Behind The Seams With Kleinfeld’s Mara Urshel

Mara Picture

Mara Urshel is assuredly a highly respected executive, having co-founded and managed Kleinfeld Bridal, New York’s iconic and the largest bridal boutique in the country for 17 years. Urshel began her journey with Kleinfeld as a business consultant from Gordon Brothers. Six months in, she brought in a proposal that required a crucial amount of spending to be made, but the management at the time decided to put the company up for sale instead. Urshel saw this as an exciting opportunity to take a chance and to revive Kleinfeld, shaping it into a massive bridal retailer that would eventually make the dreams of thousands of brides-to-be come true. She brought up the idea of buying the company to Ronnie Rothstein, her business partner and together, they’ve established Kleinfeld into a renowned bridal retailer, where brides-to-be travel from all over the world to receive the ultimate wedding experience.

Kleinfeld carries the largest selection of bridal gowns from top American and European bridal designers. They receive new styles nearly every day and Urshel says that they are constantly searching the world to seek out designers to add to the merchandising mix. They are staffed with close to 200 dedicated professionals which includes on-site stylists and bridal consultants, and custom fitters, sewers, beaders, embroiderers and pressers. The bridal store also has its own reality show on TLC­­, Say Yes to the Dress, a series that allows viewers to witness the private experience of the bride’s search for the right dress.

With around 10,000 gowns sold a year, Kleinfeld is unquestionably a leader in the bridal industry under the leadership of Urshel and Rothstein who call the store and its employees, their family. Urshel recently sat down with Dress for Success to discuss how she revived Kleinfeld to become a leader in the bridal industry, the growth she experienced as a senior executive at Saks Fifth Avenue and the importance of the customer experience when a bride-to-be shops for that perfect wedding dress.

Dress for Success: You were the Senior VP at Saks Fifth Avenue for 19 years prior to Kleinfeld. Did you find yourself having to fight for this role at first? Were there difficulties to overcome in this position? How did that experience influence your role when you took ownership of Kleinfeld?

Mara Urshel: My 19 years at Saks were exciting and gave me great pride in the initiatives I started and left behind. I was extremely dedicated and driven to success never realizing any obstacles. Promotions for Assistant to the VP of Couture to Senior VP of 55% of the stores volume came as anticipated. In my sportswear divisions I developed a strong classified business that led me to one day desire a “niche” business in a classification. Then one day I received an offer to be a business consultant for Kleinfeld in a turn-around situation. And voilà there was my classification waiting for me. I am as excited about Kleinfeld’s development and growth as I was in all my years at Saks.

DFS: What strategies have you implemented over the years in order to establish Kleinfeld as the leading brand for wedding fashion? How have the designers you carry and invested in influenced your growth as a major retailer?

MU: Strategic merchandising and unparalleled customer service are the most important strategies at Kleinfeld. It is important that we stay ahead of the market and competitive by offering the largest selection of designer bridal gowns in the U.S. The designers we carry directly influence our growth. We travel the world to seek out exclusive designers you can only find at Kleinfeld in NYC. This, plus our customer service, positions us as the leader in bridal retail.

DFS: Kleinfeld is known as the largest bridal retailer, catering to more than 17,000 brides a year. You’ve said that a reason for the success is the customer service, that you give clients your cell phone number to ensure that they can reach you at any time. What other ways do you continue to establish a service that is satisfactory for your clients?

MU: Every day we discuss new ideas and suggestions to improve the Kleinfeld experience. We are dedicated to making every bride happy and to stay on the pulse of bridal and listen to our customers. We are currently building a new website which will be optimized for mobile – since 60% of our web traffic is mobile. We are also working on creating more content to position ourselves as the leader in weddings – not just bridal fashion.

kleinfeld

DFS: When a client walks into the store, walking out with a wedding dress is the obvious goal. You’ve said that it’s the wedding dress that can bring tears to the client’s eyes and a fluster to her face. How do you and your sales team help identify the right dress for the customer?

MU: Sales consultants must be great listeners and know their product! The conversation our bridal consultants have with the bride is very important. The consultant must listen to the brides’ requests and how she envisions herself on the wedding day. Taking her requests, wedding location and budget into consideration, the bridal consultant must find the right dress to say ‘yes’ to.

DFS: When your clients leave with the wedding dress, what do you hope they take from their experience working with your staff?

MU: We hope the bride remembers us as the first and last (and favorite) stop of her wedding preparation. After a bride purchases a dress at Kleinfeld, she has at least 3 more visits to the store to alter her wedding dress. Along the journey she meets with a team of  Kleinfeld employees to bring her vision to reality – from her bridal dress selection appointment to her accessory selection, her fittings and her press and pick-up appointment – all 200+ employees are involved in making the process memorable.

