism for You?

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