I fell in love with fashion a long time ago. One of my earliest memories involves sitting on the floor in my grandparent's living room drawing pictures of princesses in lavish gowns. Over the years I've worked my way up through the fashion world and in 2010 I launched a fashion business of my own. Here's a look back at my journey along with tips on how to survive the chaos and of course, lessons learned along the way.
In the summer of 1997 I participated in Seattle's Occupational Skills Center Fashion Marketing Program. I was still in junior high and exploring possible career paths. My instructor, Jennifer Fountain taught us about color, textiles, visual merchandising, fashion promotion and design. This was my first real glimpse into the fashion industry and it's also where I wrote my first fashion promotion plan for a women's boutique.
Lesson: Be thoughtful about your projects while you are in school. You could end up using these pieces for your portfolio someday.
In the spring of 1999 I was selected to serve on the Nordstrom Fashion Board. While on the board I got to sit in on trend presentations, help with seasonal sales and get my feet wet working retail. That same year I landed a job working for a menswear store called Mr. Rags. I learned a lot about customer service and personal selling while working on the sales floor in high school and I loved it. In addition to working with customers I folded a lot of t-shirts, put together window displays and even helped put trucks, wheels and grip tape on skateboards. Little did I know I would later go on to work for Zumiez and that experience would come in handy.
Lesson: Work in retail if you plan on pursuing a career in fashion. This experience will provide an invaluable foundation as you move through the industry.
In the fall of 1999 I enrolled in the YV-Tech Fashion Design and Marketing Program. In class, we got to study the history of clothing, trend cycles, fabrics, fashion marketing and retail management. My instructor, Janni Stelzer was a former Nordstrom employee and helped me to solidify my decision to pursue a career in fashion. As part of the program, students participated in DECA and that year I won first place for my fashion marketing promotion plan.
After graduation in June of 2000, I enrolled in The Art Institute of Seattle to study fashion design and continued to work for Mr. Rags as a keyholder for the Southcenter store. In November of 2000, I took a position as the Assistant store manager for Juxtapose at Alderwood Mall. I loved that store. It was a juniors-focused boutique based out of Southern California and I helped manage the only store in Washington state. I had just turned 18 years old and I was in college while working full-time.
In 2001, the Alderwood Juxtapose store that I managed won numerous awards for profitability. Personal selling was an artform and we loved connecting with customers. On weekends, we would have fitting room fashion shows and turn up the music full blast. That year I was promoted to store manager and I was only 19. As the youngest store manager in the company, I relied heavily on the support of solid mentors who gave me the critical feedback I needed in order to grow both personally and professionally.
Just a year later, Hub Distributing, the parent company of Juxtapose, decided to close the entire chain. I was in Las Vegas for a store managers meeting when they made the announcement. I was devastated. I didn't want my time at the company to end. So, I made the most of the opportunity and agreed to move temporarily to California to help close one of the Bay Area stores. I took time off of school in order to extend my time with the company. I wasn't sure if I would return to Seattle and I was definitely not sure what I wanted to do next.
Lesson: Sometimes a dream job doesn't end the way you think it should. Take time to reflect but don't get lost in disappointment.
In 2003, I was back in Seattle and took a position as an assistant manager for Anchor Blue. It was hard to go from running my own store to being someone's assistant and it was a transition for me. Thankfully the management team was patient and allowed me to bring my strengths to the table including product knowledge and training/development. As a manager, one of the things I actually enjoyed doing was putting together trend boards for the store. This was a great way for me to explore my creative side, help train employees on seasonal trends and help them understand how to interpret trends as they related to the customer.
That spring I went back to The Art Institute of Seattle and changed my major to the fashion marketing program instead of design. Working in retail made me realize that I loved the business side of the industry. Later that year I left Anchor Blue and took a job working as a counter manager for Benefit Cosmetics. As a life-long product junkie, working with make-up literally blew my mind. I couldn't believe someone wanted to pay me to play with make-up all day. It was a dream and getting seasonal gratis to spend on product, which was the icing on the cake.
