“Curiosity, research and recognizing inspiring aspects of your work will help you thrive and avoid burnout”

Words of wisdom with fashion designer Javier Suarez

I was fortunate to land in an industry for which I had a passion and I became a student of it. It helped me remain relevant to the industry and prevented me from living it only as work. Curiosity, research and recognizing inspiring aspects of your work will help you  thrive.

I had the pleasure of interviewing Javier Suarez, the first-ever Creative Director for men’s shoes and belts at Paul Stuart. Javier brings to Paul Stuart several decades of experience — he started his career with Bally of Switzerland and then went on to Cole Haan. From there, Javier spent the next 27 years launching and growing the men’s shoe business at Salvatore Ferragamo, which has famously become an iconic luxury staple.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Since I can remember, I was always fascinated by style and men’s fashion. I inherited that from my Dad who was a successful entrepreneur with a keen eye and dedication to his personal style, tailoring and footwear. His wardrobe of suits and shoes were of great curiosity to me, in particular his fine English and Italian shoes which he took great care of. My first summer out of college, by mere chance and to keep myself busy before I decided on my next move, I went to work at fine luxury shoe shop in NYC. The first day I went to work it was as if I had found the perfect place for me to start my career search. From the elegance of the shop and the scent of fine leather products to the intrigue of the business side of retail, it all seemed to come together for me. I never looked back. The company expanded and for the next 4 years I focused on moving up in what in my mind had become my career path.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

I think it must be when I was hired by Bally of Switzerland. Since that first summer job, during the following 10 years I had grown professionally, moving up into different positions and roles. I had built a reputation and an expertise in retail management and buying. However, it was all concentrated in renown but relatively small New York companies. I knew that the next move had to be to a large and preferably global company. I decided to send my resume to CEOs/Presidents of the largest men’s shoe companies I could find. Bally was the largest and the most prestigious brand with a major global presence. They responded, and I was offered a job.

The US company hired me as the men’s shoe buyer for their 30+ shops in the US. When they offered me the job I asked how many shoe buyers they had, expecting that for so many shops they would have a few. The answer came back: “One, you are it.” This opportunity catapulted my career. As a buyer I had to buy from a global collection, but I also had to create exclusive products for our shops. Less than two years in the job I was promoted to Line Builder (Creative Director) for the total US collection. Bally was an innovative vertical manufacturer out of Switzerland with plants in England, France, Italy and Switzerland. I was introduced to the design, merchandising and manufacturing side of the business. It opened my eyes to a side of the industry that offered further growth and development for me. My career path was set. It is interesting how good opportunities can present themselves. All you need to do is search them out.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Mistakes are never funny at the time you make them. Most of my mistakes when I was starting out were relative to the product I created. Product that from conception to execution would somehow turn out to be all wrong. I can think of two collections … Lesson: Structure a plan, consider what can go wrong. Plan for mistakes and learn from them.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

For anyone in the men’s fashion business, Paul Stuart stands out as an iconic American men’s brand. The rich history of the brand and the strength of the vision established decades ago make it still relevant today. As we work to project the brand into the future these elements become solid pillars to build on. As I was starting in the business the Paul Stuart New York store was a point of reference. The shoe department was a quintessential men’s destination on Madison Avenue and in NYC. Today, collaborating to relaunch the shoe piece of brand and to reach out to a new customer makes it for me a full circle story in my work.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

I was fortunate to land in an industry for which I had a passion and I became a student of it. It helped me remain relevant to the industry and prevented me from living it only as work. Curiosity, research and recognizing inspiring aspects of your work will help you thrive.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

A few years ago, I came across Acumen Fund, a not for profit investment fund that focuses on supporting private enterprises in low-income communities in Africa and South Asia. They partner up with small and medium size enterprises that will impact directly on improving the development and wellbeing in some of the poorest areas in the world. Their idea is to use not only capital but also on sight business acumen to support the local entrepreneurs. I found their approach inspiring and wanted to find a way to support their efforts. This led me to develop a collection of shoes from which a portion of the revenues went to Acumen Fund. I think that if companies can find a way in their business model to support those in need of funding, knowledge and guidance can only be a win-win situation.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

“The biggest risk is not taking a risk.” Measured risk is the key to succeeding at almost any task. From learning to ride a bike to running a business involves risk taking. This mantra helped me to understand that risk exists whether we like it or not. It is better to own it than to fear it. Nothing comes out of not trying. Understanding and dealing with risk gave me a passive sense of control over it.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Web commerce and digital social media are clearly revolutionizing the fashion industry, among many others. The marketplace is evolving daily. As in any revolution what will be the new reality in the way we experience and consume fashion will take more than the next few years to be realized. There is an excitement and a fascination with the changes still to come. However, what is most fascinating to me is that the basic need for “fashion” is not changing. What is to come in technology and in the way we consume is what I’m most excited about. It will impact every aspect of the fashion cycle from design to transaction.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry. Please share a story or example for each.

  • Passion and enthusiasm in understanding what your customer wants from you. Be a student of fashion but mainly of what motivates your target to spend money on your creation for them.
  • Innovate: Fashion is cyclical and aiming to understand and create what comes next is key. Be patient but quick, timing is everything.
  • Consistency in your point of view and product. Make it easy for your customers to see themselves in your products. Evolve a “relationship” between you and your customer so they keep coming back.
  • Study the lifestyles of your target customer and represent it with your brand. Lifestyle determines their expectations and their needs. Don’t forget that essentially your creation is a commodity and fashion is a business. Be your customer.
  • Know your market and keep a keen eye on competition, never underestimate them.
  • Direct your products from a creative standpoint and also from a technical and quality perspective. You are the expert and the soul of your product.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

I think the improvement and evolution of fashion will need to come from technology and sustainability. Technical materials which not only perform ergonomically but also in terms of biodegradability are already in the works. As we see the impact that plastics are having on the environment, I believe we are not too far away from similar issues being raised in fashion. For example, the explosive growth of sneakers made of environmentally unfriendly synthetic materials and components present a dilemma to the industry. In this area leading companies are already positioning themselves to address the issue.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

To learn more about me and my work, including my first shoe collection for Paul Stuart, follow @PaulStuartNY on Instagram and Facebook.”

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

Originally published at medium.com

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