9 Women Reveal How They #MadeIt In Fashion

Motivational quotes on Instagram might be that nudge of encouragement you need to get ready in the morning, but sometimes, you also need a little something extra — like, say, an interview with a visionary woman where she candidly discusses her career trajectory, including the biggest professional challenges she's faced and the greatest lessons she's learned along the way. Alright, this might be a little different from your daily dose of caffeine, but it's no less effective. An insight into someone else's professional path could make you see your own job, weaknesses, and ambitions in a whole new light — or even be the kickstart you need to reevaluate your goals.

That's exactly what Refinery29 U.K.'s "How I #MadeIt" series aims to achieve, with its honest profiles of successful women in fashion. In it, they dish not-so-cookie-cutter advice that, regardless of the industry or field you work in, can help you understand the way others tackle a problem in the workplace or confront career frustrations — in a way that provides inspiration to help you on your own path.

You may not know their names, but you've probably stumbled upon their work — from MatchesFashion's buying director Natalie Kingham to Frances Corner, the head of the London College of Fashion. Their job titles run the gamut of gigs available in the fashion industry, but they all have one thing in common: These women are killing the game. And they kindly shared their words of wisdom to help us all approach work in a better way. Read on, and let these incredible professionals inspire you to give it your all in 2017.

Photographed by Luke & Nik.
Caren Downie, Brand Director & Founder Of Finery London
In terms of high-street heavyweights, it doesn't get much bigger than the three women behind Finery London. The founding trio includes Emma Farrow, who worked at Topshop for almost 15 years; Rachel Morgans, a former head buyer at both ASOS and Topshop; and Caren Downie, the former fashion director at ASOS, whose fast-fashion expertise is unparalleled. It's long been our best-kept, not-so-secret shopping destination, with its affordable and refined ready-to-wear that feels distinctly unique. It's no wonder that such an indomitable and influential threesome was able to create a brand that seamlessly bridges the gap between accessible clothing and directional, sophisticated designs that make up the wardrobe of the discerning, modern woman.

"I think we offer something different; we're quite focused on our own perspective and what we like," Downie told Refinery29 U.K. "We don't look at forecasting or anything like that. It's much more of a personal edit of fashion for us, and we keep it very tight." The business owner didn't intend to become a fashion mogul: She started with an economics degree that turned into an apprenticeship (a structured course that's like an internship) at Warehouse, which then led her to an assistant buyer position at Topshop. There, Downie encountered what she describes as one of the most inspiring moments of her early career: seeing a woman in charge. "When I went back to Topshop, Jane [Shepherdson] had just become market director, and it made a huge, huge difference to even what we could do with the product," she recalled. "It was much more about what women wanted and it wasn't so much about 'we need x amount of black dresses.' It could be a much more inspirational business in that way."
Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Sharmadean Reid, Founder Of WAH
Come Fashion Month, you may know Sharmadean Reid for her impeccable style record, but the former stylist is best known for WAH. She founded the part-nail salon, part-hangout spot in London in 2009 — an evolution of a zine Reid started 11 years ago, when she was still studying at Central Saint Martins. While WAH's shape has shifted over the years, one thing has remained constant: It's always been a celebration of womanhood, with the intention of bringing together female creatives and entrepreneurs to talk shop, feminism, and anything else that might need a space. (In that same vein, Reid recently launched a panel series dubbed WAH Power Lunches, which serves those aforementioned goals in a more structured setting.)

"When I started my business, I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing," Reid admitted. "I’m very, very good, as I think most women are, at brand marketing and building communities. I think social building of companies is something that women find really easy to do because it’s an extension of our natural skills." Her ultimate goal, she explained, is to get women to consider shaking up their businesses and to think beyond Instagram followings. Reid is the perfect example of this: She's leveraged WAH into a salon at Topshop, a capsule for ASOS, a product line for Boots, and two books.

"Running a business actually makes you go through massive personal development," Reid reflected. "It really makes you know who you are as a person and forces you to challenge yourself to keep moving forward."
Photographed by Claire Pepper.
Laura Larbalestier, Buying Director At Browns Fashion
When you're shopping online, you might be too fixated on the discounts to notice the impressive mix of ready-to-wear assembled on any given e-commerce site. Well, it's someone's job to go through runways, pick out the most commercially viable (but forward-thinking) garments, and assemble them together in a cohesive, trend-facing manner. One of those shopping savants is Laura Larbalestier, buying director at the legendary London boutique Browns Fashion.

Before Browns, Larbalestier spent years fine-tuning her talents at Selfridges. Of course, the gig is a lot more involved than just shopping for customers. "As buying director, I'm responsible for setting the direction and budgets for each season," she says. "For several months of the year, I travel alongside my team (Paris, Milan, and New York), so those days are spent going to shows and showroom appointments, and writing orders. When in the office, we work across all departments, including retail, editorial, press, online, merchandising, to drive sales and maximize opportunities for a successful season. It’s a collaborative working environment which is fast-paced and very dynamic."

