Twice a year, the fashion world comes together to celebrate the NYC fashion scene’s biggest events at Mercedes New York Fashion Week. This one was particularly special for me. I launched the new Andiamo Luggage, of which I am a proud ambassador, and I had my mentee Mo Bridges, of Mo’s Bo’s with me. It was a busy week, I brought Mo on CNBC with me, supermodel Selita Ebanks stopped by the office to help me film something for GQ, and of course we had the Andiamo launch event, at one of the world’s most famous landmarks Lincoln Center.
I was invited to many incredible Fashion Week shows and attended as many as I could. I live in Manhattan, so on my day off I decided to take a break from the madness and go for a jog. I ended up running by Lincoln Center. Naturally, there were several fashion shows going on and the crowd outside was abuzz. I noticed that all of these “fashion people” were prim and proper and done-up as usual. That’s when a funny idea popped into my head. I decided to conduct a #SocialExperiment. I found a cardboard box on the ground and wrote, “I Need a Job!! Really good designer. I will make U $” on it and headed across the street to the show. My reason for doing this experiment on the fly was to see how difficult it is for an aspiring designer to make some connections and benefit from Fashion Week events. I wanted to see how people would judge me and if they would walk by me, or show love. You’d be surprised at the outcome.
For those who don’t know, the way Fashion events at Lincoln Center work, there is a huge courtyard filled with people. Some of these people have tickets and are walking into the event, but the other 1000 people, who don’t have tickets, are also bloggers, photographers, designers, models etc. and they create a small fashion community. They take pictures and share designs that may end up being very valuable if they end up making it and becoming famous. It’s basically all-day networking from 8am-11pm.
So there I am amongst all of these beautiful fashion people with my cardboard box.
Right after I completed my #SocialExperiment, I posted a picture of myself outside Lincoln Center “in costume,” and a short description of what I was about to do on social media in order to get some feedback. I got a variety of responses to this post. People said things like “you look like a bum,” “you don’t look like a designer,” “People probably ignored you because they were busy trying to go to the show,” “You were just bothering people for a job, they’re numb to that kind of thing,” “Now you know how it feels,” and “Come on, you would never give a designer off of the streets a chance.” I wanted to use this blog to address some of those comments.
Ran into one of my dear friends, Liz. People regularly praise her for her fashion sense. She got a real kick out of people walking by me ha.
1. I was not dressed like a bum. Despite my sign, I was wearing a pair of $500 sunglasses, had Bluetooth headphones in my ears, a new Yankee hat on my head, fresh sneakers on my feet, and my socks were clean. Also, I presented myself well, and was articulate when approaching people. Yes, I wore that outfit to disguise myself and I was certainly dressed down but I wouldn’t say I looked like a bum.
2. I wasn’t just talking to the people who were “busy trying to go into the show.” I was hanging around with the people who were waiting outside the show for five hours and they were doing the same thing I was doing, networking/“bothering people.”
3. The idea that I didn’t “look like a designer is just plain silly. NEWS ALERT: Stylists and designers regularly dress informally, in comfortable clothes, and as some of my followers would say, they look “like a bum.” Designers usually spend their days in factories looking at fabrics, and then they are on their knees, cutting and sewing it. Sure, they dress up for TV, but take it from someone who has met 10 lifetimes worth of designers and stylists; they are usually very casually dressed.
4. I wasn’t just “bothering people for a job.” I was asking people if I could give them my resume. I asked if they had any advice for me as far as what my next steps should be, and if they were looking for any interns. I also asked photographers if they would help a stranger by taking some pictures of me that might help me get my name out there.
5. It was funny to see someone comment, “Now you know how it feels.” Not only do I know how it feels, but this is how I started FUBU! I was walking right up to artists and industry people with a couple of t-shirts since I was 18. And I didn’t do it for just one day; I did it for five years straight. That’s how I got where I am today.
This guy was a struggling designer. He brushed me off initially but after I asked if I could intern or send him some of my designs, he gave me his email address and number.
This was a model who everyone was taking pictures of. I was pestering and pestering her to take a picture with me, and when she finally did, she gave me a great model pose and was very professional.
6. Not only would I give a “designer off of the streets” a chance, but I have, many times. I found my head designer for 15 years walking on 34th St. We didn’t know her from a hole in the wall but she convinced us to interview her, and she ended up being one of my most valuable senior staff members for years!
About 10% of the people I went up to gave me some attention (mind you, some people were probably in a rush or didn’t speak English, as it’s a an international event). Maybe it would have been 20% if I were dressed more appropriately. Maybe I would’ve gotten attention from 40 or 50% of the people I approached if I was prepared with a look book with a bunch of designs. A few of the people who recognized me were upset at the way people were ignoring me. I was not offended. You never know what is going on in people’s lives or what’s going on in their heads; maybe they just got some bad news etc. Don’t get upset when people ignore, you may end up validating their reasons. Also, many of the people who did ignore me when they walked in, spoke to me when they left, gave me their number (albeit the wrong number most of the times ha), and many of the photographers showed me love (I was a little surprised at the ones who ignored me, how hard is it to click that shutter one time!?).
The guy who took this great picture ignored me for a while but in the end was a nice guy and took a picture of me.
When he asked for my Instagram name, he realized who I was. It was a funny moment. “Yoco”….This was taken by another photographer who actually conducts social experiments herself. She recognized me right away and thought the whole thing was pretty funny. “Elle Canada”….There was also a photographer there from Elle Canada, who was nice enough to shoot me”). The point I’m trying to make is people didn’t judge me as much as you may think and if I can get as far as I got with a cardboard box and a good attitude, anyone can make it. The experience reminded me of my partner Nate Holzapfel of Mission Belts, who upon arriving in LA for Shark Tank, stopped by 30 houses and sold 27 belts. This experiment made me feel optimistic for aspiring designers. I saw how easy it was to get to “hard to reach” people. I have always been an optimist, but this experiment proves that the glass is truly half full. It was good to see that if for whatever reason I was ever to go broke, I could get myself back on top using the same pavement-pounding tactics that have always worked. Look what I was able to do with a couple of hours. Anyone can do this, but you have to DO IT. Be your own advocate. Go out there, talk to people, ask for help, ask for jobs, test your product, and don’t stop until people pay attention to you. It’s great that people promote themselves on their computers and smartphones these days, but there is nothing like human contact. You have to get in these people’s faces so you can get real feedback! Everyone is promoting himself or herself online, you can standout by looking someone in the eye and talking to them in person. Of course this is just my opinion and you don’t have to listen to me, but my social test confirmed many of my suspicions about how many opportunities there are for aspiring designers, and I find that exciting. The only person in your way is you, get off your butt and get to work!
What are some of the ways you guys are making your aspirations realities on a daily basis? Have you tried to pitch your product or service in person, without relying on social media? Feel free to share any stories of a time when you pounded the pavement to further your career.
Here’s the video of me in disguise at New York Fashion Week