I will start off by saying, I didn’t realize it was a supply chain journey quite honestly. In my head, I think supply chain, maybe entered my train of thought eight years ago. But in all honesty, I grew up as a kid playing with paper dolls. I grew up in a household with a mom who sewed. So, there was always like Vogue magazines around the house. She always had patterns. She had a sewing machine and she didn’t make all my clothes, but she made like the special things. And very early on, I just made a connection between materials and making and how they make people feel and what happens in terms of when you put them on and that kind of morphed. I’ll even go into high school. I grew up in Philly and I was part of something called the Abraham and Strauss fashion team. Abraham Strauss was one of the department stores. It was New York based, I think. And basically, they had one in Philly, but they had this group called a fashion team and there were about 17 high school kids.
And what we did on Saturdays was literally pass out popcorn, wear cute outfits. And we thought we were modeling. That though, got me to see how making clothes, then they’re sold in a store and still that happiness that people felt. So, when I came out of High school, I wanted to be a model. So, am grateful for my parents for indulging me. I’m five four at best. And so, there’s no way I was going to do runway modeling at five four back then. My parents indulged me and we all, we got a portfolio, but then they also made sure that I did my college application. So I did my college application and actually we realized that the modeling wasn’t a good thing anyway. I went to Spelman in Atlanta, and I studied economics. It had nothing really to do with fashion. It was more my dad was an accountant and I had grown up with the thought of business in my head. And so, I studied economics and I fell in love with the science of money. I actually thought that I was going to be a Wall Street Journal reporter, my coming out of college hope and goal.
Through college I worked part-time jobs and one of the jobs I worked at was a shoe company. And it was actually an early precursor to a DSW. It was a husband and wife team, but it was a family owned business and literally as a college student worked on sorting shoes, doing layout of shoes. And I didn’t know what that really was. I just knew it was like, I don’t know, $8 an hour to get me through to college. And so that kind of kept me in the fashion realm and also sourcing. And so, when I came out of undergrad, I got two really great offers.
One was to be a buyer for Strawbridge and Clothier. They’re no longer around, they were department store and I got an offer to be in the operations program at Bank of Boston, which has now morphed to State Street. I went to my parents and I told them about these two amazing offers. And, because I grew up doing retail, my family was like, why would you get a degree, and to be a buyer, you still worked weekends. It just, didn’t translate. One of the things that’s interesting about life and careers, a lot of stuff doesn’t translate and a lot of stuff won’t translate to other people. So, I took the banking offer. I spent about six years doing commercial real estate and lending.
And I wasn’t thinking about fashion or anything like that. So, I spent a lot of times in Filene’s Basement, just the shopping but not anything business related. And I decided that I wanted to go back and get my MBA. I went to Wharton. I got my MBA in finance and I wasn’t really thinking fashion. I was actually more so thinking entrepreneurship, and coming out of Wharton, I went strictly into finance. I did mergers and acquisitions, then the entrepreneurial bug hit me and I was a CFO for internet startup, where we raised money and it wasn’t fashion or anything like that. And then 9-11 happened and it was just insane period. At that point, I was in my own venture and I was raising capital for early stage companies and they weren’t finance companies. They were just companies, it was textbook. This was the dotcom boom. And you know, it was good work. I loved that it was financial financials, entrepreneurial. It was great, but I just wasn’t excited.
Then after 9-11 happened, I really was not excited. And one of the things that happened in the finance market for entrepreneurs around that time, because there was such a loss in terms of jobs, there were just so many dynamic finance people that were out of work, that the business model that I had and raising capital and bringing in people, it just didn’t make sense.
A Wharton was in my network. We had lunch one day we were talking and he was a partner PricewaterhouseCoopers and his client was Ann Taylor. And, I was just sharing with him. I don’t know what I’m doing, blah, blah, blah. And, he said what I say to a lot of people when they’re at this life sucks stage is, if you could close your eyes and do anything, what would you do? And I said, I’ve always loved fashion. I have never been able to figure out quite honestly, how to make money doing it. So next I get a call from Ann Taylor’s. At the time he was the head of their finance department and my friend connected me to him and I went up to New York and I did an interview and I got the job.
It’s interesting in fashion, there is a clear distinction between the finance person and the creative person. The thought was, if you didn’t grow up as a merchant, you would never really make it to the C-suite. And so, I came in and I had done restructured real estate on the banking side. I kind of understood the economics of real estate and at the time that I was hired they actually had 800 stores. Believe it or not. The year that I was there, we built a hundred stores. And so, my job was to actually do the financial reconciliations for the store build-outs and where I’m going with that is, we were building them all around the country. And one of the things about store build-outs, it’s almost like building a hundred houses, and with every build out, there’s a unique thing that happens between the landowner landlord and the construction company, as far as charge backs and this and that. And because we were building so many stores at one time, and one of the reasons why I went to Ann Taylor is because they were very entrepreneurial. The business was growing in a way that you can still do many things.
We were able to identify a ton of money that could be charged back and that gave me an opportunity to go to my boss and say, I really want to do something creative. Can you help me figure out how to get there? And so, the creative thing that I got to do was the activity-based costing for our design team. And I will say, as a caveat, supply chain is creative. If you look at the elements that it really supports. And so that project was really key because it gave me as a finance person and understanding of the economics of address. But once again, we weren’t really talking about it as supply chain management. It was the acquisition of materials. We were bringing in materials from Italy. And so, understanding the economics of fabrics from Italy, if we have a challenge or if we have a spike in interest, what does that mean in terms of the costs to air goods?
One of the big projects that I did was this whole analysis on ship versus air. Which is all supply chain. Another piece of work that I did, which was really great, and this ties back to the book that I wrote now, 12 years later, I looked at the cost of doing samples. You have to understand where the business was. Ann Taylor had just become vertically integrated. So, before that they were a business that actually worked with a company in China that was the first case study in my book because Li & Fung was like the back office for design for so many brands for so long.
Early 2000 Ann Taylor, like other brands decided that they wanted to bring that sourcing in-house. And a part of that, if you think about where we are now with fast fashion and how the calendar has moved, a part of that was just an ingenious decision from brands to be forward-thinking about owning their production process, which is all supply chain.
Another really good project that I did while I was at Ann Taylor actually started doing the budgets for our sourcing division. And so, what that got me to do was to understand, once again, the economics, but the economics of the supply chain. Life moved on and I had a few other roles. And after 2008 retail had such a dent in the market and there wasn’t a lot there in terms of brands. And I knew I wanted a role that would allow me to leverage my finance, my business, but also, do some strategic. And so that’s how I landed into education and fashion.
It has been a wonderful journey of combining the things that I love and crazy enough being led to supply chain management.