The fashion world is not all glitz and glamour- I thought I was going to be shopping in show rooms all day long and that is quite the opposite The fashion world is not Devil wears Prada- ,most people think Miranda precisely is going to be their boss and that they’re going to be running around midtown with a 100 scarfs flying all over the place. I have had some amazing women leaders in this industry who were happy to take me under their wing and mentor me.
As a part of our series about strong women leaders, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ruth Orevba.
Ruth Orevba is a retail fashion executive in her twenties living in New York City.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
I am Ruth Orevba, Nigerian American, born in London, England to Nigerian diplomates. I lived my young childhood in Abuja, Nigeria. I graduated with honors from the University of Maryland with my bachelors in communications studies. From a young age I always knew I wanted a career in fashion. I spent my young years designing clothing out of my mother’s old bed sheets and would always be the first to reach for a Vogue magazine at the nail salon. From competing in pageants at the state and national level, and walking in New York City fashion week shows I knew my life was destined in the fashion world. I live in NYC, I am a fashion model and work full time as a retail executive in the corporate fashion world.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
I love working in the Retail industry and the biggest thing is flexibility. I have bounced around to four different roles in the past 3 years and the biggest thing is being open to new areas. I also have had to face personal struggles while working in the fashion industry. In July 2020 my father, now the late ambassador for Nigeria unfortunately passed away. It was very hard for me during that time. I was recently furloughed but got a call from my bosses that they would be bringing me back on. It was hard because everything was happening all at the same time. I couldn’t say no to come back to work since the job market was very stiff and hard to come by a new job. I came back but it was a struggle dealing with my father’s passing internally while returning back to the workforce.
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?
Jeez, I remember on my first day it was pouring rain and I was already in a rush to get to work since there was unexpected delays with the NYC subways ( sure we can all relate). I went to the wrong building and I was very late to work. My company has several buildings and I accidently went to the headquarters instead of going to my sub division building. I called my boss to let her know I was inside waiting for her to show me my new desk and she explained that I was not even in the right building. I had to drag my bags from 34 th street all the way to 40 th in the pouring rain. Nonetheless I showed up soaked in rain. It was very embarrassing for me but at least my boss found it amusing.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I would say my boss I had when I was working in fashion ecommerce was such an amazing support. She was a great manager and would always lead in me in the right direction. I always say great bosses are leaders. They know how to manage others and they are there to help not direct.
In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?
Preparation, preparation, preparation! I remember in one of my communication courses we talked about the art of persuasion and a topic we focused on is being prepared. I am someone who is consistently working hard and preparing myself before a big meeting. I will spend 12+ hours reviewing my business deck and also ensure I am implementing feedback from my people leader. Right before I walk into the meeting, I do a quick prayer before I start. I come from a Christian household and my mom has always told me to pray before something important in my life.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
As an African American woman in the corporate world the topic of diversity and inclusion is near and dear to my heart. Our CEO has had countless of town halls to the public whereas he speaks on the current issues facing our country around equality and opens the floor to others for questions/concerns. In my division we have meetings and calls just to get a pulse on how everyone is feeling. Diversity is extremely important in the workplace as it brings in new ideas and perspectives to the workplace. We are deeply focused on ensuring the workplace is safe and comfortable for every individual. In addition, ensuring employees are not afraid to speak out or receive backlash if they do raise concerns on racism or discrimination. Lastly, employees need to be proactive with speaking out against discrimination in your day to day life because those ideals are brought back into the work space.
As a business leader, can you please share a few steps we must take to truly create an inclusive, representative, and equitable society? Kindly share a story or example for each.
1.) Making sure we are hiring a diverse workforce such as recruiting from HBCU schools. Back in University I attend my job fair — most students only have face-to-face access to the business who visits these job fairs. This is an important aspect in ensuring that businesses are putting themselves in front of students they want to work for them.
2.) Making sure concerns and complaints about racial discrimination is being addressed. There have been times in the past with previous companies I have worked for where I felt HR did not take my complaints seriously and it took a toll on my mental health while working.
3.) Making sure everyone has equal pay. This is not only for race but gender as well. As we know black woman are typically paid 61 cents less than their male counterparts on the 1 dollar. Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. Most of our readers — in fact, most people — think they have a pretty good idea of what a CEO or executive does. But in just a few words can you explain what an executive does that is different from the responsibilities of the other leaders?
A Retail executive is someone who really owns their business and line of work. Being able to ” manage up” for example I frequently deal with multiple buying teams in order to complete marketing and I need to be able to be direct in my request in order to get what I need to complete my job. I’ve learned that everyone has different communications skills and being able to adapt to how someone will receive and interpret communication has been a real lesson for me. Lastly, making sure you are keeping a positive mindset and being patient with others. Not everyone will catch on quickly but there is nothing wrong with that, it’s being able to adapt and help others. I am a learner and I am still learning everyday
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
It’s surely not an easy path! I think some people believe all you do is just give others work to do that they themselves do not want to do. A lot of is being a leader and being kind to your co- workers and the clients you work with. What people will remember is not the work you did but the attitude you had. I always try to be kind to others
In your opinion, what are the biggest challenges faced by women executives that aren’t typically faced by their male counterparts?
Firstly, equal pay, as we all know male executives tend to get higher pay than women in the corporate world. Unequal pay has been a big fight in the women’s movement. We deserve to get paid for the same work our male counterparts do.
