In this month’s special installment of Behind the Seams: Women’s History Month, we are honored to feature Erica Lynn Young, the power house talent behind the influential plus size model blog Truth and Fashion. Based in New York, Erica is a young serial entrepreneur, social media strategist, adjunct professor and board adviser with plans in work to launch the full Truth and Fashion website next month (sign up for the email list here!). Interested in pursuing a career in the fashion industry? Keep reading as Erica shares some invaluable words of wisdom.
Tell us a little about your educational background; where did you go to college and why did you choose that particular school/career path?
I first went to college at Johnson & Wales University (JWU) in Providence, Rhode Island. My decision to attend JWU was pretty simple; it was the only college that offered a Fashion Merchandising major and had a competitive volleyball program. While attending JWU, I heard about a summer program at the Paris Fashion Institute. I decided to attend the program and it was one of the most life changing months in my life. It was an extremely intense program with classes in design, merchandising, trend forecasting, product development, art history, and more. The program, and being in Paris, really opened my eyes to what the fashion industry is.
After hearing one of my professor’s say, “You have to be in New York or Paris to make it in fashion,” I knew I had to move to New York City. From the recommendation of a friend, I then decided to attend LIM College. Without LIM College, I know my career would have been different. The college requires that you complete 3 internships. I did my final internship at Redcats USA in product development and was hired at graduation.
How did you end up at Redcats USA? (e.g. job board, cold call, approached by the company)
While I was completing my internship at Redcats USA, I told my boss that I was very interested in a position at the company. There was actually no position immediately available after I completed my internship so I freelanced with the company for 6 months while finishing up my Bachelor’s degree.
Right before graduation, a position came available and my boss hired me immediately. Throughout the year I spent with the company, I always made my goals very clear and, along with my drive, I was able to land a position.
What was your most rewarding and most challenging experience there and why?
My most rewarding experience at Redcats was when I was promoted at 24 years old to be a product manager with around $24 million in financial responsibility across 11 departments. I had been working at the company for a little over 3 years and those years were spent fully devoted to company’s success with countless late nights. It was wonderful to be rewarded with a new title and added responsibility.
But, with more responsibility comes more challenges. I took the Product Manager position in 2008 which was the beginning of a horrible economic time for the United States and all apparel companies were greatly struggling. This was then added on top of a whole new management team for the brand I was working for which only increases the challenges. With great challenges though come great opportunities and I felt I learned a lot by working for a brand during such a pivotal time.
When and how did you first realize that the plus size market was underserved?
I first realized that the plus size market was underserved while working at Redcats and doing my own research on the market place. I spent a day going to all the department stores and boutiques that carry plus size clothing. First, if it was not for the commuting on the subway, this would have only taken a couple of hours. Then, when you arrive at the department store, you have to find the plus size section which seems to either be in the basement, the top floor, or a corner.
Taking the escalator past the contemporary and designer floors with beautiful displays, space to shop, nice lighting, and hip music, it was extremely easy to see what is lacking in the plus size fashion departments, which seemed to be treated as an afterthought. From this experience and my corporate background that strictly catered to mass-market fashion, I knew there was a major void in plus size fashion with a contemporary and high-fashion feeling.
Your next endeavor, the stunning and minimalist photo blog Truth and Fashion, aims to “change people’s view on fashion and beauty diversity in body image.” What inspired you to create this site and what has been people’s reaction thus far?
The photo blog is just the beginning. It has had such an overwhelmingly positive reaction that I can’t wait to hear what people think of the full website, TruthandFashion.com, when it launches in the next month. I was inspired to create this website from what I have seen to be an insatiable desire from the consumer to see different body images and standards of beauty in fashion and media.
Truth and Fashion lets go of industry standards by changing the world’s perspective on beauty and fashion. We unveil daily the most beautiful and talented models in the world who are above the typical model size of 0. We are your source for cutting-edge editorials, the latest videos, fashion campaigns, and daily inspiration.
What is your most rewarding and most challenging experience as an entrepreneur and why?
The most rewarding experience is when people love what you have created. Receiving fan feedback on Twitter, Facebook, and over email always helps to make the late nights worthwhile. I always receive a lot of feedback on the imagery that Truth and Fashion displays. Fans say that they find the images inspiring, empowering, and helpful in realizing their own beauty. I believe Truth and Fashion helps to further expand the idea of what beauty is and not place so many limits on it.
I always find the general challenges of being an entrepreneur to be the same: time and money. You could always use an extra hour in the day and more money to further refine and develop your product or service. The key to this is you have to know when your product is just right to go live with it. You can always refine down the road once you receive customer feedback and some initial revenue.
Looking back on your experiences in the fashion industry, what do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your journey?
That you can take different paths to reach your destination. I feel like we are told as a kid that if you want to do fashion you have to study it in school. I do not regret studying fashion in school, but wish I could have experimented more with other areas of study.
For anyone interested in pursuing a career in fashion merchandising, marketing or blogging, what is the most important piece of advice you would give him or her?
Get experience. Hands down. Go get an internship, part time job, or start your own blog, do anything you can to get your own experience and learn from it. Having some solid experience on your resume will make you more valuable to a future employer and even for your own company.
Once you start your own company, there are still opportunities to learn, but mistakes will cost you much more financially. When you make a mistake with your own company, you may have to sacrifice your own paycheck. If you can learn through a network of mentors through an internship, part-time or full-time job, it will help to make your own venture more successful.
Photo Courtesy of Erica Lynn Young