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28: how I got here.
Yesterday was my 28th birthday–a number that feels really big for me right now. I think back to being a teenager daydreaming about all the things I’d accomplish by my late twenties: getting married, having an awesome career, living my life in New York City. I am equally proud and surprised to be more or less exactly where I hoped I’d be at this point in my life. In light of the inevitable reflection that comes with one’s birthday, I thought I’d take you through my career timeline to break down how I got to where I am today and help anyone hoping to join me on a similar path!
It all began one fateful day back in 1997, when an eight-year-old girl living in the New Jersey suburbs watched Clueless for the first time. (That’s me!) Maybe it was Cher’s revolving closet, maybe it was all that marabou fur, but all I know is that the moment the movie was over, I ran up to my closet and began “making outfits” for the first time. From that moment on, I was determined to have a career in fashion. And since fashion designer was the only fashion job with which I was familiar, I decided that’s what I would be.
My parents supported my interest in fashion design by buying me a sketch book, tracing paper and some colored pencils, and so I began designing outfits à la Limited Too (my favorite clothing store at the time, duh) and called my line Designs by Marisa. I learned about American designers and hung up pictures of Betsey Johnson, Ralph Lauren, and Donna Karan around my room. My grandmother taught me how to sew and I experimented with crafting clothes for my Barbie dolls. I made Swarovski crystal bracelets in a rainbow of colors and sold them to my classmates on the playground.
In high school, I discovered Style.com and Teen Vogue, and from there on things started to get real. Editorial fashion became my obsession. I memorized the collections each season and determined that I would be a fashion editor at Teen Vogue. Living so close to New York City, I understood the good fortune of my proximity to a fashion capital and leveraged my connections. A friend invited me to join her for my first fashion show at New York Fashion Week. I attended Teen Vogue’s Fashion University convention. My mom connected me with a client of hers who worked for dELiA*s, and I landed my first internship working for their creative director and assisting on photo shoots. I started a fashion column in my high school newspaper and took fashion design classes. I applied and was accepted into the magazine journalism program at Boston University, and with that, I was truly on my way!
In college, my two career goals were to land a great internship each summer and write for a school publication. When I learned that BU didn’t have a magazine of its own (even with magazine journalism as an offered major!) I changed my goals from writing for a school publication to starting a student lifestyle magazine. Knowing that I couldn’t do it alone, I asked my friend Allie–a fellow mag jo major from my sorority pledge class–if she’d be interested in starting this magazine with me, and luckily she agreed! We busted our butts for over two years establishing The Buzz and collaborating with like-minded students on robust content for our classmates. It was pretty successful and, best of all, it still exists today! I learned so much about editorial production and entrepreneurship, which are lessons I still reference in growing The Neon Tea Party.
When it came to internships, I jumped on the opportunity to apply to Teen Vogue the first possible moment I could, which was in the spring of my freshman year of college. One of the top three moments in my life (which also include getting into BU and getting engaged!) was being offered the internship at Teen Vogue. Finally, I could learn about the inner workings of my favorite magazine and figure out whether working there was really in the cards for me. While I LOVED the internship, I learned that working in magazines was often political, took years to advance through the ranks, and didn’t pay very well. So in a way I was back to the drawing board but still determined to make a name for myself in fashion. Over the next three years, I set out to get well-rounded fashion internship experiences, which included stints at Rag & Bone, Ralph Lauren Women’s Collection and Women’s Wear Daily‘s European office in Paris while studying abroad there. From each internship, I learned new insights and skills, but more so I learned about the ecosystem of the fashion world and that editorial was still my favorite part of it all.
It was also during college that I discovered blogging and created The Neon Tea Party 1.0. I ran TNTP on Blogger and posted style musings whenever the mood struck: sometimes once a day, sometimes ones a month. I blogged on and off for four or five years and used the site for myriad purposes, including chronicles of my time abroad in Paris, editorial content samples, and my creative portfolio.
With graduation approaching, I decided I would continue to pursue editorial jobs for brands and e-commerce. (They need content too, right??) I was lucky to be offered a PAID fashion internship at InStyle magazine shortly after graduation, which was the perfect role to hold me over while I looked for my first real job. I stumbled upon (and was offered!) a samples assistant role for a flash sale site called ideeli. While it turned out that the job was 90% packing and shipping boxes of photo samples, I was working in a photo studio and building relationships with the creative team there. When our new creative director called on the whole studio team to contribute an image or two of what we imagined to be the “ideeli woman,” I put together an entire mood board. After presenting my project to the creative and art directors, I was officially on their radar for a junior creative role and after 11 months packing samples, I was offered a job as a junior fashion stylist. From that moment on, I was really on my way!
Around the same time, my friend Elise (of Collegiate Soul and Patch Party fame) offered to connect me with her friend’s sister who was the founder of an online jewelry retailer called Charm & Chain. My jewelry-loving ears perked up and I immediately scheduled a meeting with the founder, Ali. After showing her The Buzz and The Neon Tea Party and expressing my interest in writing about jewelry, Ali brought me on as a freelance contributor. I was charged with developing trend and seasonal jewelry stories, writing email copy and creating blog posts–and I loved every second of it.
From the fall of 2012 through the fall of 2013, I was styling on-model product shots by day and writing about jewelry by night. Finally, I was an actual editorial creative and was learning all about photography, social media, and e-commerce. I was networking with photographers, models, stylists, makeup artists and hair stylists. I was attending and writing about jewelry presentations. I was immersing myself in New York City’s creative industry.
At the end of that year, I felt that I had learned all that I could as a junior fashion stylist at ideeli and was ready for a new challenge. I began applying to editorial roles at various e-comm brands and soon, the interview process began to unfold. What I’d really hoped to do was work for Charm & Chain in a full-time capacity. I loved the work I was doing for them and believed I could do much more for them if I only had more time. I posed this thought to Ali and her partner Jamie, drafted a formal proposal for the role, and after some back-and-forth, they offered me a role as an editorial associate! It was too good to be true, but true it was.
I left ideeli and began my full-time job at Charm & Chain in early February 2014. I was the fifth member of a five-person team and was loving the intimacy of such a tight-knit group. I ran Charm & Chain’s social media accounts, email marketing, and blog, establishing key trend and season-based stories and informing our customers about the nuances of our assortment. It was during this time that I got a total crash course in what it means to be a good marketer, how to create compelling content that converts, and how to leverage my resources. I loved my job and team tremendously and was dedicated to helping grow the Charm & Chain brand.
In late winter 2016, Charm & Chain went through a restructure and suddenly my responsibilities grew. In addition to managing all content marketing, I was also charged with managing all day-to-day operations including inventory management, account management, and customer service. Luckily, since our team had always been small, I knew the basic protocol for these areas and the learning curve was relatively minimal. Although this period of time was quite hectic at work, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. I learned many new skills related to e-comm management and gained a new sense of confidence that I could manage a small business largely on my own.
The end of this story continues in the blog post I shared the first week of January about my decision to pursue The Neon Tea Party full time. Now, two months later and another year older, I am just as confident about what the future holds for TNTP, though I am still trying to figure out how exactly to get there. My current chapter consists of a lot of trial and error, balancing a new set of responsibilities, and focusing on my end goal of turning The Neon Tea Party into a global brand.
If you’re still reading this post, thank you for sticking around! I hope my story is helpful to you in some way. If you have any comments or questions, feel free to leave them below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org!
peace, love & neon,