How it Shapes a Fashion Founders Journey
Growing up in the sprawling mecca (not) of Montgomery, Alabama, I quickly realized that as soon as possible I needed to get the heck out of dodge. As a Jewish girl who dreamed of a career in fashion in my very narrow, and one might say, narrow-minded environment, there was not a lot of enticement to stay. From the time I could talk, I espoused my plan to move to New York City and be a fashion designer.
A DREAM IS NOT A PLAN
While I sat in class with the same fifty kids at my private prep school from K-12th grade, believe me, I did dream. At the same time, I planned and worked. I planned how to go to art school which was my first step to leave. I was the Where’s Waldo in every class picture as the only dark-haired girl, as well as one of ‘those’ kids that the town knew, who had a less than stable parent so people kind of felt sorry for which was mortifying. I longed to get to a place where I blended in with other unique souls in our weirdness.
In applying to art school, our football coach, my art teacher, helped me prepare a portfolio to get into RISD, where I was lucky enough to be accepted. Mainly because it was the ONE school I applied to. Certainly, that would not happen today. I was absolutely not the most talented, and I will readily admit that my regional demographic helped in this case. I don’t believe many people were trampling down the door from my part of the world. I explain all of this to describe what I think are necessary skills you need to hone in order to be a founder in fashion or otherwise.
YOU CAN'T GO FORWARD LOOKING BACKWARD
Or even more dangerously with your eyes closed. If you want to make an improbable move do it with vigor and a plan. Any big project has steps. In my case, the intention was to move to New York and be a fashion designer. The steps were to learn to sew at a young age, create collages, paintings, and yes paper doll fashion in order to begin to develop my creative muscles. All to attend art school where these could be trained and modified. For a founder, one of the first steps is to choose the product category you're interested in., seeing what is missing in it, including what is missing in your knowledge to get there. You might decide to take a course either in person or online to learn the basic steps and set up learning conversations with industry experts. It’s as simple as a written checklist and action against it. Progress is progress.
Be strategic working around your strengths and limitations. This will be the secret sauce that makes the black-and-white list come to life in a way that is most achievable for you. Are you a sponge who wants to know every detail or a queen of the overview who wants to engage others to deal with the day-to-day? If the latter then this might mean that your budget is geared towards highering in experts to fill in the gaps of the details. If the former then your budget will be focused towards schooling in person or virtual classes where you can get a direct understanding of the intricacies you need to know.
In my case, it was talking about my plan from the time I was able to get the words out. And when I got old enough connecting with people who could help me on the way. My choice of schools mattered too. My amazing father helped me with this one. He encouraged going to RISD over Pratt because he felt like as a hayseed with a limited worldview and experience, Providence and RISD were a better stepping stone. And I believed that choosing either an art-focused school with a fashion program rather than the other way around suited my talents and personality much better. I’ve known founders, including many of my clients, that even moved to a different part of the country where they believed their business could get off the ground and thrive more. This could entail being closer to domestic production, a state with lower taxes, or a city on either coast that has more resources around the talent you are hoping to enlist. Or it might be as simple as DM’ing on Linked In 3 people a week whom you can learn from and are more likely to talk to you because they fit within your set of criteria. These parameters are important too. In order not to make every conversation transactional and one-sided, think about how you can support the people that you are asking to support you outside of money. Can you use your platform for introductions that might be helpful to them? Support them by using your expertise to further their goals. There are multiple ways if you are open to them.
AIM FOR PRECISION NOT PERFECTION
Keep it narrow and fine-tuned. But don’t go for Perfection.
A. You won’t ever get there.
B. You will waste time, and money and frustrate a lot of people trying to.
Precision means delivering focused and quality work in whatever endeavor you choose. I am a hot mess in a lot of areas of my life (Hello the teacher who called me to say my 1st grader wasn’t wearing underwear. When I told her I was just happy he showed up with pants, she was none too pleased.) Workwise I am focused on the task at hand and do it to the best of my ability, every time. It might not be the way everyone else would do it either. You do You. If you are a founder whose brand focuses on fit then you owe it to yourself and your customer to focus on every size all the time. If you are focused on fashion messaging, then ensure you have done your due diligence to understand what are the creative inputs in the world and react to them.
BE OPEN AND SHAMELESS
While you are being intentional about your moves in the big picture, let life happen to you. And let yourself react to it. One of my favorite Sara Blakely mantras is to thrive in doing embarrassing things. Life is very hard as is the climb to your intentions. You will get turned away, shut out and be in uncomfortable situations all the time. What I couldn’t appreciate in high school looking at the prom king and queen who were in all of their small-town glory, was that they were peaking right then. So their muscles of resiliency were not building up because they had never actually been used. I’m not going to tell you that they faltered into terrible lives and hardship because I have no idea. And of course, hope not. What I will say is that I look back at all the times that I literally or emotionally fell on my face and was open to getting up and brushing myself off, I am 1000% better for it and so will you be. Take the big swing and be open to the person who reaches out to you for theirs. You never know what next great conversation in business, or life experience could come from it.
BE NICE AND EXPECT IT IN RETURN
As Neil Gaiman spoke about in one of his most famous speeches ever, Be Likable, plain and simple. I was a bit of a weird kid who has turned into a weird (proudly) adult. As mentioned earlier, I am not the most talented, I’m not the most beautiful or smartest in every situation. What I am is pretty likable and as generous with my time as I can be. I generally really like most others that I meet and really like learning about them. It helps no question because as you are on your journey more people will want to help you if you aren’t a J#$k-#ss to them. Any time I have been not only did I feel bad later, I also blocked my own mental space to think clearly of the goal at hand. Negative emotions hinder the intention and flow of ideas. So if for no other reason, be kind because you will be better at all your pursuits if you do.
BE WILLING TO EVOLVE
Just like your favorite dessert, over time your intentions for your career and life will change. Be quick to recognize these changes and make decisions. Anyone who follows us with any regularity knows how we feel about decision-making. The worst one is none at all. I’m not saying it’s easy. When I decided to leave Victoria’s Secret after 16 years of growing up there it was by no means easy. And there were repercussions that I couldn’t have predicted. Or didn’t want to think about at the time. That said, it was one of the very best ones I ever made because I would never be here now, doing what I really love-working one on one with clients and designing rather than leading large teams. I could never have imagined I would be in this place that I love now supporting founders of all stripes and learning so much had I not made that move. And had I not been intentional in the next phase of what I wanted to accomplish.
You can too. You are one action step from the rest of your life. Make it count and make it intentional!
Reading this and need some further advice on intentionality, decision-making or the creative process? We are here and willing to help. Reach out and set up a time to chat. We are intentionally open to it 😊