DFS: How has the success of Say Yes to the Dress impacted the brand and your business? Are you grateful for the continued success of the show? In your opinion, what has made the show so successful?

MU: As we enter into the 16th season of SYTTD, we believe that the success of the show is not only because of the talented production company and network, but because of the brides and the dresses they select. The dress is the ‘star’ of the show. We are thankful that the show has turned a national brand into an international brand promoted in over 200 countries around the world.

DFS: Your business is continuously expanding into product offerings outside wedding fashion. What are the areas you have expanded in that you are most proud of? What more do you envision in terms of expansion? What’s next for Kleinfeld?

MU: Kleinfeld continues to expand our exclusive and private label dress brands. As well as support Kleinfeld Hudson’s Bay located in Toronto, Canada. We also have expanded into stationary. Kleinfeld Paper offers wedding invitations, save the dates, thank you cards and day-of stationary such as escort cards and menus. Kleinfeld has also added a hotel room block booking service – Kleinfeld Hotel Blocks. They find and negotiate the best rates for your out of town wedding guests. As well as, Kleinfeld Name Change, Hitch Switch, a unique free service to easily change your name, driver’s license, credit cards, etc.

DFS: What does it mean for you to take part in the experience of finding the dress for a woman in such a monumental stage in her life? And is there a particular client’s experience in the store that is most memorable and why?

MU: We are honored to be a part of the most important day in a brides’ life. We meet with over 17,000 brides annually and we love receiving wedding photos from every one of them!

Ceci Johnson on Building a Luxury Design Empire

Ceci Johnson in office

Once a bride to be has the date of her wedding secured, a significant stage of the wedding planning process is sending out the invitations. That’s where the leader in wedding invitation design: Ceci New York’s team comes in. At Ceci New York, the team specializes in invitation and lifestyle designs for weddings, corporate events, galas and much more. The design empire was founded by Ceci Johnson, a Southern California native whose career accelerated from launching her website to forming a business that would alter the art of invitation and branding. Johnson is an entrepreneur, trailblazer and force in the graphic design world.

Ceci Johnson3

Johnson’s idea to launch her business was sparked by designing a wedding invitation for a co-worker when she worked as a designer for the bridal registry kits at Macy’s and Bloomingdales in California. She later moved to New York, and began freelance desigining with one referral from the next. After, she decided to launch a website which after six months would garner her the trendsetter award by Modern Bride Magazine and the New York Magazine’s expert stationer award. The website was just the beginning as her business expanded from a shared creative workspace she found on Craig’s List to a few desks that ultimately grew to 2,200 square foot storefront on 23rd Street.

At Ceci New York, there are two levels of services brides can choose from: Ceci Collection and Ceci Couture. With Ceci Collection, brides can make custom changes to a variety of invitations that are designed and make them their own. They have the flexibility to choose ink colors, fonts and even the placement of artwork. Ceci Couture is a creative collaborative process where the bride works directly with her team to come up with an exclusive invitation.  In addition to Ceci Collection and Ceci Couture, Johnson launched CeciStyle Magazine in 2010. Each issue shares her latest passions and discoveries, not just in invitations, but also in the world of art and design, entertainment, fashion, beauty, home décor, travel and more. CeciStyle boasts over half a million viewers.

Johnson certainly built a remarkable business with a notable clientele list that includes Sean “Diddy” Combs, Katherine Heigl and the President of the United States. She credits her team for her company’s success, calling them dream makers and innovators that are dedicated to making clients happy by turning their creativity into an artistic reality.

“I believe 50% of our job is to create incredible design while the other 50% is excellent customer service and quality product” says Johnson.

Johnson recently sat down with Dress for Success to discuss building and growing her company and what more she has in-store for the future of Ceci New York.

  1. In 2004, you launched your custom invitation design business: Ceci New York but you first started with a website which after six months, won the trendsetter award by Modern Bride magazine. Were there some challenges you encountered as you started the business and how did you overcome them?

I always thought that it would be so easy to launch a company and be successful instantly. I learned very quickly that you won’t be famous over night (sigh), that you have to constantly work on your business and that it’s not an easy straight line up to success. It’s a crazy hard wild ride full of ups and downs and tough challenges every step of the way that constantly test your patience. I’ve learned that your hardest day only lasts 24 hours and that you really cannot give up no matter how tired you are. Because, honestly, if you are not pushing your business forward, then it’s not really going to go anywhere on it’s own. I constantly remind myself that if it was easy, then everyone would be doing it.

  1. You’ve said that what makes Ceci New York wedding invitations stand out from other companies is the great customer service, to bring clients the best service that they will remember. How would you describe the work environment you’ve built at Ceci New York?

