Albright College - B.S., International Business
New York University - Digital Marketing
In the fashion industry designing next season’s “it” item only begins with a killer idea. Sketches, swatches, patterns and perfect fits can go a long way, but the business of fashion is what really takes a piece from design to runway to closets around the world. Unfortunately, for many creative-minded designers, that whole business side of the fashion industry equation can be a bit hard (or seemingly impossible) to navigate.
Enter Melissa McGraw. CEO and creator of The Fashion Potential, Melissa has made it her mission to teach emerging designers and fashion students all the nitty-gritty details behind creating a brand, starting a label and becoming the next big thing. From online courses to industry meet-ups to one-on-one mentoring sessions Melissa is connecting the dots between passion and business.
The fact is getting a line to market isn’t easy, but Melissa assures us that really defining a brand is the key. While we might not all be gunning for the tents of fashion week, we’d say her sage advice that you have be able to live and explain your brand before anyone will buy is pretty applicable no matter your career path.
It’s not just about sending a cover letter and resume anymore. It’s all about creating a personal brand.
How did you get your start in the fashion industry?
I made sure I gained as much fashion experience in college before I graduated. I interned at a lingerie company in New York City. Three weeks after college graduation, I found my way back to New York City and began my career as an assistant buyer for Belk Department stores.
What inspired you to launch The Fashion Potential?
I wanted to create an online resource for emerging designers, fashion students and entrepreneurs where they could learn how to launch their fashion brand and career the right way!
Why did you want to create this online resource?
I created The Fashion Potential because I felt there was a void—a lack of information and resources on how to grow a fashion brand or career the right way.
What process did you go through to launch the site?
I wanted to make sure when I started The Fashion Potential that I was catering to my audience and provide what they needed. I spent the first year in business conducting market research to determine what worked and what didn’t. Now, I’m lucky to have a fantastic team of interns, plus a team of ambassadors who spread the word about The Fashion Potential. I am so grateful to have their support!
What sets The Fashion Potential apart from other websites focused on style?
While The Fashion Potential does focus on fashion, it is also an online resource that educates emerging designers, fashion entrepreneurs and students how to launch their fashion brand or career the right way. The Fashion Potential also shows how to build your own personal brand and how you can express this through fashion.
How do you organize your day?
I am a huge fan of productivity apps and to-do lists on my iPhone. I tend to answer emails first thing in the morning and then plan out my day accordingly. My daily schedule consists of consulting sessions with fashion students and emerging designers. I also conduct workshops in NYC during the week and sometimes on weekends. I also try to connect with my readers through my social media platforms on a daily basis.
What is it about your job that makes you feel it’s the right fit for you?
I love connecting with emerging designers, fashion entrepreneurs and students, and then I enjoy helping them reach their ultimate potential. I love helping them grow their career and brands. I often meet with emerging designers who don’t have an ounce of fashion industry experience, but they have an idea and a passion to make their dream a reality. Nothing gives me more satisfaction than when an emerging designer or student tells me how much I was able to help in launching her (or his) fashion brand or career!
Did you experience any mistakes when launching your business?
I owned another website before the Fashion Potential, and I honestly have to give this advice: have a plan. Ask yourself: Why does your business matter? How are you going to reach your goal? I have to admit that with my previous site I went at it blindly and spent extra money where it wasn’t necessary. With the Fashion Potential, I’ve learned from my mistakes and moved forward.
What challenges keep you awake at night?
I think the biggest challenge for me is figuring out how I’m going to fit everything I need to get done in one day. I guess that can be a good challenge, however an entrepreneur does have to know when it’s time to delegate. You can’t be everywhere at once.
As an entrepreneur, is work/life balance ever a problem with you?
In one word: yes. I am a chronic workaholic by full admission, however I am working on creating a work/life balance. Taking some personal time for yourself can be a good thing! I try to take one day and just unplug with yoga, exercise, and spending time with my friends and family.
What is a moment in your career so far that you’re particularly proud of?
I am very fortunate and grateful for every experience I have encountered in the fashion industry and now to have the ability to pass that knowledge on to others starting out their careers in the industry. Receiving an email from a fashion student or emerging designer telling me how much I helped them in launching their brand or career is the ultimate reward for me.
What are some of the rules you live by?
- Make time to think and breathe.
- Invest your life in what you love.
What qualities does it take for someone to be a successful entrepreneur?
You need to have patience, be an excellent multitasker and stay organized.
What are the questions you’re most often asked by those you mentor?
Fashion students often ask me why they aren’t getting responses to the countless amounts of resumes they send to prospective employers. I always tell them that’s not enough – that they have go above and beyond. It’s not just about sending a cover letter and resume anymore. It’s all about creating a personal brand.
Emerging designers tell me they never hear back from a retail buyer. They also need to make sure their brand has a reason for being in existence. If they can’t explain what their collection stands for, then their message will not get across to a retail buyer! I try to help them clarify this and set them up for success.
What one piece of advice do you wish you could tell a younger version of yourself?
Network, network, network. You never know who you are going to meet and what opportunities might lie ahead.