A Ph.D turned style entrepreneur’s journey from honing expertise from Argentina to California.
Mara Kolesas, Ph.D. a successful fashion professional was born and raised in Argentina, She is a “style with substance” expert.
Mara styles sophisticated and engaged professionals and entrepreneurs “inside out” by identifying their values, goals, and beauty, and helping them bring their substance to their style, so they look and feel genuine and empowered to achieve their aspirations.
This is part one of her story…
I was born in Buenos Aires, to a family of Jewish immigrants, and I grew up with grandparents who spoke Yiddish at home, and parents who didn’t, who were first generation professionals and fully assimilated as Argentinians.
My family was modestly middle class, but rich culturally and involved socially. My parents sent me and my brother to an unusual public school, attended by children of intellectuals, professionals, and secular Jews, where much of the social and political repression was filtered. But in my first year of high school, which was the last year of dictatorship, I experienced the heavy hand of military discipline and anti-semitism—once, all the Jews in the class were called to the blackboard.
I had to wear a uniform (braided hair, blue headband, blue knee stockings, dark shoes, dark gray sweater). It was stifling. Democracy brought freedom to express ourselves, go out with no curfew, and reclaim our right to have a say (I became a member of my school’s student union). I like to think that I had the good fortune of being a teenager in a country that was also going through adolescence.
Family’s ideas and values, were profoundly formative
Those years, and my family’s ideas and values, were profoundly formative. I went on to pursue a career in political science, but I also had a passion for clothes and style. I eventually came to the US for doctoral studies in New York City.
On September 11th, 2001, I saw the Twin Tower fall from my window in Brooklyn and witnessed the transformation of the environment with tanks and soldiers on the streets. You can imagine the bad memories it brought up.
With my visa about to expire and Argentina at the peak of its economic crisis, I decided to leave the United States. Opportunity took me to live in Italy, Germany and Lebanon, where I worked on issues of empowerment, diversity and inclusion.
I had planned to stay in Europe, but life is open-ended. During those years I met my husband, an American academic, and in 2007 we moved together to California.
Past business successes, failures and their impact
Let me tell you my biggest setback right away: my complete underestimation of how different the world of business is. I was coming from working in universities, non-profits, and international organizations, as a professor and consultant. My success in those realms did little to prepare me for business.
When I decided to devote myself exclusively to styling (after having kids and doing part-time consulting work), I did everything fast, in a burst of determination and drive. I launched my business from scratch in one month.
I consulted with friends in the fashion industry, created a website and put myself out in the world. And I started to get referrals. It felt great—my clients were happy, I loved what I was doing. But in strictly business terms, I was improvising. And it started to show.
I assumed that the quality of my service, along with being smart and intuitive, would be enough of a basis to grow a business, learning along the way.
My initial success in changing “industries” made me overconfident. I thought my value and expertise would speak for themselves – they don’t. I thought that offering many styling services would appeal to more clients – it doesn’t, it dilutes my expertise, and it’s exhausting.
I thought that the hourly rate base business model was profitable – it isn’t, it had me running from one client to another, for a few hours, with a lot of time wasted in between. I realized my “non-business” model was actually a bad business model.
This setback gave me an opportunity to stop, assess, look inside myself, learn and fine-tune. And I did. It took patience, but it was worth it.
Next- Refocusing and three business takaways