“The company culture at Ceci New York is extremely important to me. We are a team of dream makers and innovators, dedicated to making our clients happy by turning our creativity into an artistic reality. However, we wouldn’t be able to make our clients happy if we weren’t happy ourselves, so I insist on hiring the most positive people on the planet who have a happy, can-do attitude. People who love a good challenge, love to problem solve and work hard at creating something amazing. We are collectively building something bigger than all of us. I always say, you need to check your egos at the door and come in and work as a collaborative creative team. Nothing is beneath us. If I have to take out the trash, I will. If we have to work late to get the job done, that’s a given. We do whatever it takes with a smile and turn it into fun.

  1. Your business has expanded from the launch of your site and obtaining referrals, to having a company that does not only create wedding invitations, but also partnerships, such as your collaboration with Dress for Success. How will you continue to expand Ceci New York?

I am proud to partner with great organizations like Dress for Success and have our design do good. Giving back and helping others is a mission I’ve always been on ever since I was a little girl. I love making people happy through our creativity and make their lives a little more beautiful. This year, we hope to expand into more lifestyle categories and bring our designs to beautify your world everyday – not just on your wedding day or birthday, but now you will be able to enjoy a bit of Ceci on a daily basis through our new products launching soon.

  1. In your letter for our “Success Diaries,” column you shared that the best piece of advice is what you obtained from your father. He always said that “your hardest day is only 24 hours”. For women entrepreneurs in the beginning stages of their careers, what career advice would you pass on to them?

Be strong. Be laser focused and never give up on your dreams. Remember to not take things too personally. Being an entrepreneur definitely thickens your skin because you have to learn to set your emotions aside and remember it is just business. Once you can separate, you can drive your business with a rational mind, which will get you much farther than you ever imagined.

  1. In the Ceci Couture design process, your team comes up with a brand new, custom design concept for each client. How do you work with your clients to create a design that they love? Has there been a request that you’ve admired most?

The design consultation is all about asking a lot of questions and doing a deep dive into who my clients are and what makes them tick. We like to think of it as our “first date.” We consider what kind of person or company they are, what their home looks like, what they wear, what they love individually and together as a couple. Once we define the style, I start brainstorming ideas for their unique invitations. It’s the ultimate luxury to turn yourself over to a talented designer’s hands and let them do what they do best. The results are always something you could have never dreamed of yourself. For me, it’s easy and fun. I try to eliminate the stress of having to know an exact invitation design before starting the process. That’s our job!

  1. You’ve spoken to designers, women in business, wedding industry professionals and entrepreneurial groups. What would you hope that attendees take away from your talks?

I hope I can inspire others to better their own businesses and to know they can run a successful business all while having a work life balance. To find the confidence to stand up for themselves (especially women in business) to get paid what they deserve and not let clients take over their lives. That it’s ok to fail. And that failure isn’t final, it is just feedback. To learn from my mistakes and know they’re not alone in this crazy hard entrepreneurial journey. And most importantly to know that if you dream it, you can always find a way to make it a reality if you don’t give up. 

  1. You’ve been featured in The New York Times, USA Today, InStyle, Town & Country as well as spotlighted on the Today Show and VH1. You’ve also had high profile clients such as Sara Jessica Parker and Katherine Heigel. What does this success mean to you?

I am so grateful and flattered to have had these moments along the way. While these are what I would consider incredible moments of success, I’ve learned they are fleeting and we have to constantly keep after it. Success, to me, is achieving your dreams and to keep making your dreams come true every day.

 To learn more about Ceci Johnson and her design work, follow her on Instagram (@cecinewyork) or visit www.cecinewyork.com 

Jess Lee, Co-founder and CEO of Polyvore on transparency as an asset to being a tech leader

 

Jess Lee headshot

 

Straight out from college, tossing the cap and gown and heading into the workforce, college graduates face the real world with excitement and anticipation of what’s to come. When Jess Lee graduated from Stanford University, her first step was not the norm. She obtained her first job at the tech giant: Google as a product manager. After four years, she would leave and later become a co-founder and CEO of Polyvore, a fashion commerce site that provides users with the latest trends in fashion, beauty and home.

Jess recently sat down with Dress for Success to discuss her willingness to be open about her ideas and pursuit for a challenge, that has led her trajectory to the top.

As a product manager for Google, Jess worked on Google Maps, a web mapping service that offers satellite imagery, street maps and 360 panoramic views of streets. She launched features such as “My Maps” which gave users drawing tools and location pins so that they can create their own maps.

The work at Google provided Jess with great responsibility and a supportive network. It was where she met Marissa Mayer, presently CEO of Yahoo. Marissa served as a mentor to Jess, encouraging her to challenge herself, to seek opportunities that lead to growth.

“I was very happy working on Google Maps. I became Google Maps’ Program Manager at age 22. The work was fun, challenging and very rewarding. I wasn’t looking for a new job but a great opportunity fell in my lap that I felt I had to take,” said Jess. In her blog, “jessblog,” she said that leaving Google was a difficult decision.

