Luisa Herrera-Garcia, senior vice president of operations and production at John Varvatos Enterprise, overseas a staff of 15 professionals in the production and design department at the company. Her responsibilities include “setting the global strategy for planning, production and operation processes while securing profitability requirements for the Varvatos wholesale and retail operations,” Herrera-Garcia noted.
To meet these challenges, Herrera-Garcia relies upon over two decades of experience at other brands such as Calvin Klein, Perry Ellis, PVH and Cutlass & Moore, among others. She’s considered a leading expert in the menswear market. Moreover, Herrera-Garcia is known for setting high standards for herself and her team, and has a reputation for developing leaders through mentorship — which Herrera-Garcia learned firsthand as a LIM College class of 1988 graduate.
Here, WWD talks with Herrera-Garcia about her career development and how LIM College prepared and helped shape her professional aspirations.
WWD: How did your coursework and your experience at LIM help inform your career decisions?
Luisa Herrera-Garcia: The most significant way that LIM supported my career growth was through their internship programs.
For example, I had the opportunity to travel abroad to the U.K. and intern with Selfridges. This allowed me to learn more about retail, and from a different country’s point of view. I then had an internship with the manufacturing company Cutlass and Moore (they’re no longer in business) where I learned about the manufacturing of Sea Island shirts and ties.
LIM’s network within the fashion business provided me with amazing exposure. I also must say that their approach with students — pushing us to excel in all of our courses — really provided me with a strong foundation for my first job.
WWD: If you could go back in time and give career advice to your younger self, what would you say?
L.H-G.: Always think big. Follow your dreams. Do not follow the crowd. Have your own opinion and be true to yourself. Success is not measured by your wealth, but by your integrity.
WWD: How would you describe your career path? What were some of the challenges you faced?
L.H-G.: I have been very fortunate to have had amazing mentors throughout my career. I have met many people that believed in me and gave me a chance to shine.
However, I also faced having to work harder than others based on the fact that I am a Cuban woman of color. I faced situations walking into board meetings where as soon as I walked in everyone would stop talking. I realized early in my career that I had to work extra hard to be recognized and have people move past the color of my skin or my nationality.
I have been very fortunate though to have had great bosses — such as John Varvatos for the last 15 years — who believed in me and pushed me to be the best I can be.
WWD: Have you had mentors at LIM or in the industry? If yes, how have they helped you?
L.H-G.: As mentioned above yes. In terms of LIM mentors, there was Joan Terranova, who unfortunately passed away in 2002. She was amazing and encouraged me to continue and pursue my bachelor’s degree. There was also George Sanchez, now retired, who was LIM’s Director of Library Services. There were also several more, some of whom are no longer living, but what they all had in common was that they all really believed in me back when I was a student. As far as the industry goes, I would say my greatest mentor has been John Varvatos.
WWD: What advice would you give someone considering a career in the retail and fashion apparel market?
L.H-G.: I would tell them to go for it. However, do not be fooled by the magazines and the glamour of fashion shows. There is much more to this business — it takes a lot more than being on a runway for 20 minutes.
There are so many more kinds of opportunities in the fashion business now than when I started out. The world of digital and e-commerce has revolutionized everything we do. There are also facets of our business that are becoming more important, such as the legal side, and compliance and product safety. These are emerging areas with promising career paths. Students are now focusing on these areas and companies are seeking professionals to hire.
I have been very fortunate to be in an industry that I truly love. The fashion industry has allowed me to travel the world, which I am not sure would have been possible otherwise. I’ve also met amazing people who have grown to be friends as well as business partners.
I’d like to let young women know that it’s possible to become a successful executive in this business and also be a mother and a wife. I am here to say that all that and more is possible. Don’t sell yourself short.