Michelle Stoltz: “Don’t take anything personally”

Don’t take anything personally — You MUST have thick skin in order to survive as a designer in this industry. It’s important to love what you do without being emotionally attached to it. On almost a daily basis something that I design is not liked by someone. I even design things that I don’t especially […]

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Don’t take anything personally — You MUST have thick skin in order to survive as a designer in this industry. It’s important to love what you do without being emotionally attached to it. On almost a daily basis something that I design is not liked by someone. I even design things that I don’t especially like but that I know will sell. And it’s okay. Not everything is for everyone.

Aspart of my interview series with fashion designers, I had the pleasure of interviewing Michelle Stoltz. Michelle is the Lead Designer for Curvy Sense. She has been with the company for over 16 years and has been intrigued by clothing nearly her entire life.

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

Ever since I was little I LOVED clothes. I was choosing my own outfits since I was 4. When I was a teenager I would go to thrift stores to look for interesting styles that I could manipulate and turn into something I liked. I wasn’t interested in most of the fashion that was in the stores, it was boring and common to me. So I started making my own clothes. Eventually, my twin sister and I taught ourselves how to drape on each other (one of the perks of being an identical twin) and we started designing our own clothes from scratch. We would buy bright, colorful, unique fabrics that we would never see in the stores. It was all for fun. Until one day when I was a senior in high school, a representative from FIDM came to our school for a career day. I honestly never knew that designing clothes was something that a person actually got paid for! I was sold. I knew then that was the career that I wanted but I still couldn’t believe it was a real job. So I went to school to major in English and Psychology. A year in half into college I was still designing all my own clothing and my mom and my brother told my sister and I was going to school for the wrong thing. They said we should be designers. We quit immediately and started at FIDM.

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

To be honest, nothing stands out as especially interesting unless you want me to talk about the party that one time at Magic in Las Vegas.

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?

One day when I was only a year into working for this one clothing company the head designer told me to design a few knit tops. I was so nervous because I had never actually put together an actual group on my own. For school and for myself, yes, but not in real life. I had to sketch, give those sketches to the pattern maker and get them sewn. So, I did all of that.

The samples came out hideous! I mean they were really bad. I was so embarrassed that I hid them under my desk so that no one could see them. One day the cleaning crew was in and they pulled the samples out so that they could clean under my desk. Just as they did the designer walked by. She pulled them out and asked what they were. She had a disgusted look on her face. I told her what I did and she started cracking up!! She could hardly contain herself. So I started laughing. Later she told me about her first experience designing something and how she also hid the samples. Hearing her story made me feel so much more relaxed. I realized that at some point EVERYONE is new in their career. Being nervous about taking that leap into doing your job by yourself and without guidance is natural. Asking questions when you aren’t sure about how something will turn out is beneficial. Now I always tell my assistants my story so that they know they are not alone in their fear. We’ve all been there.

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

I think our company stands out because of how long most people have been here. Although the websites are fairly new, the main company has been around for decades. About half of the team has been here for over 10 years and it’s like we have grown up together. We have all stuck around through good times and bad. New births, deaths, sickness, and life changes. We operate as a family. Sure we fight sometimes but then minutes later we are laughing and supporting each other, just like family does. We lift each other up and stand by each other. We are loyal to this company and genuinely want the very best for it as we do for our family. We will take on multiple jobs and jump in were needed to make things happen. This is unique in an industry where most people move around every couple of years.

When the Coronavirus hit the U.S. most of the stores started canceling orders. Stay at home orders were put into place. Most of our buyers were furloughed and we couldn’t go anywhere to sell our line. So we decided to start making masks. There was such a huge need for them and we were well equipped to meet that need. But then our duties changed. I went from designing clothing to designing and selling masks. Salespeople started reaching out to companies to sell masks instead of clothes. All of us in the office went out to the warehouse to help ship masks. We helped customer service organize and process orders. We even made drop-offs to the post office or to businesses that bought masks. We worked as a family and as a team. No one was too good for any particular job, we just did what we had to do to keep the business going. And it was fun!

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

Have fun, take a day off, and change your mindset. Try to find the positive in everything you do and have fun with it. Everything in life may not be exactly what we want it to be. The job we have might not be our dream job or even our ideal job but finding the positive things about it helps. I also think it’s super important to take a day off. Go on vacation. And don’t mind what other people say about it. It’s your life and your health! Taking those breaks and creating memories when you do is what will help you get through the days that even the most positive mindset finds challenging.

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

I haven’t done as much as I would like to. I donate to a dozen different charities that are near and dear to my heart. Homelessness is something that completely breaks my heart so I help when I see someone in need. My friend and I have started a non-profit group with our teenage boys that focuses on helping any group of people that are in need. We’ve recruited many of their friends and every month we choose a group of people that we think can benefit from our help.

