In 2008 I was finishing up my Sophomore year at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, NY. I was a very ambitious, happy, twenty year old student and was always going after things outside of the classroom. I was featured as a prom dress designer on TRL. America voted on the best prom dress and i lost pretty terribly. I was going home to Massachusetts for the summer to work (i wanted to stay so badly!) My friends were all staying in the city and were organizing a fashion show for the end of the summer. they would be organizing the venue and press and were very serious about it. the two of them were kind of a mess and when i would ask for updates, i wouldn’t get much. I was working about 80 hours a week between 3 jobs (Ice cream scooping, babysitting & substitute teaching). Whenever i was not working, i was creating this collection. I was exhausted.
I was putting everything into the fact that this fashion show at the end of the summer would do something for me. They were some of the cutest clothes i had ever made. I loved them. I organized a photoshoot that I was shooting with two of my friends. I packed up all of the clothes, shoes and jewelry, picked up 2 dozen balloons for props and was about to go to location when i got a phone call. My friends had dropped the ball and the fashion show in NYC was no longer happening. I was holding 2 dozen balloons in a grocery store parking lot in small town, Massachusetts. I was devastated. I drove to the photoshoot in my Grandma's car that i was borrowing and didn’t say anything to anyone about this. The shoot was amazing. The clothes looked perfect.
After the shoot I got back into my car and “I kissed a Girl” by Katy Perry came on the radio. I said out loud, “she is going to wear my clothes”. One week later she was.
oh, it would be so nice if when i started dressing katy perry i figured out how to capitalize on that 100% and start a business.
I had no intention of starting a business, i just knew it would be amazing to get these clothes on her.
On September 2, 2008 Katy Perry wrote this blog post about me. It changed my life. timing is everything and it happening then was amazing, but i was still in school and not able to fully dive into what i needed to in order to really, actually begin my business. I had to complete internships for other companies while i was working on VMA outfits, i was studying for a history test while girls in California would be emailing me for custom prom dresses. everything happened backwards.
In December of 2008 I went to a casting that was recommended to me from a professor. It was for a show on MTV. I was chosen to star in it and filmed a pilot, and for 1 week of my life, i was the creative director of Ecko Red (by Marc Ecko). The producers told me to drop out of school, that we would begin filming in March and then that would be it. I didn’t drop out of school and the show never got picked up. I had my first fashion show in the summer of 2009 at a club in the meatpacking district and was continuing to generate buzz but was also interning at betsey johnson to fulfill graduation requirements and had no money.
when i was in my senior year of college, i got an email from Betsey Johnson's PR Team. my internship had ended a couple months prior and apparently betsey wanted to have lunch with me to chat about some things. i went to lunch, just me and bets, to chat. she told me that i was exactly what her company was looking for, and that i would be brought on part time for my final semester and then brought on full time when i graduated. i was ecstatic. she told me she would call me in january to discuss the details. well, by the time march rolled around i still hadn't heard from them (after numerous follow ups). in april i applied for the job and 2 weeks later she gave the job to someone else. i was devastated. again. she was my hero.
when i graduated from Pratt Institute in Spring 2010 i did not know what i was going to do. i had a big big rent check to pay ($1400) and a boyfriend that wanted to come in from Connecticut to spend the summer with me. that sounded great, we had a long distance relationship for the past year and i would have loved to spend the summer running around NYC going to concerts. i didn’t want to think about work, i just graduated. this was a big mistake. i should have done more research and dove in head first.
i was applying to jobs but my resume made me look over qualified. nobody else was graduating from college at 22 years old, having had pieces on stage and in magazines all over the world.
i looked like an entrepreneur on paper but i didn’t know how to be one in real life.
i took an awful bakery job (this was my rock bottom) and worked for almost a year there making very, very little money and using up all of my savings every month to pay rent. looking back, i should never have taken that job. when i left that job i began babysitting for a family in Brooklyn. this was a better job than the bakery, and they understood my career and what my goals were for myself (i’m still very close with that family).
It wasn’t until late 2011/early 2012 that i started realizing that i had to start actually doing this or else nothing would ever change. i still made custom things here and there for people (like, 4 a year) and made “collections” that would sit on my rack because i didn’t know what happened after you took the pictures of the finished clothes. i broke up with my boyfriend, put out a collection of wild and wacky circle skirts and threw a giant launch party. this generated a lot of press but was done on a VERY small budget, so looking back at it, it was so terribly stressful on so many levels.
