Dressing for Success and New Challenges
small business challenges dress for success
New workplace challenges crop up on a near daily basis, although they may not mesh with your core background, you can stretch yourself to learn new skills


Seemingly every day, we’re asked to take on new projects that fall outside our core competencies, imagining new ways to change the way we conduct business, alternative ways to grow business, new forms of technology to incorporate into our processes, etc. As companies try to downsize and make the most of their talent and resources, we all face these challenges.

Moving Beyond Your Comfort Level

My educational credentials consist of a B.A. in fashion design and an A.A.S. specializing in sportswear design. I came into the work force as an assistant designer and now am the design director for my company, covering all classifications of apparel categories for women, juniors, men and kids.

I have a great comfort level in understanding trends and how they relate to various customers. I have knowledge about yarns, fabrics, colors and patterns. I know how to design products and how to specify to a factory how to get them made. This knowledge truly falls under the core of what a design director does.

What my title doesn’t reflect is the 20-plus years I’ve worked in the fashion industry to not only learn about the fashion and trend aspects, but also the business and production sides of the industry, which means I also know how to get things produced at a price point, how to handle technical production questions, how to confidently speak to my merchant and product-development clients about apparel and trends. I also have the ability to successfully manage large teams of people. I feel pretty confident about my scope of knowledge.

This all leads us to the beginning of where this story really starts.

Going for It

Recently, I re-connected with someone (for the purposes of this story, we’ll refer to her as “Julie”) with whom I had briefly crossed paths some time ago. We had never actually worked together, but had happened to be making presentations to the same client. Although we were waiting to make separate presentations, we shared some time talking about what each of our companies did.

A little over a year had gone by since then and I assumed from our prior run in that she still felt confident about what my company could do because she solicited us to work on a new apparel project that would be a very interesting business opportunity. It seemed like a great match for all parties involved. I knew that with my lead on the design portion of the project, and my whole team supporting it, that my company could execute the product pitch to the potential clients—and that my company could produce this wonderful line of apparel.

Because Julie spoke with such conviction and confidence about the many previous successes she had had in this specific type of business dealings, I believed that Julie was an extremely knowledgeable person in this new arena of business. Given her insight, I felt she would be of great help and become a collaborative part of the process. She was bringing a new idea to my company that was a bit outside of my comfort zone, so I was going to lean on her a bit to help guide us through this project.

Why did I believe Julie? Because she talked a good game.

She threw around big name brands in the business that she had helped to build and had all the confidence in the world. She definitely seemed to have a major understanding of the business side as well. I was a little concerned about the high level of people I would be dealing with as we pitched this project because it involved a lot of understanding about building a brand and the financials to support it, but I was thoroughly up for the challenge and she was still in our showroom asking us to pursue this project with her. So I thought, let’s do it!

Don’t Be Bulldozed

I began to prepare for this project with a one-week deadline to start our first round of client-pitch presentations. With my team, I meticulously prepared all presentation materials that I know to help capture an audience. (This is a visual, tactile business that requires creativity while at the same time still understanding the needs of the client.) This would be an upper-management meeting, so beyond the visuals, we needed to be very savvy about the business angle as well. Why do they need this idea? What will it add to their retail business? What kind of profit and new customer base could it potentially add?

There are both creative and business angles that have to mesh well together. And regardless, there needs to be open dialogue with the client in terms of making any modifications they feel will help improve the idea for their own needs.

The one-week deadline was incredibly tight, and as it flew by, I needed to run things by Julie so I could make sure she was on board with our vision for the presentation. To my surprise, she never replied to any correspondence from my team or myself. Nor did she ever reached out once to check on the progress until the night before the presentation to say that she would arrive an hour before the meeting to review what we had come up with.



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