How 6 Months In A New City Can Change Everything

We don't just appreciate an inspired ensemble. We want to know the whole making-of story behind it. But in Style Roots, we're going one better. In partnership with Nordstrom Rack, this series will deep-dive into the real sartorial evolutions of seven city dwellers who all came from very different starts. Be it a streetwear OG or newbie vintage collector, we'll examine how past and present cultural, social, and career influences mold one's unique style persona.

While most style transformations don't happen overnight, sometimes all it takes is a brief stint in a new city to impact our wardrobe game forever. Specifically, for Chicago native Samantha Lula, a quick six-month run as a fashion intern — as well as a particularly humbling fashion show experience — in NYC was all it took took to fully shift her perspective.

For starters, the former fashion-business and marketing student, as well as one-time, self-professed preppy Catholic schoolgirl, swapped in her too-many-trends-at-once attitude for a new, edgy look and a minimalist color palette. (Because as any New Yorker would agree: Black is always the new black.) But more importantly, in the three years since moving back to her hometown, Lula's taken the style chops she honed in the concrete jungle and leveraged them to help her thrive as a girl boss. She's launched her own choker company, All Choked Up, and has plans to expand. Big time.

Read on for more on the pivotal fashion moment that nearly brought Lula to tears; how Chicago is welcoming her bourgeoning business; and her key advice to entrepreneurs everywhere.

Don’t forget to check out Nordstrom Rack's new store, opening September 30 at the Fashion Outlets of Chicago in Rosemont, IL. Get the details here.
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When I think back on my style growing up...
“I went to an all-girls Catholic high school in the suburbs. [My style] was very preppy. There was a time when I did the double-polo and wore two different colors — with a popped collar to top it off. It's so embarrassing now!”

I began breaking the style rules when…
“We were never allowed to [carry] oversized bags [in school]. I remember I had just gotten back from Spain and got this amazing large bag while on my trip. I would always [carry it] and got in trouble all the time.”

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My first fashion show was a major awakening…
“I wore flats, a mesh, club-style dress, a cheetah-print cardigan, and a crossbody bag. I thought I was going to be in every picture in every magazine. But when I walked in, I almost cried. It was the biggest faux pas of my life. There were people in long dresses paired with leather jackets and the coolest sunglasses, and some in matching two-piece outfits paired with the sickest blazer or coat. Seeing how amazing everyone looked and the confidence they had made me want to emulate that.”

What happened when I started looking to the street...
“Moving to New York completely changed my entire outlook on fashion. There's not much streetstyle [in Chicago] like there is in New York, so that was my first [inspiration]. People can just throw on a denim or leather jacket and look like they rolled out of bed, but it all works perfectly. I love people-watching, and people-watching in NYC is on another level.”
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My approach to style now...
“[When I get dressed] I think about how comfortable I'll be; whether my look is going to make me feel confident; and if the outfit can last me all day. I still love experimenting. I'm in a very edgy, minimal, effortless type of phase. Black is my go-to color, but occasionally I'll throw in neutrals like white and nude.”

Why I left New York (and why I always come back)…
“I moved to New York for an internship but, unfortunately, I had one more year of school left in Chicago. My cousin goes to NYU, so New York has become my weekend vacation. I visit at least once or twice a month.”
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When I couldn't find a job in fashion...
“Chicago's a really hard market. I was getting frustrated (about landing a job) and I didn't know what to do. I got inspiration from a couple of bloggers I follow and came up with my own choker line. I've been featured in some local Chicago magazines and I've had a couple of pop-up shops. I hope to grow my company and expand it beyond just chokers — possibly add bracelets and ankle jewelry, as well. I would love people to recognize my work and be able to distinguish it from other companies.”

What I learned being an entrepreneur...
“[Starting a business] is very hard. But in the end, it's really rewarding. I started my Instagram with zero followers. This gave me anxiety at first, but I learned that you've got to build up those relationships and constantly post. Honestly, connecting with others and keeping relationships with people you encounter in your life is key because you never know when you could benefit from them or they could benefit from you.”

My best piece of advice...
“Be thankful, appreciative, and always nice to people. Keep connections...and business cards!”

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