Doug Jakubowski, president of North America at FitFlop USA LLC, has some advice for those aspiring to work in the fashion industry: risk-taking pays off.
As an industry executive with more than three decades of experience, the LIM College alumni has held a variety of executive roles that includes chief merchandising officer of Perry Ellis as well as positions at Kenneth Cole Productions Inc., which included chief merchandising officer as well. Previously, Jakubowski has held sales, marketing and merchandising positions at companies and brands such as Chess King, Koral Industries and Salant Corp.
Jakubowski serves as a LIM College advisory board member as well as a member of the YMA/Fashion Scholarship fund board of governors. In 2004, Out Magazine cited him in its Top 100 list of success stories, which included fellow honorees Tom Ford, Ellen DeGeneres, Elton John and Susan Sarandon.
Here, as part of a WWD ongoing series of career path stories, Jakubowski shares thoughts about the industry as well as some advice for students considering a career in fashion.
WWD: How did your coursework and your experience at LIM help inform your career decisions?
Doug Jakubowski: It was a very long time ago, the Eighties to be exact. I was young, impressionable and without the knowledge and skills to harness my passion for fashion into something truly meaningful. It was LIM College that guided me through the process of seeing my potential. Their curriculum in both classroom studies as well as direct engagement with the industry was ideal. I was well prepared — at any moment we could find ourselves meeting a senior retail executive or face to face with a top designer.
The decisions I made and confidence built made my transition into the fashion industry successful.
WWD: If you could go back in time and give career advice to your younger self, what would you say?
D.J.: The risks you will take will payoff — push yourself. You will have failures and while they may appear difficult to overcome, you will, and they will play an equal role in helping you succeed in the future.
WWD: How would you describe your career path? What were some of the challenges you faced?
D.J.: In the beginning my career path was measured, then unpredictable. Eventually I became laser-focused on my goals.
One challenge was evolving my skills at a time when American fashion was redefining itself with a collection mentality for a larger audience. It was a real shift. Designers such as Donna Karan, Perry Ellis, Calvin Klein and Ralph Lauren were changing the way retailers worked and looked.
As all that was happening I decided to move from retail to wholesale. This was not an easy transition, but in the end it turned out to be the best decision I could have made. In my opinion, having experience on both sides of the business turned out to be a huge asset and one I still refer to today.
WWD: Have you had mentors at LIM or in the industry? If yes, how have they helped you?
D.J.: The late Dean Joan Terranova of LIM College was most influential. From the start, she taught that fashion is a serious business. Also, how we present ourselves is paramount, whether it be written, verbal or physical. If you are to be taken seriously then look the part, be informed and be you.
There have been countless others along the way that have been there for me. The one thing that is consistent in all of them is that they showed me that you must work very hard but also never lose your identity in your work. The best guidance I ever got is that once you have to start being a different person in order to do your job, that job is not right for you. Authenticity must always remain your calling card.
WWD: What advice would you give someone considering a career in the retail and fashion apparel market?
D.J.: Fashion is current and always changing so you must as well. Stay relevant and listen.