Since launching our hugely popular Featured Stylist program, we’ve been fortunate to meet countless talented and ambitious individuals. Designers, artists, stylists, photographers, journalists, models-each with a different story, but all sharing a common goal: To make a defying mark in fashion. But as lofty as their aspirations are, more daunting is finding the right path to get them there.
For world renowned designer Monica Wise, creator and owner of L*Space Swimwear, her tale is far from your text book example. In fact, some would say her journey began out in left field. But like so many other great self-made success stories, Monica’s underlying theme is that great expectations will always produce triumphant endings.
Early in your career, what were some of your first jobs?
At 15 I worked for my grandmother who was an amazing self-taught business woman in the food industry. During those few years I learned a lot about how to treat your employees with respect and dignity. I’ve always felt this was the first important step to becoming a good leader and business owner.
Did you pursue a degree or any training specifically related to fashion design?
I didn’t attend design school but learned through the school of hard knocks.”Experience” was the name of my teacher. Both my successes and mistakes are my way of learning what to do—and not to do—when it comes to running my business, as well as to my other title as “designer”. Also, always look at the sunny side of everything has served me well!
What inspired you to become a swim designer / business owner?
In my 20′s and 30′s I lived in a bikini. It became my favorite part of my wardrobe. I then learned how to sketch suits and have them sewn at a local factory.
What was the exact moment you knew L*Space had “made it”?
I realized after winning SIMA’s “swimwear brand of the year” award two years in a row that we were officially becoming a “brand”. I received four calls in six months from folks in the industry who wanted to buy L*Space before I eventually partnered with Dac Clark and Paul Carr from C & C. (Best decision ever!)
Where do you look for design inspiration?
I get inspiration from a lot of places, including jewelry, handbags and shoes. Also, traveling internationally is always huge for inspiring my future collections.
What projects are you currently working on?
Right now I’m working on a runway show for Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Miami; designing a new trade show booth; and laying out the 2010 catalog. There’s a lot going on now, but I’m surrounded by a great team which takes a lot of the pressure off.
Are you able to easily balance job, life and family?
Now that’s an important part for me. In order to be good at your job you need time outside of work to decompress. In the beginning I worked 12 hour days, 7 days a week. Now, however, I can relax on weekends—which is a wonderful thing!
In terms of hiring potential employees, are you more interested in skills or personality?
Great synergy and an upbeat attitude are a must in this industry. I’ve seen so many girls with the great fashion educations but lack energy and passion for their jobs.
What type of salary can entry-level designers expect to make?
$60,000 is an average beginning salary.
Everyone recommends starting off as an intern, but with the current economic fallout, would you still suggest working for free?
I’ve seen the best girls come from interning. I’d certainly recommend it as a great way to prove yourself.
What advice do you have for aspiring designers and apparel entrepreneurs?
School is ALWAYS the best way to go. Find someone to shadow and be passionate about everything you do in your work. Think only the best, work only the best, and expect only the best. Be as enthusiastic about the success of others as you are about your own.