Her next venture in the tech space would be Polyvore. Polyvore is known as the platform to find the latest in fashion trends. It has a global community of stylists that share tips on how to mix and match looks, in addition to predicting trends before they hit the mainstream. Through Polyvore, users can arrange images of clothing into outfits and sets of outfits.

Jess admired the platform as she often browsed through the site creating different sets of looks. However, Jess had some reservations. What could be implemented into the site to improve it? She sent a detailed email to the team at Polyvore with praise but also feedback about how to improve user experience of the site.  Her ideas included image rotation as opposed to loading images in the search results and adding a lightweight method of bookmarking items for future use.  She added that the terms “Fgnd” and “Bgnd” in the site should be changed to “Send to front” and “Send to back” because it was more user-friendly. The email of suggestions led to a coffee meeting with one of the co-founders, Pasha Sadri. After their coffee meeting, Jess was hired at Polyvore first as a product manager, all the ideas she had were put into place. From product manager, she went on to become the Vice President of Product. Soon after, Sadri along with all other company co-founders, asked her to be recognized as an honorary co-founder due to her continuous innovation and passion for the company.

“I knew I wanted to help build a platform for others to creatively express their style and set trends around the world. One of my favorite things about Polyvore is that we’ve built technology and a platform that’s similar to a blank canvas, all our members fill it with their creativity” says Jess.

As a co-founder and CEO, Jess describes her leadership style as transparent. She’s open, direct and encourages her employees to feel comfortable coming to her with ideas to make things better.

“It’s important to me to be an approachable leader. I want people to always feel comfortable coming to me with their ideas, and feel like they can tell me the hard truths, because I can only fix problems that I know about.”

Aside from leading a company, Jess has been invited to several high profile events often serving as the keynote speaker. She’s spoken at the San Francisco Technology Summit and the CMX Summit, the premier conference for tech founders. Though she admits she doesn’t enjoy public speaking, she’s often willing to offer advice and encouragement, especially for women. She proudly served as a keynote speaker at Montgomery Summit: The Rise of the Female Entrepreneur. By speaking at these events and through her experience in leadership, she wants to inspire women with an entrepreneurial spirit.

“I’m not extroverted. I’m not male. I’m not white and my path to CEO was a bit unusual. So I think my success represents that there are a lot of different types of leaders and you can be a successful leader even if you don’t fit the classic mold of a CEO. I hope that inspires other people to try to start their own companies.”

Jess aspires to do more as Polyvore is well in demand with over 20 million monthly subscribers. Last year, Yahoo acquired the fashion site for around $200 million. Jess hopes to continue to use the platform to change the way trendsetting happens across the fashion industry. She also has great aspirations for her employees, that they go on and become founders too.

“We’ve already helped make a few founders and CEOs and it’d be great to see even more!”

Poise in the Workplace

Guest Post by Jennifer L. Scott

Do you know what your most valuable asset in the workplace is? It might not be what you think. If you acquire this asset, you will instantly stand out in your job as a valuable employee. People will take notice of you for all the right reasons. You will command respect, no matter what your position in the company is.

So what could this mysterious asset possibly be? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not something that you can buy. It has nothing to do with money. I’ll give you another hint: it’s something that anyone can have. Yes, anyone. Here’s one last hint: it is something you can’t quite put your finger on, but when someone has it you just know there is something special about them.

The asset I am talking about is poise. Poise is a graceful and elegant bearing in someone. Poised people have good manners, good decorum and present themselves well. This is such a valuable asset in the workplace because all of these traits show that you are reliable, dependable and committed. Your behavior and the way you present yourself puts others at ease, whether they realize it or not. Poise is powerful because those who have it command respect.

A major part of poise is personal presentation, not only with good posture, diction and eye contact, but also with how you dress and how you express your personal style.

Every morning when you get dressed, you make a choice of how you would like to present yourself to the world. As a poised person in the workplace, your wardrobe choices should be appropriate, professional and reflect your individual style. You do not need to buy expensive clothes or even have a wardrobe filled with lots of clothes to do this. You just need a few key outfits that fit you well, are appropriate for your job and reflect your personality.

If you are unsure what your true style is, it is a great idea to pick neutral, basic clothing. You can always inject personality with your accessories like scarves or jewelry. If you work in a conservative office environment, for example, you can never go wrong with classic looks like a simple, black dress, navy or beige trousers, a white blouse or a black blazer. These items can be worn in so many different ways with many combinations that you will never get bored of, but can feel confident in. The great news is you can find outfits that meet this criterion at any price range.

We all make visual judgments every day and your employer, customers and coworkers are no different. As we work on our poise, our newfound changes will be reflected in our wardrobe choices and set us up for success in whatever career we choose.

