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NEW YORK — Major players in the fashion industry partook in a lively panel and roundtable discussion to provide career guidance and insight to 150 young adults in foster care during the 2007 Network to Success event on June 13 at NYU’s Kimmel Center.
The panel comprised 28 key members of the fashion industry, with careers spanning nearly every facet of the fashion world. The panelists included Elie Tahari; John Varvatos; Jim Seuss, chief executive officer of Cole Haan; Stephanie Cozzi, director of sales at Zac Posen; Anne Slowey, fashion news director at Elle; Stefani Greenfield, co-owner of Scoop, and Steve Robinson, vice president and creative director of Mecca Sportswear. The panelists donated their time to mentor the group of high school and college students for the seventh Network to Success event, hosted by New Yorkers for Children.
The Network for Success events are held twice a year, each with a different theme, said Dayssi Olarte de Kanavos, chair of the NYFC Friends Committee, noting the previous event focused on the hip-hop industry and the next one will center around finance. “We thought it would be fun to really start focusing on different specific types of industries so the kids see how people network and all the aspects of the industry,” said Olarte de Kanavos. “Not everybody is the designer, but this teaches them that they can be a stylist, they can merchandise or run a store. It teaches them that fashion is about all the people that are part of the team.”
The first part of the evening consisted of each panelist asking the question they would have wanted answered before embarking on their respective career paths. The exercise allowed the entire group to both ask and answer questions, which ran the gamut from what it takes to succeed to how to take a passion and turn it into a career.
Mecca’s Robinson, for example, said the question he would have liked to have asked was, “As a man of color in 1983, is there a place in this industry for me?” Amid the round of applause — the loudest received among the panelists — Robinson told the aspiring students, “I want you to celebrate yourself and let tonight change your life and work this room.”
While dispensing advice on interning, doing what you love, believing in the company you work for and being persistent, the panelists spoke with candor about their own career journeys. While the tone of the evening was clear, with members stressing there are many options when it comes to choosing a career in the fashion industry, the panelists were in unison about the importance of one thing: finding something that you are passionate about.
Tahari, the Israeli-born fashion designer who grew up in an orphanage as a young boy, told the audience, “I came here with $60, I didn’t speak English and I didn’t know anybody. I came directly from the military in Israel. I got to the city and had to sleep in Central Park because I had nowhere else to go,” said Tahari of his early experiences in New York, the city that eventually helped him create the successful fashion line that bears his moniker.
For Seuss, who just celebrated his one-year anniversary as ceo of Cole Haan, enthusiasm, willingness, determination and hard work are paramount in creating a great start to a career. “We’re here to impart some of our own experiences on how we got started in the industry and how we’re going to take the next generation and help them get involved in the fashion and retail luxury industries,” said Seuss, who previously worked at Tiffany & Co., Stella McCartney of the Gucci Group and Harry Winston.
The second half of the event was the more interactive portion, allowing the young adults to network with their mentors on a more personal level. Groups of two to three mentors headed each of the 13 tables, where students sat at three tables of their choice for 20 minutes each.