Bullish for Fashion Week: 3 Surprising Career Philosophies from Designers

You don’t need a degree (or anyone’s permission) if you’ve got mojo

Of Alexander Wang, in Harper’s:

His first fashion show, at age 15, consisted of 33 evening dresses. “I think part of it had to do with my sewing skills and not being able to actually sew tailored garments,” says Wang, laughing. “No one ever taught me, and I never had formal classes in pattern making, so I was like, Okay, I’ll just drape, and I’ll sew as I pin it.

Wang later enrolled in, and dropped out of, Parsons. From Sandra’s Closet:

You went to Parsons for a four-year programme and dropped out after two years to focus on your first collection that was mainly about knitwear and sold to over 200 stores. That is absolutely amazing. Did you have any connections? How did you do that?

(Laughs) There has been the myths that my family owns production facilities. Probably because we are Chinese, people make that association. Other rumors said that we made a big investment. This is all not true.

The brand started off very small with only six styles. It was just that people really responded to the authenticity, to the genuine feeling. When you have someone who really believes in doing something and would do anything to make it happen. Luckily, I had a very big support in terms of a family and I don’t mean just financial.

The people around me encouraged me to keep going. My mum who let me leave school and friends who encouraged me to do what I believed in and not listening so much to what the stores were telling me to do, what the showroom wanted me to do. Saying so what, that is my customer, this is the one I want to design for, that is the one, I want to sell to and this how I want to approach it! And I just stuck with it.

My best friend Molly Crabapple is an art school dropout who is publishing her sixth book, regularly raises tens of thousands of dollars for art projects directly from fans on Kickstarter, and whose Dr. Sketchy’s Anti-Art School now exists in over 100 countries. We were friends back when she was in art school.

I had recently read the advice (here- in the comment from “Opinionated” ) that the surest path to social mobility in America is to get into a top university with need-blind admissions, move to a big city, live cheaply while networking like crazy, get your first professional job – and then you’re able to control your own destiny from there.

I really enjoyed someone saying that so bluntly. And I certainly did at least the first three steps: financial aid at an Ivy, move to NYC, live cheaply (see Bullish: What I Wish I Had Known When I was 18 and Bullish Life: Be Broke Without Going Crazy).

I tossed this idea to Molly, who responded that there was some truth to that, but that moving to a big city was even more important than the degree. True. (I can tell you from experience that if you get a fancy degree and return to a dead-end hometown for reasons other than taking over a family business or caring for someone with cancer, people assume that your degree just didn’t stick. And surely no special opportunities come your way.)

I wrote in Bullish: What I Wish I Had Known When I was 18 that I’m against going to grad school just to delay life. (I’m all for it if you have a good reason to attend and you’re not going to spend the rest of your life in debt.) One reader of that column commented that some people are, at the age of 22, just not “intellectually ready” for the real world. Hahahahahahaha. If you have mojo, you can let those people spend their family wealth on degrees while you proceed to beat them at pretty much everything. (This is one benefit of a blue-collar background: in my family, eighteen year olds are adults. Done.)

See Bullish: Launching Your Empire While Your Youthful Mojo Is Sky-High and Bullish: How To Go To There (Your First Steps To Making It Big).

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    • Tiffany B

      Loved the article! Definitely jammed pack with great information on how to make it in the business from someone who has made it. The last advice of not following the rules or finding a loop hole wasn’t something I had thought of as to being successful.