Recently I heard that someone I know distantly got laid off from Gilt along with his entire department. When I last paid a lot of attention to that industry, Gilt was one of the hottest places to be. Everyone I knew bought from Gilt (I didn’t because of the money thing); it was on the papers constantly, and had just moved into sprawling, renovated offices in Brooklyn’s Navy Yard–just a few blocks from my loft, where I was toiling away with my own little fashion label. Between twenty-two and twenty-four, that’s where I lived and worked with my gay male roommate/co-fashion designer. It was the first place I leased under my own name, a huge space divided by Ikea bookshelves, curtains, and desks and tables for sketching and patternmaking. My roommate D and I worked on my label together, making hour-long trips into Manhattan’s Garment District, shopping for fabrics and dropping off patterns, and picking up the garments from the factory. When it was time, I took my samples in a big trunk and went from boutique to boutique trying to show my stuff to buyers. I don’t remember everything about this time (as always happens when we go through painful phases in life) except a few bright flashes of memory: the feeling of standing at the bus stop in the blazing sun, the difficulty lifting my heavy suitcase up the steps of the bus, and how my boyfriend once bought a $90 scarf at a boutique in Dumbo so I can get their good will. For what it’s worth, I did get into that boutique.
But even though I tried my best, my label didn’t take off. I had to accept the fact that it wan’t working, and that it was time to shut it down, and look for a job. I applied to any fashion job I could possibly see myself doing, and I applied to one at Gilt, as well. I didn’t even hear back from them, but I did go to interviews at their competitor, Vente Privee. At that time–in fall 2011–VP was just setting up their US operations, and hiring rapidly to fill up their ranks. The first round interview with two senior executives went amazingly; I left their shiny office feeling like, this is it! I’m going to get this job and work with other smart people. They had ping pong tables in their “idea room” and many brand name snacks in the kitchen, for free. After toiling on my own for so long, the feeling of inclusion was so near and so heady!
And then the second round interview came around. But this time, the moment I met my interviewer, I knew she wasn’t favorably disposed toward me. After all, I’d had done enough selling to boutique owners to know when a stranger is receptive or not. And this interviewer, who was incredibly enough a Korean woman also named J__ Kim, was not going to like me no matter what I said or how much I turned on the sparkles in my eyes. She was in her thirties, petite and slim, and very fashion-y without being trendy. The way she looked at me was more eloquent than saying, “You don’t belong here.” And I left feeling quite broken down, though not so broken down that I didn’t cheerfully follow up with the HR associate *twice*, receiving no answer each time.
About that incident, I only think that had I met someone who obviously could be a younger version of me, I’d have been kinder than that. It just seemed (still seems) un-called for. Why had I been treated that way? Why didn’t I get a fancy job at a shiny new startup with the ping pong table? Am I destined to struggle while others live happily and far more easily? And also, is it not just plain unprofessional to not reply back to someone who came to two rounds of interviews at your company?
But the great thing about life is that it goes on. Just when I thought I hit bottom, I tried something new and got a job in publishing. Interestingly, just a week into my new job, I got an email from the HR person at VP (who’d blithely ignored my previous two emails) saying that they’d like to interview me for another position, and I had the pleasure of writing that at this time I’m not interested in working at their company. (Sent from my iPhone–ha! That made me smile, when I just searched for that email). That’s not to say that the next job was everything that I’d ever dreamed of. But long story short, after many more ups and downs and turns and forks, now firmly in my late-twenties and just a nose away from 30, I finally feel like I’ve gotten my perfect career.
And as for Vente Privee: after hearing about the lay-offs at Gilt, I Googled VP and found out that they shuttered their US operations over a year ago. (So think how my little shoe-string-budget label held on for two years, and VP with all its millions of dollars lasted three years. I didn’t do so bad when you see it that way!) It might have been on The New York Times, though I don’t know how I could have missed it. At any rate, what I felt wasn’t relief or schadenfreude exactly, but more of a sense that life has a way of turning out the way it should–if you try, and try again.
Perhaps “everything happens for a reason” is only half of it. Rather, the truth is that life will give you what you can’t control, but what you do with it matters much more, and you can always turn things around to live the life you’re supposed to live. And that’s not something I could have learned by living breezy. My struggles kept pointing me in the direction I needed to go, and gave me experience and emotional memories necessary to write about life. For instance, that unforgettable gray scarf still warms my neck every day when it’s winter, which reminds me that the flavors of love, tenderness, and happiness are not just sweet, but bittersweet.
More career stories: A Fickle Mountain – Finding My Career Purpose
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Photo: Igor via Barnimages.