Being a buying director means having a keen understanding of what sells, but also an instinct for what's pushing fashion forward every season. "Finding new things is what’s often challenging in our role, but it’s also one of the most thrilling parts of my job," Larbalestier explained. "Maryam Nassir Zadeh, for example, was a new brand to Browns last season. We noticed a girl wearing her Roberta pump while on a buying trip and knew immediately that they would be a hit after so many seasons of flats. We introduced this style to the U.K. as an exclusive stockis,t and they were an instant sell-out."
Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Frances Corner OBE, Head Of The London College Of Fashion
Some people are so high-functioning, you can only assume they have a time-turner. Frances Corner is one of those people: She is the head of London College of Fashion, an advisory member of the British Fashion Council, an avid campaigner for sustainability in fashion, a mother, and an author (who happens to be working on her second book at the moment). "I suppose sometimes it's like spinning plates," Corner said modestly. "I just have to be organized."

Corner’s primary passion lies in education. She has more than 20 years of experience shaping creative courses and institutions, and has been running the London College of Fashion since 2005; during her time there, she's focused on developing its research department and on steering the college’s forthcoming relocation from central London to Stratford, in east London. "As part of my doctorate, I became very interested in how higher education connected to local communities and industries — as well as what it offered as subject discipline," Corner told us. "When the job at LCF came up, it was the perfect example of subject matter, to look at how it engages with those things."

Her role at London College of Fashion is to oversee the vision for the school and its students, but Corner's influence on the industry extends far beyond campus. You may have watched her TED talk on the intersection of fashion and tech. Or, maybe you stumbled upon her name on the Business of Fashion 500 list. In 2009, Corner was awarded an OBE for services to the fashion industry.

There's also her book, Why Fashion Matters, which dispels the tired idea that fashion is frivolous — something that ties back to her personal and professional experience "I’ve always been interested in clothes and style, obviously, but I think what I have brought [to London College of Fashion] was not ‘I’m a Chanel expert,’ but a passion for creative education and using education to help transform people’s lives, and how we can develop disciplines to support industries." she explained. "I don’t know how to hem a garment and I don’t need to, but I know the framework you need to set up a course."
Photographed by Jonny Cochrane.
Pia Stanchina, Cofounder Of Future Girl Corp
As we know, carving out a career in the fashion industry isn't always easy. Yet one look at entrepreneur Pia Stanchina's résumé is enough to seriously inspire you — and convince you that it's not only possible, but incredibly fulfilling.

Stanchina is in the unique position of merging the words of fashion, business, and tech, with senior roles at Google and Glossybox under her belt and a drive to go out on her own to start Future Girl Corp alongside Sharmadean Reid. The two women initially launched the enterprise as a one-day symposium as a way to encourage women and emerging entrepreneurs to fine-tune their professional roadmap and execute their visions, via panels, seminars, and workshops led by female CEOs. "What I’m really passionate about and what I think about all the time is empowering women," Stanchina said of her decision to leave her role at Google to work on Future Girl Corp. "I realize I wanted to have a more direct impact and that’s what I want to do now."

The concept for Future Girl Corp has evolved into a regular event series. The hope is to offer mentorship and support to those early in their careers who Stanchina may not have had access to when she started out. "I graduated from what I believed to be the best college for success as a designer, consciously choosing the design and marketing course instead of the more famous womenswear course as it sounded more commercial, and realizing that I had no idea how to think about my designs in the context of business," she explained. "There was nothing in my three-year course that ever addressed any of these strategic and legal questions of setting up and running a business."

"Today, the whole world has start-up and entrepreneur fever, and future creatives are plugged into a world of educational content that is accessible to all, from Ted Talks to Harvard Business School case studies," Stanchina continued. "It’s permeating courses that teach creative subjects, too, which is wonderful, and the latest generations of designers are far more commercially savvy than mine ever was, with many already having considered exit strategies when they first set up!"
Photographed by Eva K. Salvi.
Natalie Kingham, Buying Director At MatchesFashion
If Laura Larbalestier didn't convince you that being a buyer is your dream fashion job, let MatchesFashion's Natalie Kingham seal the deal.

She started her career at Joseph when she was 20. The then-sales assistant caught the eye of head honcho Joseph Ettedgui and quickly started learning the ropes from him directly. "Within a matter of weeks, I was out choosing things to bring in, which was great because there was a lot of British talent at the time," she said. "The shop was packed with Alaia, Yohji, McQueen, and Patrick Cox, and the Joseph line was really, really big then."