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

I have so many life lessons quotes that I like. One of my favorites is “Life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain”. I think it goes back to a lot of what I am saying about making the best of your situation. Life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan it to be. There are storms that we will encounter and sometimes it seems like the rain never stops. Having the ability to see the positive in the storm will help us turn it into something fun and dancing is fun!! This quote is how I live my life. My life is the complete opposite of what I thought it would be 20 years ago but I love it. Others might look at my life and the things that I lack and feel sorry for me. I choose to look at the things that I have and dance because I am so happy about my blessings. I dance every single day! In the car, in my office and while I’m cooking.

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

One of the things that I am most excited about in fashion is size-inclusive clothing. I say we’ve had enough of making people feel like because of their size they have to shop in different areas of a store. Women, men, and children of all sizes should be able to shop together. Why should a plus-size woman have to go to the back of the store for her clothing while her friend who is a smaller size shop in the front? I hope to see friends of all sizes shopping together and being able to enjoy the same looks from size XS-6X. This is happening in some stores and it just makes my heart feel warm and fuzzy. I love inclusivity! I’m a size small and I’ve had people ask me how I can design for the plus-size woman if I’m not plus size. My answer is that I design for WOMEN, all women despite size or shape. I design for the woman that wants to look cute, sexy, sophisticated, and glamorous, regardless of what size she might wear.

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

*Don’t take anything personally — You MUST have thick skin in order to survive as a designer in this industry. It’s important to love what you do without being emotionally attached to it. On almost a daily basis something that I design is not liked by someone. I even design things that I don’t especially like but that I know will sell. And it’s okay. Not everything is for everyone.

*Don’t make assumptions (when in doubt, ask questions) — There are always new trends, fabrics, details, stitches, styles, etc… emerging in the fashion world and it’s not easy to keep up with everything. When I was younger and someone was talking about let’s say a type of fabric that I was unfamiliar with I would pretend to know what it was for fear of looking dumb. Then one day I just decided to ask about a term that I didn’t know. The older man that was talking patiently told me what the term meant. He didn’t make me feel dumb or berate me. So I tried it again the next time I didn’t know something, and then again. I can honestly say that no one has ever made me feel dumb for asking questions. I had a boss one time that told me he was impressed that I wasn’t afraid to ask questions. Even to this very day, there are terms and fabrics that I’ve never heard but I am always happy to ask questions because then I become more knowledgeable.

Always be true to yourself (*be impeccable with your word) — If you like something, say it. If you don’t like something, say it. Always be honest. Don’t be afraid that others won’t agree with you. Like I said before, everything is not for everyone. As an assistant designer, the owner of a company that I worked for would always bring me in when he was looking at prints. He would ask me what I thought about them, which ones I liked and didn’t like. I never waited to hear what he thought or changed my mind to match his and he completely respected that. I’ve always held true to this. I won’t lie, cheat, or steal to try to get ahead or to try to look good.

*Always do your best — As long as you know deep down in your heart that you are doing the very best you can you will feel good and your work will show it. Being the best version of you in everything you do will help you feel fulfilled and content. It leaves no room for regret. I’ve been in this industry for 22 years, 16 at my current job, and every day I try to work as if I am new. When we are new at a company we try harder because we have something to prove, we have to impress our bosses, move up that ladder. I like to live my life in a way that I am constantly trying to impress myself. I am the boss of my life and I expect nothing but the best. That makes me constantly strive for the best I can be.

**Don’t worry, be happy — it’s only clothing. This is fashion, not life-saving surgery, act accordingly. It’s important to take our job seriously, yes, but don’t give yourself a heart attack over the fact that the trim doesn’t match the self. We are all only human and mistakes happen so let’s deal with them. Stop, breathe, take a chill pill, and be happy.

If all of this sounds familiar it’s because of The Four Agreements. It’s how I try to live my life. If you haven’t read the book, read it. It’s life-changing.

*The four agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz

** Bobby McFerrin☺

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 fashion industry can improve by showing real, average women as models. I’m already seeing some companies show models whose bodies are not touched up and perfect. I was at Target the other day and one of the models on a sign in the undergarments area had cellulite and a not-so-flat tummy. That was nice to see. The fashion industry has the power to project what we see as desirable. For so long it was tall and skinny and if you weren’t that you were not good enough. Plus-size models are more and more becoming the norm and not the exception. Let’s get some in-between sizes in there. Does it have to be size 0 or 2x? Do all models need to be 5’9”-6’? When can the average woman of size 12 and height 5’4” be a model? Or short women? We need to see women of all sizes modeling. By doing this maybe the youth won’t grow up feeling inadequate about their height or weight. Maybe they will just feel like everyone else because that is what they are seeing.

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