Jennifer L. Scott is the New York Times bestselling author of Lessons from Madame Chic, At Home with Madame Chic and Polish Your Poise with Madame Chic (Simon & Schuster) and creator of the blog The Daily Connoisseur.

She is a contributing writer for Huffington Post Style and has been featured on CNN, BBC, and CBS News, and in The New York TimesVanity FairUSA TodayNewsweek, and The Daily Mail. She lives with her family in Los Angeles, California.

Lizanne Kindler on Rekindling the Talbots Brand

 

In 2012, Talbots was predicted to be one of top ten brands that would disappear by 2013. Coming out of the recession, the Massachusetts-based women’s clothing company experienced a period of profit losses, waning clientele and was looking to close almost 20% of their stores. Enter Lizanne Kindler. The retailer was barely treading water when Lizanne, the brand’s former Executive Vice President of Merchandising, returned to the company as the President and Chief Executive Officer.

“We like to call it my very long vacation away from Talbots,” she jokes.

Today, Talbots has more than 500 retail stores and outlets throughout the U.S. and Canada, and attracts some of the country’s most powerful women as clients, including First Lady Michelle Obama, who touted the brand on national television this year with Jimmy Fallon.

Emerging from years of brand dilution and experimentation with trends and audiences, Talbots has recreated a cohesive style, focused on women’s professional wear with a classic foundation and modern edge. Under Lizanne’s direction, Talbots has streamlined its marketing and defined itself as a brand that empowers women both through the power of fashion choices, as well as the company’s philanthropic support of our very own organization. Such tactics have brought Talbots out of the rat race and into a unique space in the retail industry. Lizanne credits her part in the redirection to an internal sense of competition.

“I don’t get caught up in what you would call the shiny bright objects,” she explains. “I don’t really think about my drive as it relates to other people and that has enabled me to stay extremely focused with a tremendous amount of clarity around what I can achieve.”

Unlike many in her field, Lizanne was equally attracted to the business aspect of retail as she was to the fashion. Before originally linking up with Talbots, Lizanne began her career at Ann Taylor Inc., where she climbed the ranks to serve as Senior Vice President of Merchandising over the course of 15 years. At Ann Taylor, Lizanne was instrumental in guiding the foundational stages of their ecommerce, as well as kick-starting the now lucrative youth brand, Ann Taylor Loft.  She then joined the Talbots team for a three-year period before accepting a position as Executive Vice President of Product Development at Kohl’s to gain a piece of retail education missing from her resume. Without any direct knowledge of product development and sourcing, Lizanne’s strong communication and relational skills gave her an edge, but the ability to recognize her own strengths and weaknesses became her most valuable asset.

“In any leadership position, but especially as a female executive, you don’t want to appear as if you don’t know, so you have this need to feel like you have everything under control, but I’ve found that it’s so much more powerful to just understand that you can’t control it all the way down to the lowest level, you have to trust that the talent you have around you is going to drive it,” she says.

Now back at Talbots, Lizanne has the self-awareness to trust in her own strengths as an executive and the humility to place the same amount of confidence in her team. This model has encouraged her employees to work collaboratively in cultivating a mutual respect and opening Talbots to new opportunities for growth, both internally and externally. Lizanne maintains a diverse team of professionals around her and is proud to lead an executive leadership team where seven out of 12 members are women.

With more than two decades of experience as an executive, Lizanne now leads an international brand with employees that number in the thousands, but her business savvy can be traced back to childhood.  Born in Denmark, Lizanne and her brother were raised by deaf parents. From a very young age, she became somewhat of the family ambassador, handling everything from her parent’s tax returns to booking their plane tickets. Early exposure to handling her parents’ external affairs gave Lizanne the interpersonal skills necessary to move steadily up the corporate ladder.

“I was sort of their ears and voice to the world, so I learned very early on that communication and how you connect with people can be very powerful, and can change the outcome of a situation,” she says.

As Lizanne got a little older, her parents braved drastic career changes, quitting their jobs in factories to become teachers for other deaf learners. As an integral part of their interaction with the outside, she was inspired by her parents’ strength and curiosity to make their mark on a world where they were intrinsically marginalized.

At 11 years old, Lizanne traveled to the United States for the first time to visit her aunt, who had moved to Washington, D.C., and ran a department store chain. Though Lizanne admittedly didn’t know exactly what she was witnessing at the time, she watched as her aunt in a leadership role and returned to Denmark devout in her career choice. Her aunt was breaking through “glass ceilings” before that phrase became commonplace and Lizanne became enamored with her aunt’s work ethic and business savvy, as well as her accomplishments within the workplace.

“She became my role model. My parents were my backbone, but she was really my north star,” says Lizanne.

