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Company Culture

September 17, 2010

In lieu of New York Fashion Week ending yesterday, I figured I’d write a post inspired by a dream I had. 

A couple nights ago I had a dream that I ran into fashion designer Charlotte Ronson.  My friends and I went into her store (which in my dream looked nothing like her real store in New York) and we got into a conversation. The conversation went pretty well. She knew who I was,  and we started reflecting on how far her line has come over the past couple of years. My friends eventually left and I told them I would meet them up the street in 15 minutes. 

Charlotte had started to hint that she needed a mood board done for a new project (In fashion, a mood board usually consists of sketches of clothing, samples of fabrics, and images of inspiration plastered on a board that may convey a certain theme which helps develop design concepts to be showcased to others.) And then we got off topic and somehow I found myself in her car as she was driving me away from the area I needed to meet my friends. She ended up dropping me off on some random corner and I tried to tell her that I would do the mood board for her, but she ended up driving away leaving me hanging.  

 

 

 I realize the dream may seem really random but what you don’t know is there was a time I did work for Charlotte Ronson. I was straight out of college with no fashion experience but working in retail stores and completing some fashion illustration and merchandising courses in college. I moved to New York to do the internship with her company and see where life took me from there.

It was an interesting experience. I ran around a city I knew nothing about, getting lost (let me tell you, the best way to find your way around New York City is to get lost!), fulfilling my duties ranging from dropping off house keys to the distribution’s president’s nanny, to rolling racks of clothing from the showroom down New York’s busiest streets. I remember on my first day transporting 500 HEAVY cds in very unstable canvas tote bags from Chelsea, back to the office in Bryant Park with another intern all while wearing 4- inch cork heel wedges (okay so yes, clearly I wanted to look fly but clearly I didn’t get the memo to wear flats) and in 80 degree September heat….so I was anticipating  the next 6 months to be better, which I can admit they were.

 As far as working with Charlotte Ronson? You’d think the experience would be exhilarating. Especially since there were probably only 8 other people who worked in her studio office (not including the interns), & you would have thought I would’ve had close interaction with her. Before my first day, I had run over our first meeting in my mind a thousand times. How would I introduce myself to her? What would her personality be like?  From everything I read about her I knew she was nowhere close to being the Devil Wears Prada type tyrant, but imagined her being a cool, laid back person who had fun on her job and knew how to dress.

On my very first day of walking through her doors, I was nervous and excited to say the least. Charlotte was nowhere to be seen when I arrived. Around 1pm or so, she strolled in casually through the doors straight to her desk, eyes glued to the screen of her phone, passing by the majority of her staff’s desks without saying a word… I was a little taken aback by it but thought maybe she was focused on something important in her Blackberry.  In the midst of her arrival I was busy sorting clothes and she seemed too preoccupied anyways so I didn’t introduce myself then. A couple hours into the day I saw that she didn’t really talk much and gave her the benefit of the doubt that she was just busy. Later on in the day, when I was being given a new task by the girl who the interns reported to, Charlotte walked up to me, envelopes in hand, interrupting the conversation saying:

“I need to have these mailed today.” 

……………………………………?…………………………………… <insert Scooby Doo saying “Brooooooooh??”>

 

Clearly she had never seen me before, so she knew this was my first day. And the first words she says to me are in the form of a demand? I mean really?

I was a bit speechless…I remember saying a simple “Okay..” or something of the sort just to respond to her, but inside my mind was going a mile a minute. This was not the first greeting I had imagined, not even close. I mean, I wasn’t expecting her to stand at the door of her office with balloons and cupcakes awaiting my arrival to scream out “Welcome to Charlotte Ronson!” when I got there, but dag, a hello would have been nice.

 The girl who I reported to saw the look on my face, probably sensed what I was thinking, and quickly introduced me to her. Charlotte said “hi” back with a halfway forced smile, turned around, and walked back to her desk.

Sidenote: I’d rather someone say nothing at all than give me a forced, fake greeting…trust me, you aren’t doing me any favors!

How many times did we speak during the course of my 6 month internship there? I could probably count it on two hands. And it wasn’t because she was so busy that she didn’t have time to speak to me. It was because she was anti social. Point blank, period. But I nor any of the interns didn’t let her anti-social esqe demeanor bring us down while we were there. Probably because she didn’t discriminate…she barely talked to anyone on her team, unless she had to….lol. Looking back there are times where I wondered how she would be if I had talked to her as much as I did everyone else in the company. I almost felt like I couldn’t be my bubbly self around her because the times I tried, I would receive a unthusiastic response.

I know the fashion world is full of characters, and that many people in the industry are not the nicest or friendliest or the most pleasant to work with. I get it. I understand that the industry is full of the powerful Anna Wintours and flamboyant Andre Leon Talley’s, to the no nonsense types like Michael Kors and sometimes that’s just what you have to work with. Just two nights ago, I was invited by a director to his documentary screening about the history of Fashion Week in Bryant Park there were so many designers he interviewed. I remember seeing Betsey Jonson’s crazy personality in her interview and knew instantly I would have enjoyed working with her.  

 
 
 

 

I also saw Catherine Malandrino, Tommy Hilfiger and many others and wondered what they treated their interns like? I assume those big name designers don’t have day to day contact with them since they have so many people who work under them.  

Honestly I was never quite sure what point I was trying to make with this post. I’m in no way trying to badmouth Charlotte or her company. I just think that what I am trying to say is that people, in general should be courteous to those who work for them.  Especially if you, like Charlotte Ronson, have a small team. She had a team that put in many hours to make sure that her company thrived and succeeded. And at times I feel like she was responsible for setting the tone for her lackluster company culture. Fashion is already a stressful industry so why not make the working environment enjoyable for everyone? There were drab days people didn’t speak to each other unless they had to and there were some days where it was the opposite and people (other than her) laughed and had a good time while being productive. 

That experience taught me how I want to be as a head honcho when I run my company. It also taught me how much company culture affects the working experience. When people hear I interned for a fashion company I know they envision my experiences being in a fast paced, upbeat, busy, ENERGETIC environment. But it wasn’t exactly that for me. 

Don’t get me wrong, me and all the interns had a blast, making our experience there fun for US. We took the initiative to have fun while we worked. I guess I just wished everyone else around us did the same. 

I guess this is my main point: To any entrepreneur reading this, be courteous to your employees and acknowledge their work! They put their blood, sweat, and tears into your vision so it’s the least you can do. If not, then they can definitely do it for someone who appreciates it.

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