When I registered for the Michigan Fashion Summit, I didn’t know what to expect. Having lived out of state for the past couple years while going to school and working in Chicago, I’ve missed quite a few of the local fashion events including Michigan Fashion Week, which is the enterprise that created the summit.
Yet, I was pleasantly surprised. No, not just because the networking was fun and the food was pretty damn good. The Michigan Fashion Summit, which took place April 16 at the College for Creative Studies in Detroit, blew me away because the advice and stories that the event’s lineup of speakers shared wasn’t cookie cutter. It was honest and real, and who doesn’t love that?
The speakers paths to success involved learning curves, big leaps and moments of failure. However, instead of just telling attendees to blindly chase their dreams, they all provided concrete advice that was inspiring and useful. From tips for creating a business plan, changing career paths or gaining expertise, the speakers all knew what they were talking about. Yet, it was their personal journeys that really resonated with me.
Anyway, out of all the great stories and tips I had the opportunity to hear at the Michigan Fashion Summit (and I heard a lot), here’s my top five takeaways:
1. It’s Never Too Late
While there are obvious advantages to beginning your craft at a very early age, if you don’t know what you’re meant to do yet or you haven’t taken the leap, don’t think that you never will.
Aki Choklat, international menswear designer and the chair of the new Fashion Accessories Design department at CCS, told quite the story during his keynote speech at the Michigan Fashion Summit. Choklat studied politics in college and worked his way through the ranks at American Express after graduating. However, after his father had a heart attack, he put things into perspective, quit his corporate job and decided to pursue fashion design.
Making the leap wasn’t easy, especially because he had no prior design experience, didn’t understand the complexity of the fashion industry and was well past his early 20s. Yet, Choklat pushed forward and eventually ended up studying under Manolo Blahnik (of all people).
Today, Choklat is recognized for his contributions to the industry, and even mentors and teaches students who wish to be in his position one day. To think that Choklat could still been working a corporate desk job is hard to imagine, especially when you see images of his innovative and modern clothing and accessories. It may have taken him a few wrong turns before he found his calling, but the other interests and passions he’s explored in his life make his path and approach to design even more interesting.
2. Know Yourself
Similarly, Courtney Miarka, of Closet Fashion Fix and The Styled Life, also made a drastic career change. Just last year, Miarka left her job as an elementary school teacher to pursue what she really loved: personal styling.
Despite an interest in fashion since she was a little girl, Miarka originally decided to follow a more traditional career path. Yet, even as a teacher, fashion played a critical role in her life as she used her blog The Closet Fashion Fix as a creative outlet. Through her blog, Miarka dished out styling advice by exploring and reconstructing the wardrobes of her friends and family. Then, when she had her daughter, she knew that she had to follow a career path that was more authentic to who she was. After careful planning, Miarka was able to take her side-gig full time and launch her styling business.
While Miarka’s workshop focused on really good, concrete advice for building and maintaining strong client relationships as a stylist, it was her sense of herself and conviction that really stood out.
Whether you’re switching career paths, starting a new project or even just doing day-to-day work, knowing who you are, what your strengths are and where you want to be in your life is very powerful knowledge to have. Miarka always knew that fashion was a part of her DNA, it just took a little soul searching and hard work to make it a reality.
3. Be Genuine
Grace Liang, founder and editor of the fashion blog Color and Grace, moved to the U.S. in 2007 . IN just less than a year-and-a-half since starting her blog, she’s managed to garner tens of thousands of visitors each month, a large social media following and publicity from the likes of the Detroit Garment Group, local news stations and Marie Claire Magazine.
When starting Color and Grace, Liang was posting every. single. day. And, she didn’t shy away from sharing the more personal sides of her life, like how difficult it really was to learn how to drive or the culture shock she experienced when moving to the states. As put together and glamorous as Liang is in person (just look at her – she’s gorgeous!), she doesn’t shy away from being a real person and not just another voice on the internet.
She also doesn’t avoid outwardly supporting causes she cares about, such as the revitalization of Detroit and the city’s fashion community. To connect with the fashion scene and create content for her site, Liang is constantly attending events and connecting with like-minded, local creatives.
Being consistent with her vision and sticking to her business plan certainly helped Liang reach the level of success she’s at today. However, it’s her genuine interest in portraying herself accurately on her blog and supporting other creatives that really sets her apart. Liang suggested to her Michigan Fashion Summit workshop attendees to find a way to be connected and make a difference with your platform. Given her success, I can’t help but think that’s a damn good idea.
4. Know Your Worth
Another keynote speaker at the Michigan Fashion Summit, Char Glover, designer of RocknRemix and former contestant (and finalist!) on Project Runway Season 13, didn’t originally want to be in fashion. Glover, who always had a unique fashion sense, first channeled her creativity through styling and cutting hair. It wasn’t until her friends, acquaintances and clients began asking her for custom-designed fashion pieces, that she really considered it could be something she’d be good at.
Despite having no prior design experience, with every new project she took on, she learned something new. Glover taught herself how to sew and auditioned for Project Runway three times before she made it onto the TV show. When she got there though, there was a whole new beast to conquer.
When people are intimidated by you, don’t understand you, etc., they’ll (sometimes) try to tear you down. Glover experienced this first-hand during the fashion competition show, especially after she received the coveted “Tim Gunn Save,” in which mentor Tim Gunn gives one eliminated contestant the opportunity to come back and continue competing. Many of the other contestants turned their noses down at her, questioning her skill level and right to be there.
Her advice? know your worth. Know that you deserve to be where you’re at in the moment you’re there. Glover admits that she didn’t always feel confident while on the show, but she kept reminding herself of her worth and talent. You deserve to feel confident about where you’re at in life, and if other people have a problem with that then it’s more likely a reflection of their insecurities than it is of your talent.
5. Work Hard, Reap the Rewards
Mia Ray of the fashion and lifestyle blog Confessions of a Glamaholic is a digital influencer. When she reviews or recommends a brand, product or source of entertainment, her large following comprised of just under 33,000 Instagram followers, more than 4,000 Facebook fans and over 1,500 Twitter followers pays attention. She didn’t get there overnight, though.
Launching her blog in 2010, Ray has been on the scene for a while. She’s pulled the late nights, cranking out blog post after blog post; she’s taken the time to put together a business plan, mission statement and media kit;and she’s followed through with deals she’s made with brands. Pretty much, Ray delivers, and people trust her.
This is the type of hard work that doesn’t go unnoticed, especially in the digital age. Understanding timing, your brand and your vision are important aspects of running a successful business, whether it be a blog, store, restaurant, etc. Now, having put in the time to create a brand and online community for herself, Ray is able to make profit off of her creative endeavors, and she encourages others to do the same.
Because even if you’re in a creative field, you deserve to get paid for your work. This, by the way, was a sentiment that was shared by a majority of the speakers at the Michigan Fashion Summit. Put in the hard work to reach your goals and then treat your passion like a business. You deserve it.
Were you at the Michigan Fashion Summit? If so, what was your favorite part? Let us know in the comment section below!