When you were 17, what did you want to be?
Probably the editor of Vogue. I don’t think I had a name for it - it was more of a feeling. I just wanted to be a fancy woman who people respected, and I didn’t know what that looked like. I mean, I’m sure it looked like a great outfit and people wanting to work with me.
At 17, I knew that I was very interested in fashion, and they had a program at my high school where we were able to do fashion marketing and intern with department stores and there was a fashion show that we put on. It was all very bougie DC high school style, but I really enjoyed it and I liked the creativity of it.
I think my interests at that point were much more defined around how I would be perceived in that position, and that’s why I was gravitating toward fashion. I’m still interested in being validated by my position and career growth, but it’s shifted a lot from an aesthetic appreciation.
How did you decide to attend Virginia Commonwealth University?
I chose my college a little passively. I wasn’t that concerned or interested in going somewhere specific. My parents told me, “If you stay in-state there’s more we can do for you financially,” internships and abroad programs potentially, so I stayed in-state, and that obviously narrowed things down. I applied for a few different schools and VCU in Richmond was the best choice for me, and it had a really great fashion marketing program.
When you say it was the best choice for you, why is that?
I’m trying to really put myself in that mindset, because I feel like the answer I would give is more retrospective. I think I would have, at that point, preferred to go to a bigger school like Virginia Tech or a JMU (James Madison University) where all the kids from my class were going, and it seemed like you would have a very classic, traditional “college experience.” Honestly, my grades weren’t great so I think I was limited in where I was accepted, and VCU was a good school and people paid attention to their fashion department. It just seemed like a good fit.
Now, looking back, it was such an amazing fit for me. In an urban environment, it was much more about the city experience than the college experience, which I don’t regret at all. I didn’t need to go to football games, I didn’t need to participate in a bunch of college bonding activities. I needed to figure out who I was, and be around interesting, creative people, people who weren’t even necessarily in college, people I was just meeting in Richmond because it’s a diverse community.
How did you choose your major?
So I did my first year of school, and it just wasn’t lining up to my expectations. I think I just found a lot of the fashion specific stuff a little trivial. At 18, you want to be inspired and you want to be learning all these different things, taking classes you’ve never taken before, and I was just taking things that were very similar to what I had learned before. And there was such interesting curriculum, when I would go through the course books to sign up for classes every semester, I wanted to take all of these crazy classes, and I wasn’t allowed to because of the major I had decided on.
So my sophomore year, I undeclared my major and went through the course book and went nuts. I took art history courses and all these crazy psychology courses like abnormal psychology, and really weird science classes, and just had a really good time taking whatever I wanted. I think I even signed up for a SCUBA class but they ended up cancelling it. [Undeclared] is probably what I should have gone into school with. It allowed me the clarity to understand what I was more interested in, what I was gravitating towards.
My school had a program called Interdisciplinary Studies, where you can create your own major, so I submitted a proposal. It was basically a marketing/psychology split, and I formulated a plan of understanding the psychology of why people make decisions in marketing. I got accepted into Interdisciplinary Studies and was able to formulate my own major, but I still wasn’t necessarily clear on what that looked like. I still liked working in fashion and was doing internships in fashion, which I found to be extremely valuable, so I continued to do internships as often as possible.
Why were those valuable to you?
I was lucky enough to have parents who made internships mandatory and I think it just set me apart when I graduated. And it allowed me to get better and better internships. Between freshman and sophomore and sophomore and junior years, I interned with the Special Olympics in Virginia in their marketing department. And then the next summer I interned with Nordstrom, which has a fantastic internship program for merchandising/marketing students. And then the next year I got accepted into the Betsey Johnson internship program. I actually took winter semester off of school and moved to New York and worked out of her offices, which was very cool and also triggered my love for New York which is where I moved after school.
What is something you wish people knew about VCU?
For me it was such a powerful independence, because it’s a school that really lets you define your experience for yourself, so you could get really involved in certain clubs or activities or extracurriculars, with different types or groups of people. VCU isn’t trying to do one set thing. I needed to form a point of view because I didn’t have one; I thought I did but it was defined for me. And going to VCU allowed me to define it for myself which was very empowering.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
Trying to move to New York was very hard in 2008 because the world was collapsing, so I ended up taking a job in Richmond at an advertising agency and just stayed there because it gave me a job and a salary. All the while I was applying for jobs in New York, actually mostly in fashion still. I ended up moving to New York, and took a job again in the marketing capacity, and then over the next couple of years, taking more and more jobs, I kept focusing in on advertising, almost by happenstance, and that’s how I ended up here.
It sounds like there’s actually a thread of marketing that goes back to your very first internship, and maybe even before that.
This is also why I decided on my combined major – I’ve always been interested in why people make the decisions that they do to purchase items. not just what goes in on the brand side, but also what goes in on the consumer side from a psychological perspective. I think that was always underlying my interest in it, and as I’ve gone through the industry more and more, you get more involved in those decisions and research and things like that.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I’m sure there’s so much pressure for people to be so well-defined and so figured out and there’s a lot of, “you need to do X, Y, and Z, at X, Y, and Z point to get where you need to be.” We’re on this trip and we’re pushing pause on certain parts of our lives, and I think we’re doing that because we’re still interested in figuring out parts of ourselves. At 32, people would say that that should be done by then, but there’s always time to do that. You can make mistakes and it’s going to be fine, and you should allow yourself room to breathe and room to experiment, room to go through the course book.