I Make $145,000 In The Retail Industry And Wish I'd Chosen Another Career

In our series My 6-Figure Paycheck, women making more than $100,000 open up about how they got there and what exactly they do. We take a closer look at what it feels like to be a woman making six-figures — when only 5% of American women make that much, according to the U.S. Census with the hope it will give women insight into how to better navigate their own career and salary trajectories.
Today, we chat with a 31-year old retail merchandising manager from New York, NY. Previously, we spoke to a 29-year old video editor from Los Angeles, CA., a 35-year old attorney from Birmingham, AL and a 31-year old Design Strategist in Denver, CO.
Job: Merchandising Manager, Retail
Age: 31
Location: New York, NY
Degree: Bachelor's, Fashion Merchandising & Textiles
First Salary: $31,200
Salary: $145,000
As a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
"I was always fascinated with fashion and personal style, even at a young age. When I was a kid, my mom taught me how to sew and I dreamt of one day being a fashion designer and owning my own label.
"In high school, my favorite activity was going on thrift store shopping sprees and then going home and recreating all of my finds with my sewing machine. As I got older though, I realized that apparel design requires a ton of craftsmanship and patience — which turns out, I don't have a lot of! I also realized my strength was in numbers and math, so I sort of changed directions. I've always had a bit of an internal battle between my creative side and my numbers side."
What did you study in college?
"I have a Bachelor's in Fashion Merchandising and Textiles."
Did you have to take out student loans?
"I didn't take out any student loans and I feel very fortunate for that. I grew up in Florida, where the state government will pay either 75% or 100% of your college tuition if you can achieve a certain GPA and SAT score in high school and enroll in a Florida public university.
"I did want to go to a private fashion school, like Parsons or LIM, but I knew it would be much more expensive and ultimately made the decision to enroll in a state school, where I knew I could still major in Fashion Merchandising but keep costs way down. I don't regret this decision; I really feel that in my industry your experience and drive matters more than where you went to college."
Have you been working at this job since you graduated college?
"When I first moved to New York after college, I did a few internships and freelance gigs that ranged across sales, styling, and production. I didn't really know what I wanted to do and because my internships were sort of a jumble of different experiences, it was pretty tough for me to find a full time job.
"At one point, I was temping at a 9-5 during the day and working two restaurant jobs in the evenings to pay my rent (yikes!). I ultimately took a job eight years ago, with my current company, as a retail store manager. Even though retail management wasn't what I really wanted to do in the long run, the job paid a salary (which I desperately needed at the time), and I was really into the company, which had a big growth trajectory.
"Flash forward to now, and I'm still at the same company but doing a totally different job that's much more aligned with what I went to school for. I've been really fortunate because the company I work for gave me the opportunity to move from stores to HQ about six years ago, and I've had so much career growth and different learning experiences since then."
How would you explain your day-to-day role at your job?
"I oversee women's buying, planning, and merchandising at a large global apparel company. Based on business targets, previous seasons' results, and current trends, we create a strategy on which items and categories we want to push for next year.
"We order all of the product ourselves and create weekly and monthly sales forecasts from those buys. In the current season, I work cross functionally with stores, e-commerce, marketing, and store layout team to achieve company sales targets."
Did you negotiate your salary?
"I didn't negotiate it. When I hit six figures for the first time a couple of years ago, it was actually above what I had been expecting for that particular promotion or raise. Also, the salary pay scale at my current company is super black and white without a lot of space for negotiation."
Is your current job your “passion”? If not, what is?
"It's not my passion, but I like what I do on a day-to-day basis, love my team, and enjoy the constant challenges. As I mentioned before, I have a constant battle with my creative side and my logical side! There are days where I'm just not in it to win it and wish I could be off somewhere painting or creating.
"I find that passion and career don't need to be one in the same for me, though I can always pursue my passions in my personal life. As I get older, I find that I care much less about fashion, too. For me it's become so much more about just having a personal style and being comfortable with who you are.
"I'm not sure what job or industry I could potentially be passionate about. I would ultimately love to work for myself one day. But until that day comes, I think there's a wide range of things I could be happy doing. It just so happens that here is where I landed."
If you could, would you change anything in your career trajectory?
"If I could go back and do it all over again, I'm not sure I would've chosen the retail and apparel industry. The landscape is changing so much and sometimes the fate of this industry feels very uncertain.
"I've feel that I've been very lucky so far. If I could go back and do it all over again, to be honest, I think I would choose graphic design or UX, something where I could have similarly applied my creative and analytical skills, but within an industry that still has a ton of growth and future opportunities."
What professional advice would you give your younger self?
"Get more experience specific to your career path during college, such as internships and summer gigs. I didn't, and by the time I moved to NYC after graduating, I felt like everyone my age had so much more experience than I did.
"Also, try to figure out earlier on what it is exactly you want to do within your industry. Do research on what different jobs entail and what your day to days would look like. Because I didn't do that research and was unsure about what I specifically wanted to do, I took internships that didn't really help me in the long run.
"I feel if I had really set my sights on a specific career path, I would have been more driven and focused in choosing opportunities early on. I also wish I took more risks to follow my dreams when I was younger. When you're young and green, it's easy to take lower paying jobs if you feel passionate about them. It's much tougher to switch gears and take risks when you're in your mid-career."
Are you a woman under 35 with a six-figure salary and want to tell your story? Submit it here.

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