Lesson: If your course work doesn't feel right, don't be afraid to explore other options. I made an expensive mistake by paying for classes that I wasn't aligned with. Taking time off school made me realize that studying fashion marketing was a better fit for me.
As much as I loved working in beauty, I got an opportunity to work as a merchandise manager for HMS Host at the Seattle International Airport and I took the position. HMS Host manages the airport gift shops, so for an entire summer I helped order product, manage inventory, merchandise displays and work with the staff. One of my supervisors was a fashion retail veteran who had managed stores for Louis Vuitton and I loved learning from her and listening to her talk about business trends.
I was halfway through my fashion marketing degree at The Art Institute of Seattle when I was summoned by the director of private label at Zumiez to take as position as a production assistant. This was a newly created position and was a response from the company to the growing demand of private label business.
In February of 2004, I attended my first MAGIC trade show in Las Vegas. My favorite instructor from The Art Institute was leading a group of students through the show and I loved having the chance to talk with retailers and brands about the business. At the show, I met hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and I told him that I wanted to work for him someday. He smiled and replied, "At the rate you're going, I'll be working for YOU someday."
Lesson: Savor every moment of your life. Be authentic in your relationships. Be present.
The following year I was promoted from an assistant to a coordinator managing production for the private label lines at Zumiez. I was taking on more responsibility, working on production for numerous brands and getting involved in the costing process. I was like a sponge. Literally taking in everything I was learning, working with key vendors and exploring the sourcing aspect of the fashion industry.
The next summer Joan Kelly and I produced the 2nd annual Fashion First runway show. We wanted to continue Jared's work and honor our friend. Participating retailers included Butch Blum, Betty Blue, Sway & Cake, Encanto Barcelna, Shoefly, Lizzie Parker, Ian and more. We were way over capacity at the venue and the fire marshall tried to shut us down. But as per usual, Joan was able to talk her way out of the situation and the show went on without a hitch. My part-time hobby (working on the fashion show) was slowly becoming a full-time gig and the show was growing bigger and bigger.
In the fall of 2005 I graduated with my AAA degree in fashion merchandising from The Art Institute of Seattle. I was excited to be done so that I could focus full-time on Zumiez and Fashion First. It was literally the best of both worlds. I spent my days in the fashion office and my nights and weekends being creative and working on operations for the runway show. The Zumiez private label lines were continuing to grow and we were so excited when one of our private label hoodies was featured on People.com in a picture with Britney Spears. The sweatshirt was one of our best-sellers that year.
In the spring on 2007, the Art Institute added a bachelor's degree option to their fashion program and I decided to go back to school to continue my education. I was still working full-time for Zumiez and managing operations for Fashion First, but I wanted to add to my academic credentials in order to have flexibility in my future. Being able to apply what I was learning at work into my school work was incredibly helpful and made the curriculum easier to understand.
That spring I took a group of fellow fashion students from The Art Institute of Seattle to the MAGIC trade show with me in Las Vegas. I was attending the show as a "buyer" from Zumiez, which was great because it allowed me to schedule appointments with vendors and allow students to participate in the meetings. It was a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the fashion world for many of the students and it was a very cool way for me to give back to my peers looking to break into the industry.
Lesson: Give back when you can. If you are in a position to provide opportunities for others, pay it forward.
That summer Zumiez sent me on my first global sourcing trip to China and Vietnam. I was able to meet with vendors, negotiate costing and work on the Zumiez private label lines in person. On the trip, we toured factories, reviewed production samples, managed quality control procedures and made sure our back to school deliveries were running on time to meet our September in-warehouse dates.
After returning from China, I served as associate producer for the 3rd annual Fashion First runway show. That same year the Mens Private Label team at Zumiez won the "Product Team of the Year" award. It was a great year and we were an awesome team. We had another celeb sighting of Zumiez product in 2008 when Mike Meyers wore an A-Lab tee while performing at the MTV Music Awards. Great things were happening at Zumiez and we were loving every minute of it.
