Erica Young knows a thing or two about carving out your own niche.
Young is the director of marketing at Ashley Stewart, a plus-size women’s fashion brand. She found her calling in the plus-size fashion industry after a diversified career that included founding two web-based fashion companies focused on the plus-size market, as well as roles in healthcare, nonprofits and institutions of higher education.
Young has been with the Ashley Stewart brand since 2013 and leads the marketing efforts for its 89 stores in 22 states, including the company’s e-commerce presence at ashleystewart.com. She is a 2006 graduate of LIM College. Here, Young talks to WWD about studying at LIM, her fashion industry career and the importance of mentorship.
WWD: How did your coursework and your experience at LIM help inform your career decisions?
Erica Young: The years I spent at LIM College were extremely formative for my career. During my junior and senior years, I was able to do two internships, one in trend forecasting and the other in product development. These internships helped me to fully understand how society and culture influence fashion and how products are created from this inspiration. My senior year internship in product development led me to a full-time role and the start of my career.
WWD: If you could go back in time and give career advice to your younger self, what would you say?
E.Y.: I’d probably tell myself to have more fun. You’re going to make mistakes, you’re going to experience hard moments, but you only get stronger, wiser and more appreciative of the good moments by persevering through the hard ones. There’s also no need to stress about things you cannot control.
WWD: How would you describe your career path? What were some of the challenges you faced?
E.Y.: It has not been a straight path, but I’ve learned that you can’t expect it to be. When you’re in school, you assume you’ll start your career and it will move upward in a solid diagonal line. In today’s professional world though, that’s not the reality. You hit bumps and turns along the way. You have times of adversity and times of great opportunity.
I started my career working in product development and buying for a large fashion conglomerate. After five years, I was ready for a change and started an affiliate marketing company with a former colleague. Having my own business was amazing — we were able to accomplish many things and got a great deal of press for it.
I ended up selling my stake in that company. That may sound like a great success for a first company, but it was actually really hard and a bit sad to leave a business that was born through my own blood, sweat and tears. However, the way I marketed my company through social media was noticed by my colleagues in the industry, which led to consulting jobs and eventually working at Ashley Stewart.
While I’ve had twists and turns in my career, great times and hard times, the key through all of it was to maintain a level head and to keep pushing forward. It’s all about perseverance. If you can keep moving forward, you are going to get to where you want to go.
WWD: Have you had mentors at LIM or in the industry? If yes, how have they helped you?
E.Y.: I’ve had numerous mentors throughout my career. Some of these mentors were colleagues that I worked with for years, while others came into my life for a brief moment but played a formative role in inspiring me to try something new or go after a dream.
I know some people look for very formal mentorships, which can be hard for both parties to maintain. Today, I believe you really have to find people whose achievements and character you admire and put yourself in situations where you can work and/or learn from them. You have to look less for formal mentorships and more for good environments filled with people you would be proud to emulate.
WWD: What advice would you give someone considering a career in the retail and fashion apparel market?
E.Y.: From the outside, the fashion industry can look extremely glamorous. There is definitely some mystique and glamour, but it’s also a lot of hard work. To be successful in this industry, you need to discover and develop skills that help you stand out and find a role you can be passionate about.
The retail-fashion industry has very busy seasons that require long hours. Loving what you do makes those times enjoyable and rewarding.
You should also look to work at a company filled with people you admire. You spend so much time in the office — the people around you will help you achieve your goals, grow personally and professionally and make your day a little bit brighter.
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