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Career: Finance to Fashion

We all know the world of fashion has been drastically modernized over the last decade.

From how we are drawn to things we buy, to the method in which we shop, to the way we invest in our wardrobe, everything has evolved.  It’s become more than just a physical change, but a true psychological one as well.  I believe the same evolution exists for how our generation looks upon our personal career paths.  I know it has for me.  Growing up, I always felt the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” needed to be a singular, traditional one- a nurse like my mom? A stock broker like my dad?  It seemed that I needed to know, at least have an impressive idea, before going to college.  I ended up going to Georgetown University, specifically the McDonough School of Business.  I decided the answer to the question was “a stock broker”, or something traditionally Finance-driven.  Today, as the Brand Director of Something Navy, with a career background not in digitally-native, fashion start-ups, I am proof that today’s modern approach to finding your dream job can be, and often should be, anything but traditional.

First, history on my career path so far.  To start, I am 29 years old and this is my sixth job- talk about untraditional.  My first job out of college was at Marc Jacobs where I was a Business Planning analyst.  Despite working long hours, most of them behind spreadsheets, I look back and am very grateful as it grounded me in the analytics of Retail, and gave me a massive appreciation (and passion) for Excel.  From there, due to my desire to have more experience working directly with product, I went to Michael Kors where I worked in Merchandise Planning.  This role didn’t last too long for me as I partnered closely with our Sales team, and realized I wanted what they had: a job which required strong analytical skills but equally as important, an extroverted personality to successfully interact with Buyers.   I then moved on to the Wholesale team at Helmut Lang.  After about 2 years, I began studying for the GMAT with a plan to go to Business School.  I wanted to pivot my career towards something more entrepreneurial, and perhaps due to a traditional mindset, felt that going back to school and spending $200K on it had to be the answer.  During this time, I received an intriguing opportunity to join a growing Australian brand, I would be the 4th person hired on their team based in the United States.  I took a risk and accepted, and ate the $1,000 I spent on my GMAT course.  I decided this was my entrepreneurial opportunity, I would help build this brand in the Western Hemisphere, and all the while net out to + $199K.  I guess you could say my instincts served me right, as Zimmermann’s Wholesale business more than tripled by the time I left 2.5 years later.  I left because I wanted more, naturally!

My departure from Zimmermann left me feeling the most uncomfortable I had ever felt thus far in my career.  I decided to leave without another job, because the offers I had received felt like more of the same.  I left with an undying will to transition into the digital space, without digital experience in the traditional sense.  I also had an undying will not to take step backwards in terms of my seniority, as that would mean a heavy pay cut.  Daily I perused open job roles at companies I admired and took a handful of interviews, all of which mandated at least 5 years of experience in digital.  What perplexed me the most was that the fashion digital space had been changing each year, how could one possibly have such a deep expertise?  Recruiters were essentially useless in my case, as an out of the box approach didn’t seem worth their time.  I then enrolled in an online digital marketing course and earned myself a certification.  Although in my opinion online education doesn’t compare to taking physical classes, it was a step in the right direction.  I was making progress, but after some time passed, I naturally was frustrated without having a job, a steady income, a routine.  Against my will to transition out of Wholesale, I decided I shouldn’t undermine the strong experience I built in it and accepted “a great job offer” at Proenza Schouler.  Part of me felt it was the easy way out to accept, but the winning part of me thought this was my only way.  Essentially 1.5 months in, I read an article in WWD announcing that Arielle Charnas was launching a stand-alone line at Nordstrom.  She was an influencer I long admired and was obviously disrupting both the fashion and digital spaces in more ways than traditional “bloggers” were.  Something Navy was a business I wanted to be a part of and knew I could help grow in many ways.  To make an already long story short, like many others do, I slid into Arielle’s DMs and that was the easiest, yet one of the most significant decisions I have made to date for my career.

There are countless of people who preach “it’s never too late to do what you love”.  Despite my being a clear believer in that, I’ve also experienced firsthand that it’s SO much easier said than done.  It takes hard work, dedication, patience, often a strong network of colleagues and friends, and of course, good timing can only help.  Most people we all know have lived through challenges and obstacles while on the journey to find their “dream job”, so don’t be afraid to ask for advice from your inner circle.  This industry has changed in every way.  From shopping via snail mail catalogues sent by department stores to shopping via Instagram Stories.  From relying mostly on your guidance counselor to help pave your career decisions to consuming a plethora of career-driven content and connecting with thousands of professionals on Linkedin.  My best advice I can give is to embrace the fact that opportunities are truly far more endless today than they ever were before.  We can pave our own paths and become more successful as a result.  There’s no formula, there’s no “tradition”.


Illustration by: Molly Keene

By Tara Foley

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