The panel included Erin Allweiss, founder of The No. 29, Ellen Van Dusen of DUSEN DUSEN, Rachel Howe of Small Spells, jewelry designer Susan Alexandra, Christina Coleman of ESSENCE, Grace Miceli of Art Baby Girl, Janine Lee of Floss Gloss, and Shydeia Caldwell of Black Girl Magik.
If you missed us on Wednesday evening, don't worry. We put the whole thing on our Facebook page so you can hear all the helpful tips and advice shared throughout the evening. It's also where you can find the entire album of photos from the event, courtesy of Urban Outfitters' Heidi Lee. Let us know if you see yourself, and scroll down for some highlights from Wednesday's discussion.
Our moderator, Erin Allweiss, as well as members of the audience, posed questions to the panelists that covered a wide range of concerns for recent graduates and people early in their careers. Among those topics, there was discussion on the importance of community and how to build one, on how to position yourself for jobs in a field that you didn't study in school, on why you shouldn't be afraid about falling behind if you want to try a little bit of everything, and on how to harness the power of the internet to promote yourself and your brand. The panelists also weighed in on mentorship and how to find a mentor, on learning how to cope with competition in a ruthless job market, and on the importance of learning how to say no. Check out some of our favorite panelists tips below, and check out the event video for more advice on these topics and more.
The importance of building a community was touched on throughout the discussion. Originally from South Carolina, Shydeia Caldwell, founder and creative director of Black Girl Magik, built her community in New York by attending local events that she found through Facebook:
“I started going to events that I felt had the audience that I was looking for...You know know how they have the events part under there? You can just search within whatever is local. I was going to, like five events a week,” she said.
On Breaking into A new field
For many, it’s difficult to figure out how to position yourself when trying to break into a field that your background doesn’t necessarily reflect. Responding to a question from an audience member about how to get a foot in the door of the fashion industry, designer Ellen Van Dusen offered some encouraging advice:
“Write a really compelling cover letter and show your personality…Make yourself stand out. I personally tend to take interns who don’t come from a fashion background, because I find that often those people have unique ideas. I think it’s important when you’re presenting yourself to show that off,” she said.
On Trying Everything
Figuring out what exactly you want to do in your career is often a trial-and-error process. Finding the thing that works and makes you happiest can require testing out many different areas that interest you. Janine Lee, co-founder of Floss Gloss, encouraged listeners to use the time in their early 20s to try everything.
On The Power Of The Internet
For many of the panelists, the internet and social media have been crucial tools in building their businesses, especially in the beginning. They reminded attendees to not only take advantage of these channels, but to remember that what they put online is part of their brand and should be taken just as seriously and professionally as anything else. Grace Miceli, founder of Art Baby Girl, said:
“I use the internet as a tool to connect with people and to build that community….All my work is posted online, but now I’m having the opportunity to be with people in person….To me, the internet is just as meeting people in person….and if you have a business or brand you’re trying to develop, keep the personal posts to a minimum.”
Panelists agreed on the importance of finding a mentor who can help you navigate your career. Christina Coleman, senior editor at ESSENCE, encouraged the audience to take a chance when reaching out:
“It seems daunting and intimidating to ask someone you really admire, but there is one thing that I’ve recently learned is that they can only say no,” she shared. “That’s the worst that’s gonna happen. And then what? It’s not gonna ruin your life. So make that phone call, reach out. Send that DM, send that email….be serious about it.”
Regardless of what city you’re based in, when you’re first starting out, the pressure to get ahead can be exhausting and soul-crushing. Many of the panelists admitted that figuring out how to cope can be a years-long process, one that they’re still learning. Jewelry designer Susan Alexandra shared:
“Comparison, especially in the fashion industry, is brutal. We are our own harshest critic….The most important thing I can say is that you need to actively lean away from comparison. You have to have faith in yourself and trust in yourself that your work is special because you’re you. When you firmly believe that, the comparisons don’t bother you as much.”
On Learning to Say No
In a similar vein, when you’re trying to get your career off the ground, it can be tempting to say yes to every opportunity that comes your way, but that can also lead to burnout. Small Spells founder Rachel Howe advised audience members to follow their gut:
“When things don’t feel right to you, you’re supposed to say no because you’re not supposed to be doing them. You want to save enough energy for the things you want to do. You don’t have to know why you don’t want to, you don’t even need a reason. Just as long as you know, because the things that make you feel great and you say yes to will move your forward.”