Even with decades of experience and as an accomplished CEO, Lizanne consistently leverages the foundational skills she learned outside of the classroom and the office. “I wake up every day coming in to win and do better, but with the appropriate amount of humility and ambition,” she laughs. And it is this mix of qualities in Lizanne’s leadership that has helped Talbots recreate a legacy that is shared through generations and consistently keeps women coming back to shop for more.

The Success Diaries: Claire Mazur & Erica Cerulo

Dear Claire and Erica circa 2002,

You guys just met, at the dining hall! And, as much as you want to roll your eyes at the guy who introduced you—who thinks you’ll have so much in common because you’ve both dated college basketball players—acknowledge that he might be onto something. Definitely roll your eyes first, though, and then get down to it.

Eight years from now in 2010—when you’ll be an unfathomably old 26 and 27—you’ll start a business together. Can you even believe it? First, try to wrap your heads around the fact that you won’t be in college staying up all night, er, working on the chattiest floor of the library. Then picture yourselves in New York instead of Chicago with 1) less bronzer on your faces and 2) resumes that boast real, paying jobs. Then imagine you come up with an idea one cold day in January that you gets you so excited that you rally emails full of “what ifs” and “how ‘bouts” back and forth all night and decide that you have to meet for coffee the next day to workshop it some more.

What do you two know about starting this business you’ve dreamt up? Next to nothing. Neither of you has worked in fashion in a real way, you’ve only constructed a website via Tumblr, and you definitely don’t know the difference between an LLC and a corporation. But here’s the thing: That won’t hold you back. Below, the things to keep in mind, especially when banging your head against the wall or feeling the symptoms of imposter syndrome coming on.

1)   You’re going to have to get comfortable with risk.

The anxious, unsteady feeling that swirls around in your stomach when you’re not confident that something is a sure-thing—start embracing it. Don’t let it keep you up at night. Because, hey, guess what? Nothing is a sure-thing. The safe job you take could get downsized. The gig you think is your absolute dream could be totally obsolete in a decade. So set your sights, and get after it.

2)   Ask for advice—tons! and ignore a whole lot of it.

When you’ve never done something before, it seems like everyone who has even a teaspoon of experience must know better. Pick those people’s brains. Hear them out. Take it all in. But then use only what speaks to you, and don’t feel the tiniest bit of reluctance about choosing your own way. You might not know everything—or anything, really—but you know what feels right to you.

3)   Accept that some things will be so much harder than expected and that some things will be so much easier.

Today could be terrible, and tomorrow could bring an amazing surprise. This year could be mind-blowingly awesome, and next kind of the dumps. Don’t dwell on the bad or the good. Roll with it.

4)   Take care of yourselves.

And know what that means for YOU. Maybe it’s carving out time to work out every morning so you don’t lose your damn mind. Maybe it’s having a standing weekly date with your husband. Maybe it’s knitting or cooking or watching Nashville even though it’s gotten so bad. Just make it a priority, and don’t let it get stamped off your calendar by all of the emails and meetings and to-dos.

You’re gonna be great. We mean it.

Xoxo

Claire and Erica in 2015

 

Claire and Erica met at University of Chicago in 2002 when a mutual frenemy introduced them, suggesting they should be friends because they both, at some point during their college careers, dated (Division III) basketball players. They quickly realized they had other things in common, an appreciation of fashion and a Tracy Flick-like approach to their extracurriculars among them. Both girls moved to New York post-graduation, and often found themselves talking about peers who had started businesses and their mutual admiration for those who had taken the plunge. When they conceptualized Of a Kind—over the course of 25 frantic emails in 12 hours—they knew they had to pursue it. Of a Kind aims to support and promote on-the-rise fashion and home designers by giving you access to their unique products and personal stories. For more about Of a Kind, visit www.ofakind.com or follow them on Twitter, Instagram or Facebook.

How to Keep Your Sweaters Looking Their Best!

Don’t you love autumn?  One day it’s warm, one day it’s cool.  Fall is just the unpredictable season that, despites its ups and downs, you just can’t help but love.  One way many of us ladies combat the turbulent temperatures of the season is to simply keep a sweater stashed in our bag or steadfastly hanging from the backs of our office chairs for those times when we don’t plan for that dreaded drop in Mercury.  The best thing about sweaters is that they’re a great way to warm up without dressing down, so we want to make sure that your favorite knitted wares are cared for properly and live a long, purposeful life!  Follow these tips to keep your sweaters looking great season after season:

Wash: Make sure you follow the instructions on the tag. Most wool, cashmere or mohair sweaters will require you to hand wash them. Baby shampoo is a preferable substitute to detergent for these fabrics, which have very delicate fibers. If you are washing rayon, cotton or linen sweaters in a machine, turn inside out and make sure to separate them or only clean with like items. The clasps on bras, zippers and buttons can snag a sweater and create holes or pulls in the fabric.

