Challenge Yourself: Jolie Nguyen
Fashion folk get a bad wrap. You watch The Devil Wears Prada a few times over and you start to believe that the fashion industry is filled with Miranda Priestly's. As someone who has spent 3 years of their life studying the business of fashion and interning with several different companies over the course of those years I’ve found those working in the industry to be nothing but kind, driven, hard working people. Jolie Nguyen happens to be one of those people. Working alongside the likes of such a hard working, innovative person reminds me of why I got into the business of fashion, to begin with- to create and innovate with like-minded individuals who are willing to put in the work and watch the fruits of their labor grow into something bigger than themselves. After a long day at work, Jolie sits down with me at Happy Bones NYC. Over hibiscus tea and iced mocha respectively, we talk working in the business of fashion, transitioning into her role as Senior Brand Manager at Frank + Oak and advice for young people who want to get into the fashion industry.
Where did you go to college?
I went to UCR for Business Marketing. At the time I was a reader of URB Magazine, an alternative lifestyle and music magazine—anything from dance culture to underground hip hop. I sent them a random email like, “hey I’m in college, I’m going to school for business. Do you need an intern? They surprisingly wrote back to me and said, “Yeah we actually do need someone.” So I started interning with them. Where I went to school and where they were based was an hour away without traffic so I did that commute back and forth each day. When I graduated they couldn’t hire me right away so I was working part time for Tricot, a fashion showroom in Downtown LA. About 6 months after graduating, URB reached back out to me and said they needed someone and that they can hire full time. I jumped at it. I had already worked with them before and I liked the team so it was an easy transition from intern to full-time employee. Music represented that position I wore a lot of hats. I was the executive assistant to the publisher but I was also the market editor. While I was there publishing took a hit and as a result, the magazine folded.
What exactly does a market editor do?
A Market Editor oversees the fashion component of the magazine. As URB was a music- centric magazine, the fashion component was heavily menswear-influenced and streetwear focused. As the economy went downhill I had my hands in everything. This allowed me to learn a lot and also put me in a position where I had to multi- task and work with what I had. That really helped set the tone for my career path.
Lots of young people going to four-year institutions believe that just because they went to college and got a degree that they are entitled to jobs not realizing the amount of work that goes into working full time.
The first 8 months of working there I was still commuting from home. I was an hour and a half both ways. I did that for 8 months. I mean, that’s what I had to do. It was a job and honestly the pay wasn’t great but what I took away in experience was invaluable.
Walk me through your next career step after the URB folded?
Once the magazine folded, I was at another publishing company very briefly called Here Media. They handled LGBT-related publications, both print and online There I worked as an Advertising Sales Coordinator and that’s when I realized advertising just wasn’t for me. I I wasn’t a sales person but I learned a lot there. The difference between here and my former position was that I was in a position where I was helping put together digital pitches. Everything at URB was mostly print. It was still a great takeaway. But I wanted to go back to fashion.
It was always something I wanted to do- and do it from the business perspective. When I graduated, I went to the fashion showroom and then I did the fashion portion of a music magazine because fashion was where I wanted to be. When I realized that I wanted to get back into fashion I had a friend who was working at Magic Fashion Tradeshow. Tradeshows you’re working with hundreds of brands showing to retailers. They were looking for a Marketing Coordinator and I decided, let me just go for it. Went through the whole interview process and ended up getting it. When I first started working there I worked in womenswear and had an opportunity to move to NY. I was 27. When you work in fashion you have a network in both LA and NY so I already had friends so I said why not. In NY I worked on the streetwear section of the show as well as their more mainstream menswear. Everyone from Diamond Supply to Perry Ellis showed with us. Worked on that for a year. During that time transitioning from womenswear to menswear, I also worked on corporate communications for both Magic and its sister company, Project. From there moved over to Atrium (a luxury menswear retailer). Nick Wooster had signed on as a creative director so he brought me on as a Marketing Manager to work with him but unfortunately he was only there for a couple of months. Once he left I worked with Sam Ben-Avraham, owner of Atrium and founder of Liberty Fairs Tradeshow and the rest of the team to market Atrium. Fast forward to my transition to Liberty, we basically did a little switch-a-roo. People just took on different roles within the companies that Sam was involved in. I ended up moving over to Liberty as their Marketing Director but that was a short stint. I didn’t want to do tradeshows anymore. I wanted to move on and do something different. It was bittersweet because I love everyone there-it’s like a family, but at the same time, I’m still too young in my career to not be learning anymore. I needed to be challenged.
At Frank + Oak, what is your day to day like?
I’ve only been there for two weeks so it’s varied quite a bit. My first week was in Montreal visiting and meeting the whole team. During the same time, there was a creative conference called C2 Montreal. It’s a huge massive conference that is in partnership with Cirque Du Soleil. It’s all about innovation creativity and tech. Frank and Oak had an installation there. Last week was my first week in the NY office. So far my days has been overseeing the different projects we have and working on the strategies for those different projects. Making sure all of the moving parts are accounted for projects such as email designs or copy that is needed for different assets. Making sure that all of those elements are aligned to be executed whether it be on our website or in our store or on social. The focus varies based on what projects we have.
At any point do you feel you’re not capable of doing this job?
I think there are points as a new employee in a new position where you ask yourself, ‘do I know what I'm doing'?’ That is automatically dodged by the voice in my head like, of course, you know what you’re doing. Just slow down. Take a breath. You were hired for a reason and you have all of the skill set and ability to do it.
What is the biggest myth about working in fashion?
That it’s glamorous and they get into it and realize there’s a lot of work involved. It’s not about picking out clothes or making something pretty. Those are important factors but there are 100 things that go into it. A lot of college graduates think they’re going to make tons of money and the ugly truth is you’re entry level so you’re not going to make a lot of money and on top of that fashion doesn’t pay a lot when you’re just getting your foot in the door. If you’re looking for money you're going in the wrong industry. Manage your expectations. Another myth is that everyone is catty which is not true. Nice people exist.
Advice for grads?
Intern. It’s the best way to see what you’re getting yourself into. I think a lot of the times people go to school, especially fashion specific schools, and they have one idea of what working in fashion is like and once they begin to intern they realize this is not what they expected. It’s not as glam as you expected. Getting to experience something in all aspects of life is key especially when it comes to work and trying to figure out if you want to be in fashion and what you want to do in fashion. This is your chance. If you’re still a student, spend the time interning and find out what you enjoy and go for that. Once you identify what you like, it makes it that much easier once you’re looking for your job after college. It also gives people a realistic view of what work life can be. Also, get into the workplace and realize everything isn’t going to be handed to you on a platter. You have to work for these things. Plus interning is a huge networking thing. Getting your foot in the door as much as possible.
What are your 6 fave things at the moment?