Secondly, thankfully in the fashion industry majority of my coworkers are women and it creates a very open work space where we can all talk about personal issues. For example, I used to work for medical industry that was filled with mostly male coworkers and there was a time I was going through a terrible menstrual cycle and physically couldn’t get up. I know TMI. But I didn’t have the guts to tell my male boss that this was the issue so I suffered through the workday. In my current job in fashion I feel more comfortable explaining to my boss what is going on because they have had similar experiences in their life and can relate how hard it can be to go through it.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I thought I would be walking in show rooms, sitting front row at Paris fashion week, and picking clothing that I thought were “cute”. In reality like every job I spend most of my time on excel spreadsheets. Seeing new fashion items come in is great but the work to drive the business is done in financials and planning to ensure there is proper execution. Most people believe working in fashion is all glitz and glamour which it can be if you do the gritty work on mocking up layouts, pulling reports, and making sure you have numbers to back up your decision making.
Certainly, not everyone is cut out to be an executive. In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
Traits that would make a successful executive would be someone who is willing to learn, be flexible, adapt, and be quick on their feet. I’ve had many times where I get an email at 12noon explaining that this project needs to be done by EOD. Whilst, still completing your regular day to day duties. Being able to hit the ground running and not get wound up is very important. In addition, not taking anything personally, my teams are always willing to listen but I’ve had my ideas shut down before and I used to get so sad and take it personally when in fact they were looking at the bigger picture. Lastly, being able to ask for feedback, rarely employees avoid any criticism and I tend to go out of my way to ask my colleagues and boss for feedback on projects I’m working on or even how I communicated an email to team. I love taking in feedback and implementing it because it only makes your work stronger.
What advice would you give to other women leaders to help their team to thrive?
You are smart, you are worthy, and you should never take less than what you are worth. Knowing your worth and standing up for yourself is crucial. If I ever feel like I was being disrespected or my time is not being taken as seriously I always speak up. I remember a statement my people leader told me “I can’t help you thrive if you don’t speak up”. I’m not sure why that resonated with me but from then on I always spoke my mind (be professional) and didn’t let things dwell on my mind to the point where I closed myself off.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
I mentor others when I can and try to share with them my personal experiences and lend a helping hand. Just last week I had a student who was recently graduating from university reach out to me via LinkedIn and I accepted her request. She was curious if I can provide her some direction on how she can enter the fashion industry and explain that most people denied her request for advice. I was gracious enough to provide her how I started in the industry and what she needs to do to get involved. In addition, introduce her to people in the industry so she can start building her network so when a position opens up she will already be top of mind. I was lucky that I found my way in through going to a friend’s graduation party and met someone who happened to be a planner in the field. This was my very first time meeting this person and he happily took my resume and passed it along to the hiring manger and I received a call a week later and the rest is history. I was so thankful that someone who didn’t even know who I was took a chance on me and I will be happy to provide others the same helping hand that I was given those years back.
What are your 5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started & and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
1.) The fashion world is not all glitz and glamour- I thought I was going to be shopping in show rooms all day long and that is quite the opposite The fashion world is not Devil wears Prada- ,most people think Miranda precisely is going to be their boss and that they’re going to be running around midtown with a 100 scarfs flying all over the place. I have had some amazing women leaders in this industry who were happy to take me under their wing and mentor me.
2.) Networking is crucial- I always thought if you need your job right then you will instantly be promoted which in theory is true but as we know the corporate world is involved with who you know and if they like working with you. So, I try to always be positive and kind towards others
3.) Never be afraid to speak up- if someone who is in a position above you is simply wrong don’t be afraid to say something in a polite way. Once my boss made a callout to me about a project I just completed that was wrong. In reality we had a meeting before i started to work on the project and I wrote down specifically what she stated for me to do. Instead of just taking her callout I explained to her our previous meeting with her exact directions. When I made her aware she digressed and apologized she gave me the wrong direction.
4.) Manage up- don’t be afraid to tell your boss or even colleague’s things that need to be done. Now that I fully own my part of the business I try to call things out to my boss that needs her attention and get ahead of to-do’s.
5.) Don’t take things too personally. I used to have a people leader whom was very tough on me. She truly did mean well as everything she told me helped me propel into a promoted role and became a leader. Being in this industry you need to have tough skin because not all your ideas will be met with open arms but that doesn’t mean that they will not eventually be chosen. Keep pushing forward and make sure your ideas are heard.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
The movement I would inspire is ensuring that everyone has access to clothing. I remember just a few months back I was taking some items out of my storage unit in New York City and a homeless man came up to me and begged if I had a fresh pair of pants or jacket, I could give him. He has been wearing the same attire for the past 5 months. I was happy to hand him a bag full of my old clothing that I knew I was no longer wearing although they may not have fit him perfectly well, he was so grateful just to change his old jacket. To me it meant nothing but to the man it meant the world. My mom has always taught me to donate what I have to the less fortunate. Having experienced homelessness at a younger age I understand the importance of helping those in need.
Can you please give us your favourite life Lesson? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“The most courageous act is still to think for yourself. Aloud.”
― Coco Chanel
In my experience in the corporate fashion industry I’ve been told by my mentors to always speak up otherwise people will not know what you’re thinking.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?
He or she might just see this if we tag them Anna Wintour and Naomi Campbell! These two ladies have both built incredible empires and have truly influenced the entire fashion industry. The colors, fabric, and styles we wear on our day to day derive from the creatives who spent countless of time brainstorming these ideals.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.