There was a lot of interest from television producers to get me my own television show. My best friend and I had been filming and working on a pilot with a manager (who turned out to just be an addict) and were making pitches to many production companies. We eventually got a development deal but the contract terms were so crazy that we wouldn’t sign. in 2013 i put out a collection of fun things for the home, because i thought- ‘these are things that are easy for me to produce and that play off of the crazy and cute clothes that i design’. the clothes that i had designed were not producible- they were super detailed and crazy but would have to be made one at a time and would cost SO much to produce that nobody would actually buy them.
i sold my pillows, coasters and napkins at markets, took on a couple of custom clients, and worked with a big business woman to help me work on my business plan. we worked remotely every single day of the summer in 2013 and at the end of the summer i would make a pitch to someone that would hopefully invest his resources in my company. i worked my butt off and emptied my savings account to hire her ($3500) and work on this. i believed in this. that summer felt like business school. i did not know anything about business plans and did not know how to make pitches or understand fully what i would need in order to get my life off of the ground. i made my pitch to a business owner who owned manufacturing and design companies. he loved me, it went great. we started planning for a mobile pop up shop, we planned for a Q4 collection launch. i designed and designed and kept presenting him with more info and research and designs. this went on for about a month, but he still hadn't invested or given me anything.
in October, while babysitting, i got a phone call from him that said he was not going to be investing and he didn’t know what he was going to do with me so he was out.
i cried. i drank a lot of wine. I ate a bunch of italian food. Then I drank a bunch of cocktails. then i puked up all of the italian food (cannoli included) that i had before that. I was so defeated. i knew bigger things were in store for me.
by the end of 2013 i was up and brainstorming and in January 2014 i sat in my desk, reading teen vogue, upset that my things weren’t in it. i needed to find a fun and quirky way to get my aesthetic out there in a way that was able to be manufactured, bought, and most importantly WORN.
then i got the idea that would change everything.
“everything needs to be reversible!” i texted my best friend, i google to see if anyone was already doing it, i drew. i got so excited. in February 2014 i shot my first retroversible collection (that i modeled). i emailed a store i really wanted to be in and they loved it, they wanted to throw me a big launch party and invite all of their friends. i wore the clothes into other stores and they wanted to buy them too. it was all happening. I had so many clothes to make. My mom drove up from Massachusetts to help me cut out as many outfits as we possibly could (like, a dozen skirts a day). it was crazy. I finished as many outfits as I could and threw a big party- 4.13.14- and people bought my clothes! I had my first window display! i drank a lot of champagne! I was receiving wholesale orders!
I started working with Megan Nicole, Youtube starlet, the day after my first retroversible collection launch. we were making dresses together by the day. 6 months later, still very busy with Megan, i was releasing my second retroversible collection. i traveled to Los Angeles to network and shoot that collection. Many more stores wanted to place orders.
i came to the realization that i could no longer sew my own clothes. but crap, the orders were already placed, how would i find a factory that would fit within my price and turnaround time?
well, i did. i asked around, i hunted around the garment district. i asked my connections. i found one that worked. i gave them my fabric, my samples and my patterns and they gave me back my first garments ever that i designed and did not sew. i almost cried. they were perfect. I learned a lot about working with new people, new stores, getting screwed by new stores, and learning how to draw up contracts so that i would not get screwed. There are some very dishonest people out there, but i believe in karma and thats what gets me through the day.
Now 3 seasons later, I am still in that apartment that i got in college, and i just put out my 5th retroversible collection, and i am designing and creating Megan Nicole’s second set of costumes for her second tour. I began working with Andra Day on projects for Live! With Kelly & Michael and Late Night with Stephen Colbert. This lead me to work on commissioned pieces for a huge goal of mine, the 2016 Grammys. Andra debuted to the world wearing a jumpsuit by me under a huge Marabou coat. Every time i sell an item to a customer, the magic is not lost on me. getting orders on my website, or in person, or selling to a store, is an incredible thing. it was not an overnight success and many days the amount of work i put into my career makes me wonder if what i’m doing is the right thing. Seeing the growth of the last 8 years is incredible and sitting down writing this is a huge reminder that YES, it is. It is all happening for me, i am living my dream. I did not want to graduate and work at a job for somebody else every single day. I wanted to build a company under my own name. I am doing that, and i am growing it every single day.
It is not easy, but if you work hard enough, and never ever give up on yourself, it will happen for you. you have nothing to lose. i know that sounds lame as hell, but you got this.
ps. Katy Perry still gives me free concert tickets, betsey johnson went bankrupt, closed her stores and lost on Dancing With The Stars. And my friends that screwed me over in 2008? one works in retail and last time i talked to the other one, she told me she was "between jobs." and we all know what that means.
pps. i could not have survived those 8 years without the people who have been part of my team since the beginning: mom, katrina, michaela, macy, ashley, donni & sarah to name a few. i don't know where i would be without you.