Larbalesteir was a fan of MatchesFashion before joining the company, which she describes as a "family-run business." With many years of experience within the industry, we thought the buying director could offer some insight to those eager to follow in her path — and we were right. "There's a lot of administration about making sure you’ve got your margins right, the right currencies, that you’ll make enough money on something, the shipping, have you got enough sizes… There’s so much of that which goes into buying that is really analytical," she explained. "You need to be very good at that part and not just looking at lovely frocks. Fashion is business, and whatever element of it you go into there’s a business element that I think people aren’t always aware of."
Photographed by Morgane Lay & Jonny Cochrane.
Nazifa Movsoumova, Owner Of Modern Society
At a time when the fashion and retail industry at large is in a state of flux (and entrepreneurs, emerging designers, and established brands alike face countless challenges in an unstable market), it's encouraging to hear of a recent brick-and-mortar success story.

If you've visited London over the past decade, you may know Shoreditch as one of the city's leading shopping destinations, particularly for the customer looking for something totally unique. Modern Society, which opened in October 2015, offers a concise edit of fashion, home wares, literature, and artwork. (You can even buy the photography off the walls). A cozy coffee shop up front makes for exceptional people-watching of the well-dressed world coming in and out.

We have Nazifa Movsoumova to thank for brining our dream abode to life in the form of a concept store. The law school grad turned pop-up entrepreneur always had an itch for business — and, while she didn't have a solid idea of how she'd do it, she knew she wanted to start her own company by 30. "Retail was a totally new industry to me," she explained. "Doing pop-ups allowed me to learn tricks of the trade and explore this business from the inside out, as well as generate buzz about the brand prior to opening our permanent space. Modern Society embodies my personal taste and attitudes to retail today."

Nowadays, a story like Movsoumova's feels like a rarity — an brick-and-mortar enterprise that's successful, when so many creatives are opting for online-only. Still, the Modern Society founder is optimistic about the state of retail. "The fashion industry is constantly evolving and changing and with that in mind, we want to embrace the changing face of retail," she said. "We want people to take their time with their shopping experience, to step away from the digital and take in the intricacy of the design and items we have to offer. If time is the ultimate luxury, then we need to give them a reason to be in a physical space."
Photographed by Luke & Nik.
Catherine Wood, Curator At The Tate Museum
The art world is an incredibly intimidating space. The concept of a curator — someone who manages to retain a seemingly endless wealth of knowledge about their area of expertise, who has a unique ability to socialize and schmooze their way through industry functions, and who maintains the patience, decorum, and creativity necessary to put together an exhibition — is even more so. Catherine Wood is all of the above, and more. Yet, when you sit down with the Tate Museum curator, she makes it all sound easy and, more importantly, attainable.

Wood began at the Tate in 2002, after stints at the British Museum and the Barbican. While she had an interest in making art from childhood, Wood says she "wasn't brought up with art" — in the sense that her parents worked in different fields and didn't go to galleries with her when she was growing up. Still, she pursued it academically, first at Cambridge and then at University College of London, with internships and entry-level gigs at various renowned museums and galleries.

A big recurring theme in Wood's career trajectory is the role of female mentors who helped her along the way, ushering her from one experience to the next. Now, it's something she tries to pass along to the next generation. "I really try to encourage assistant curators at Tate to do things outside of the institution," she told us. "At least to write, or maybe curate a smaller show independently. Writing for magazines can really help to develop your profile, your name, and your inner voice. It means you’re not just seeing shows and being informed but grappling with what they mean to you."
Photographed by Claire Pepper.
Fanny Moizant, co-founder of Vestiaire Collective
Ever since it opened up shop in 2009, Vestiaire Collective has been a treasure trove for premium, pre-owned (and often hard-to-find) designer clothes and accessories. Kim Kardashian is a fan. Emma Watson, Diane Kruger, Keira Knightley, Chloë Sevigny, and Lupita Nyong'o have all sold the clothes off their backs, so to speak, as part of the online boutique's charity sales. Vintage lovers and fashion devotees alike scour the website for treasures from Yves Saint Laurent, Céline, Balenciaga, and more.

It'll come as no surprise, then, that Vestiaire Collective's co-founder, French-born Fanny Moizant, is as chic (if not more) as the inventory her company stocks. Unsurprisingly, her taste was nurtured young. "As a teenager, I used to help out on weekends and during the holidays in my mother's boutique and it was probably during that time," she recalled. "I would unpack the new deliveries, see the new stock and try to merchandise it so that it would sell fast. Being at the crossrail of fashion and business was amazing at that age. I absolutely loved it." It was that innate passion that led Moizant to eventually transition out of her role as a trade marketer for French supermarket chains and into one in the fashion industry.

"In my first job I was learning a lot," she said. "It was a great school for marketing, especially when you are not in love with the products you market — it forces you to think much more. I knew it was a good learning curve and that one day I would go back to my first love: fashion. I think it’s good in life to sometimes take a minute. You appreciate it much more after a taking a step back. The transition was quite organic as I stopped working for three years to raise my girls, and then I attended the Institut Français de la Mode Master as I missed that fashion connection a lot. There I felt the need to do something that was my own, having entrepreneurial DNA inherited from my family, the IFM helped ignite that aspect of me that was buried inside."
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