This is my fashion story, how and why I decided to start my business. Last summer, I told it for the first time. It was INCREDIBLY freeing, though difficult. I wanted to put it all together here on the blog, so I searched the annals of Instagram and pieced it together. Here it is, exactly as it was written the summer of 2016:
It was season 1 of Project Runway - with Austin Scarlett and the gang - that inspired me to enroll in a fashion design program and pursue my long-time dream. 👉🏻 I moved to New York City 3 years later, the summer after graduation. I had won a design competition, and the prize was an internship at the same company that Austin Scarlett worked for. We sold our house in a record 2 weeks, found a great place with views of the empire state building and we set off. I felt nothing short of SENT to New York. Everything fell into place so easily and perfectly, like it was meant to be.
Within my first few months in the city, a coworker passed my portfolio along to Project Runway and they liked it so much, they skipped several steps in the application process and brought me in for an interview with Tim Gunn. The several month process was so surreal. I would get emails from producers of the show and just be floating on air the rest of the day. I made it to the finalist stage of auditions, the final pool from which they pick the 16 contestants.
I was cut in the last round of auditions. I haven’t watched the show since -- In part because I was disillusioned by the whole process (more about good drama and less about good design than I had thought); but mostly because for a long time it just hurt to think about it - on a gut level - like the wind had been knocked out of me. I was so convinced it was going to happen, I think the disappointment was that much greater.
Failure is progress too. But it sure doesn’t feel like it. I’ll be sharing more of my story all week, how I spent 7 years in NYC working out my fashion dream and I returned home to Illinois empty-handed and broken-hearted. And yet somehow a better version of me – perhaps something to do with my self-confidence being disconnected from WHAT I do, and connected to WHO I am. My worth is intrinsic, not based on what I’ve done. Because I haven’t done much, at least not measured by the standard of success laid out for me by the world.
I won an internship through a competition my senior year. I entered 4 evening gowns/cocktail dresses that I designed and made. When I won first prize it was like something out of a dream: I was going to NYC.
The three month internship was not in design; a minor setback in my mind. At the end of the three months, the company liked me! They offered me a temporary position in public relations. The people I worked with were wonderfully eccentric and I was falling in love with the romantic warehouse in the heart of the garment district: oozing talent and buzzing with activity. I accepted the position hopeful that it was the next step towards moving into a design role at the company - which had become my end goal.
My time as public relations was thrilling. I was good at it and was trusted with more and more responsibility: which made the design role I wanted seem that much closer. Then a permanent position was offered to me. They wanted me to leave the corporate offices and work at their flagship salon as 'concierge'. I was so disappointed but because I hadn't been applying to other design jobs, I had no choice but to accept the position. And my heart still hoped that this was a circuitous route to that coveted design role.
Several months into my time at the salon, the operations manager quit, and of all people, I was asked to temporarily fill the role. Me? The designer? I saw it as a challenge and a show of their faith in me. But I was not trained, I had no experience, and it was a disaster. I sat for hours trying to fill out spreadsheets. I met with our accountants and stared at numbers all day. I started working later and later, to keep up with everything. Then, the relationships I had built with those eccentric and wonderful people began to crumble. My lack was making their jobs more difficult and my desperation translated as stressed interactions. Literally everyday, all day, I was failing at every thing I was doing.
I didn't like my job and my job didn't like me. So I quit. I started applying - and my friend passed my resume along to her HR department. It was my DREAM company and my DREAM job: a better misses design role at a nation-wide department store. It was word for word the description of the job I came to NYC to find. ✨ My first interview was amazing. I came schlepping hanging bags with dresses I had made and beautiful pictures of my garments taken in the salon where I had worked. I even had a stellar letter of recommendation from the previous designer I had worked for. ✨
Their hiring process was such that you interview a million times with a million different people so that they can find the best fit for you. Then when there is an opening in that department, they have talent lined up to fill the spot.
After 11 interviews with designers and department heads and VPs of design, they were impressed. My friend checked in with her design contacts and they all said the same thing - Emily is next in line, she's great.
Y'all, the call never came. I waited and waited -until it was embarrassing to wait any longer. Like, the whole process was months long. And all my friends and family knew I was waiting, so that was embarrassing too. In my mind, I had endured through the heart-ache of losing out on project runway and my last job-fail for this purpose: finding my dream job. So when my dream job didn't come, that meant all my other heart ache was for naught.
I was unemployed for 9 months. First I cooked and took long walks and sketched and sewed. Then I applied, and waited, and applied some more. Then I got desperate, and hopeless and frustrated - my disappointment became overwhelming and I began shutting down.
I went to an industry round table (a group of young fashion-professionals wanting to better the industry). The leader of the discussion posed the question: 'how does fashion improve the world?' And something way down in me leapt up and started slow-clapping. By the time I left the meeting, that slow clap had turned into an all out standing ovation. In my heart. I was caught up in thoughts of something bigger than just my role in the fashion industry - ⚡️I was thinking about bettering people's lives through fashion and was sure it could be done.⚡️ I had no idea the 'how' but that day and the week's moving forward, I became convinced of the 'why' of my mission.
I wanted to better the world through fashion and was convinced that if I set out, the 'how' would become clear. And then I got a call from my old employer. They wanted me to come work for them, in a new position, the assistant to the CCO and CEO – the husband and wife team that had built the company. And it was part time. All of a sudden, I had ☝🏻the financial support ✌🏻️the time and 🖐🏻 access to the brains behind a successful fashion company. It was the perfect opportunity [to start mrsemily.com].
Underneath the layers of heartache I've been rummaging through the past couple of weeks, I've found perspective. Who knew I'd have to dig through all my failures and relive all that overwhelming emotion to remember why I ever set out on my own several years ago 👉🏻 after setbacks and disappointments trying to find my dream job in the fashion industry, there was an encourager in my life who asked if fashion could improve the world. And I KNEW it could. So I set sail on unknown seas 🌊 thinking if I just got going my little heart would lead me in the right direction.🔛 Now that I remember what I was initially trying to do, it’s clear I STILL have no idea how to do it. But now, I’m even more convinced it’s possible and necessary. Life is hard. I’ve been chased out of NYC, I’ve had the wind knocked out of me by mothering, I’ve screwed up precious relationships with people I care about. My jobs are getting bigger and more important, and I keep ending up in the corner reminding myself to slow-breathe, too intimidated to try. In all this I realize, that fashion can be used to empower. Fashion can be used as any other tool, to make those big jobs easier.