5 Career Tips From Two Designers Who Have “Made It”

I’ve liked Cushnie et Ochs ever since I attended the brand’s first show. Its form-fitting silhouettes that hug the body and highlight all sorts of curves are not exactly my 9-to-5 “look” (even in the summer, the peak of my comfort level is “sweaters”), but I find its particular brand of unapologetic, straight-up sexy to be powerful. I have worn a Cushnie et Ochs dress twice in my life, and both times I felt like I could take on the world.

That confidence boost makes sense: Cushnie et Ochs was started in 2008 by Michelle Ochs and Carly Cushnie, two women who saw a space in contemporary evening-wear, and an opportunity to fill it with the kinds of clothes they wanted to wear. They stayed true to their vision despite ye old stodgy nay-sayers, kept doing what they believed in, and built a loyal following of customers.

Today’s Cushnie et Ochs show will mark the 10-year anniversary of the brand. To celebrate, and in honor of New York Fashion Week, I asked them for five pieces of advice for anyone looking to start her own thing — be that business or career. Click through 10 of their greatest hits above, then read on to hear what they told me below.

1. “There will be failures. So many failures.”

Michelle and Carly repeat “there will be failures” so many times that I start to laugh. But they really believe in this point: there will be failures, and you should go in expecting them. But — and though we’ve all heard this before, it never gets old — don’t be afraid to fail. Some failures will be out of your control, and others will be your fault! That’s how you learn. The important part is how you pick yourself up.

2. “Don’t be afraid to ask for help or advice — but consider your advice-giver’s time.”

It’s intimidating to ask for advice and scary to ask for mentorship, but more often than not, Carly and Michelle have learned that people are willing to help.

Both women advise that when people do say yes, be respectful of their time. “Come prepared — really prepared. Do the research. If you ask to sit down with someone, remember it’s not about a long chat back and forth. Go in knowing what you want answered ahead of time, because you may only get a moment with them.”

3. “Challenge yourself — but also, be honest.”

Carly and Michelle stress the importance of challenging themselves. “We’re not inventing pants, we’re not inventing the dress,” they tell me, “so we have to challenge ourselves each season to make something new that’s appealing, that people want to buy” — all while ensuring that they create the pieces their customers can continue to build upon. When I ask what happens when the challenge stops feeling like a good thing, Carly and Michelle agree that if you constantly feel challenged in a negative way, honesty (with yourself) is the best policy. It’s an opportunity to explore something you might like doing better.

“It’s okay to think, ‘I’m not happy, I’m not productive, but I know I can be.’ Then ask, ‘What other parts of this industry am I interested in?’”

4. “Brush off the small things. And don’t forget to eat!”

Always a good reminder: “There all little things that will chip away at you all day,” the design duo tell me, “but you can’t hang on to it. It’s not productive. Find a solution and move on. There’s always a solution.” Also, “Remember to eat, remember to breathe, and remember to take time — for yourself, for friends, for family, or to be alone.” You need to be refreshed and nourished to take on the aforementioned challenges.

5. “Trust your gut” — and when in doubt, return to your reason for wanting to start “the thing” (whatever your thing may be).

It’s one thing to sort of think your gut might be right; it’s another to trust it to the point of follow-through, so I ask Carly and Michelle how they learned to really listen.

They tell me time, for one thing: “Sometimes we have to remind ourselves that we’ve been doing this for 10 years, and we’ve gotten this far by trusting our gut.”

Another thing that helped: Returning to the reason they started their label in the first place. (For Carly and Michelle, that reason was a belief in evening wear beyond the “LBD”: dresses with splices in the sides, crop tops with trousers, jumpsuits.) They gave me an anecdote about their first collection where reviewers thought the dresses were too short, too tight. They thought there were too many cutouts, and that women wouldn’t want to wear high-waist pants or show their midriffs. But the duo really believed in what they were doing, because they wanted to wear these clothes. Turns out their customers did and do, too.

“We’re still learning,” they told me at the end of our chat. “We don’t have all the answers.”

Photos via Cushnie et Ochs. 

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond

Amelia Diamond is a writer, creative consultant, and Man Repeller alumnus living in New York City.

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