Dry: Most sweaters should be dried on a flat surface so they do not lose shape after washing.  You can use a towel to dab and soak up excess water before laying them flat and reshaping, but never wring dry. Gather the waist and wrists, button any buttons and straighten the sleeves–pressing and pulling gently to lengthen and restore the sweaters original shape.

Maintain: When your sweater gets “pills” from rubbing and overuse, you can use a razor blade or small electric shaver to remove the excess fibers. After each cleaning check the armpits, elbows and sleeves where rubbing occurs most often.

Fold & Store: After your sweater dries, fold. Do not hang on a hanger or the sweater will stretch out and lose its shape. When storing for the season, make sure your sweaters are washed and fully dried so it does not grow mold or mildew. To further protect, you can use cedar balls in your storage box or drawer as a safe and easy solution to moths, pests and odor.

These few extra steps will keep your sweaters a wardrobe staple and equipped to take on the seasons!

 

Lubov Azria: Starting from the Bottom

A vision of her creative principles, Lubov Azria is strong, sophisticated and self-aware, clad in contemporary chicness.

“The idea of passion is what I’m interested in,” says Lubov.

And it’s that passion that drove a career at BCBGMAXAZRIA where she began as a design assistant in 1991 and now reigns as Chief Creative Officer. Since her arrival, BCBG has become an international fashion powerhouse with 570 retail stores worldwide. Under Lubov’s creative direction, the label has expanded from one line to four, not including forays into footwear, jewelry, handbags and everything in between. Closing out their 25th anniversary year, Lubov talked with Dress for Success about being your own inspiration, checking egos at the door and the constant evolution she embraced to become the creative leader of a global brand.

As CCO, Lubov holds the weight of almost 200 designers on her shoulders. In addition to her role at the office, she is also the better half of founder and designer Max Azria, with whom she has three young children and three step children. In order to keep her professional and personal life balanced, not to mention her sanity, she finds ways to be inspired every single day.

Growing up in Kiev, Ukraine, Lubov was raised modestly and remembers the feelings she got while staring in store windows—where fashion always sat behind glass and beyond her reach. As the woman who now spearheads the creation these objects of desire, Lubov vows to make all her garments affordable, contemporary and most importantly inclusive.

“I am designing for every woman. It changes over time, but at the end of the day the BCBG woman does it all and needs chic, easy options that match her dynamic lifestyle,” she says.

The concepts behind BCBG’s designs are also influenced by Lubov’s lifelong dedication to the arts. A former ballet dancer, she was lured into fashion after realizing her appreciation for costume design outweighed her dedication to the physical art. But Lubov doesn’t see the transition as that drastic.

“To this day, I don’t think I work in fashion. I think it’s more about art, creativity and working with an incredibly talented team. To me, fashion has a different connotation. We create everything here and it doesn’t have to be fashion, it can be anything,” says Lubov.

This open interpretation of art and design, along with an integrity of character that is true to her roots, is Lubov’s creative vision that keeps the BCBG brand modern and unique, but also extremely wearable.

Investing more than two decades with the company, Lubov has climbed from an entry level assistant position to the top, and has the wherewithal to prove it. She now navigates her career path just as she does the creative process. When looking for new hires, she says it’s those who can stow away pride, knowing there’s always going to be several drafts, and recognize each step (no matter how small) is necessary to reach final product.

“Along the way, I have learned that nothing is below you. Do windows, floors and bring coffee if you have to, make it happen,” Lubov says.

Armed with experience, Lubov believes that starting from the bottom was necessary to understand every aspect of the international brand she now spearheads. She constantly passes what she’s learned to her team explaining, “Compassion and leading by example can set you apart–you cannot lead without showing people how to lead.”

Her career is proof that if every step, even the minor ones, if taken with conviction, will always lead forward.

Overseeing multiple departments at a time, Lubov has adjusted herself to a macro view, but kept her eye for detail.  Incidentally this is why Max hired her in the first place. The two complement each other; Lubov is meticulous and he has always been a global thinker (think the first American designer to acquire a French fashion house under his label). As CCO, Lubov sees the collections go from concept to final sale, a process which totals around six to nine months. Despite her crazed schedule, she prides herself in fitting every garment and interacting directly with her customers as much as possible. She works off her M.O. that to reach every woman, she must be in touch with every woman.

Whether she’s looking back on her decades in the fashion industry or wrapping up one long day at the office, Lubov’s growth and longevity lies in her ability to embrace evolution and adapt to the inevitable changes that occur in any profession. She attributes BCBG’s constant expansion to investing in a team that helps spur new vision and supports the company’s forward motion.

“Everyone in our company is a member of our extended family. My peers, designers and incredibly creative team inspire me with their own personal style.”Surrounded by those who keep her burgeoning vision sharp, Lubov’s influence weaves like a solid thread through the company.  Each collection marks an evolution of the previous season. Her progression and a commitment to that lifestyle is evident in this year’s 25th anniversary collections, which were based on reinventing pieces from their archives. The garments were built on solid fundamentals and juxtapose the old with new; echoing the model that has earned Lubov her dream career and the contemporary edge to constantly bring it new life.