Later that year I got promoted to Sourcing and Production manager for the menswear private label lines at Zumiez. By this time, I was managing multiple brands and numerous categories of product. The business was building and we were having fun.
Lesson: Stick with it and learn as much as you can. Promotions are just around the corner if you work hard.
In November of 2008, I visited the Intertek offices in New Jersey to work with the product development team to establish a quality testing program for Zumiez. I loved being able to get my hands on various aspects of the business and learn more about quality control.
The following year I joined Fashion Group International in Seattle. The board of directors asked me to help with their Project Red Dress design competition at the Fairmont Olympic Hotel. I volunteered my time to help execute the show and loved working behind the scenes on the production. The following year I joined the FGI board as a PR/media liaison. Another career highlight happened that year, my first freelance fashion article was published in JQ Magazine. The story was about London-based jewelry designer Carri Vacik and highlighted the launch of her debut line.
In 2009, I had the opportunity to work with the Zumiez private label team on the coordination of a back to school photoshoot. I helped coordinate samples from vendors, build outfits and manage the on-site logistics of the actual shoot.
Lesson: Even if the scope of your regular job doesn't have obvious creative outlets you still may have the opportunity to participate in creative projects.
In the fall, I graduated with my bachelor's degree in fashion merchandising/business management. I was thrilled to be able to focus full-time on Zumiez and headed to China to help develop a social compliance program for the company. It was incredibly rewarding to be able to ensure that the people working on producing our product lines were being paid fairly and working in acceptable working conditions. Most people have no idea where their clothes come from. I feel fortunate to have been on the ground-floor working on such an important project for the company. It was incredibly rewarding and eye-opening.
In 2010, I served as a stylist for the 1st annual Girl Power Hour "Love, You" event which paired local fashion influencers with deserving women in need of a style makeover. I was paired with a woman who ran a non-profit for kids and had no time to even think about her wardrobe. She LOVED her new look and I had fun styling her. In April of that year, I had my first child and although I returned to my post at Zumiez for a few weeks after my maternity leave ended I knew that I was meant to do something more with my fashion experience and creativity. In September of that year I left the company and started working as a stylist for Styled Seattle. It was a connection I made while volunteering at the Girl Power Event and the job offer came as a result of me sending out inquiries to my network and asking if there were any opportunities I might be a good fit for. It was truly a dream job and I loved empowering clients by maximizing their wardrobes.
Lesson: Be creative on your job search. You never know where it may lead you.
That fall I decided to get back in the trenches on the business side of the fashion industry and launched my own company, Gossip & Glamour. I positioned the business to leverage my collective experience in the fashion industry being on all sides of the business from retail to wholesale and everything in between. I was 27 years old at the time and knew that in order to be successful I had to find my niche. In the Seattle marketplace, there wasn't anyone doing dedicated fashion marketing and PR support for Pacific Northwest companies. Demand was high and clients loved having me as their "secret weapon" in fashion.
Lesson: If you don't take risks, you never reap rewards.
The company recently celebrated its 5th birthday and I couldn't be happier that I took a leap of faith to launch my business. Since the launch I've worked with some great local brands including BEVÉE, Zumiez, Brooks Running and Zebra Club, plus national favorites like SEE Eyewear and Uniqlo. It's been quite an adventure, but the entire experience has been incredibly rewarding. I've taken on interns, done fashion-related community service work and even been invited to serve on the advisory board for the fashion program at The Art Institute. I can't wait to see what's next! Learn more about my work here: www.gossip-glamour.com.
Now it's your turn! Are you studying for a career in fashion? Do you have questions about how to get from here to there? I'd love to help answer your questions! Email me at Sydneylovesfashion@gmail.com. You can also read more about my top advice for being successful in the fashion industry here.