Christy Turlington-Burns: The Model Student

From the covers of Vogue to public health poster child, Christy Turlington-Burns is a model in every sense of the word. Though she hates the label—and all labels, really—she’s been globally recognized since the age of 18 as one of the original supermodels. Now a mother of two, social-entrepreneur, director, author and activist, to name a few, Christy sat down with Dress for Success to share why she believes success must be earned and how her decision to go back to school helped chart a diverse career course that affords her the status she’s now most comfortable with: role model.

A graduate from one of the top universities in the country, Christy will be the first to tell you she was not the best student in high school. Discovered as a model at the young age of 14, she didn’t have much time to map out her future like many of her classmates, but as the saying goes, experience is the best teacher.  While many of her peers were still receiving an allowance from their parents, Christy was traveling the world and probably making more money than their parents.

At first, she was only modeling on school breaks and summers, but as she neared the end of her teenage years, Christy’s career took off and she was working full-time, leaving little room for traditional schooling.

“I didn’t think I would model for more than a few years, but things never slowed down and it got harder and harder to stop when I was doing so well. I wanted to make the most of the opportunity,” says Christy about her decision to focus on her career and forgo the academic path that many young adults are encouraged to pursue.

By the time she entered her twenties, Christy was part of an elite modeling trio dubbed the “holy trinity.” Along with Naomi Campbell and Linda Evangelista, the group became the breakout supermodels in the 1990’s. A fresh and buzzworthy term at the time, “supermodel” referred to the rare handful of women who were prized for more than just their looks, but were regarded for their overall star quality, securing not just jobs as walking mannequins, but garnering top-notch endorsement deals from international brands—positions that were once reserved for only a handful of elite actresses and musical acts.  But this, too, was another label that Christy did not care for.

Unsatisfied with the instantaneous success modeling brought, Christy knew she needed to forge her own path. Five years later, arguably at the height of her career, she decided it was time to walk away for a while.

“As soon as I was out of high school and modeling full-time, I knew I would go back to school. I always wanted to be thought of as more than a model—because I am.”

Setting out to prove herself, Christy enrolled in New York University Gallatin School of Independent Studies and earned a bachelor’s degree in Eastern philosophy and comparative religion. Though it was a huge risk walking away from the lucrative career she spent the last 10 years building, Christy still maintains that it was the best decision she ever made.

“I don’t know if any of the careers I have had would have been as meaningful to me had I not gone back to school when I did.”

Christy credits her mother for inspiring her to pursue her degree and keeping her grounded through years of chaos growing up in the public eye. Her mother, Maria, was a flight attendant and went back to school for her bachelor’s degree in her fifties.  Watching her mother courageously start a new chapter later in life encouraged Christy to act on her instincts and pursue her true interests while she was still young.

While in school, Christy’s father passed away from lung cancer. A long time smoker, Christy developed her own habit at an early age. Fueled by his loss, she began to share her struggle to empower others to quit. Here, she found her voice advocating for public health and began a career campaigning for smoking prevention.

Although she was innately ambitious, Christy’s education gave her passion legs and over the years her personal experiences became inspiration for some of her most meaningful work. In 2003, she suffered a post-partum hemorrhage after the birth of daughter that led her to create her first documentary film “No Woman, No Cry.” The film was aimed at raising awareness for maternal mortality and the global maternal health crisis. Two years later, she founded the non-profit Every Mother Counts, an organization dedicated to making child birth safe for all women.

Modeling on and off throughout her life, Christy can still turn heads, but now she does so more strategically, directing them towards the causes she truly supports.

Although she did not follow the tradition educational trajectory, Christy believes the challenge of returning to school as an adult was actually an advantage that gave her the confidence to forge her own career paths. Going back to school on her own terms, Christy recognized both the literal lessons she studied as well as the ones she learned about herself, that are often lost on many younger students.

“I learned that personal success is about using all you have within you to overcome adversity and that kind of success is the most gratifying. By the time I graduated, I knew I had so much more to do and share with the world,” she says.

Despite a career in modeling, Christy is anything but still. At 45, her resume reads as though she’s already lived a few different lives, but she would never confine herself to a piece of paper.

Recently resuming a longstanding role as the face of the campaign Eternity for Calvin Klein, Christy turned the attention to Every Mother Counts aligning the philanthropic initiatives of the fashion powerhouse with her non-profit. Dedicated to spreading maternal healthcare programs globally, Christy’s constantly meeting with health leaders around the world and says her classroom these days just doesn’t have any walls. Following a nontraditional route from the beginning, Christy’s education model has no ceilings.