The Price of Creativity: NYC’s Tough Lessons

Garcia and his friend model his Dreams and Threads hoodies

Ryan Garcia, 23, looks exhausted as he sits down at the table. He’s just been asked about his journey into the fashion world as a budding designer and entrepreneur. At 23, Garcia has only been in the fashion industry for 2 years, creating his own line of men’s streetwear, but has the look of a man who has been through the ringer. Like Garcia, many students don’t realize the long uphill battle that’s ahead when it comes to seeing their vision materialize. He started out with three other people in a quest to create a brand of clothing that was originally intended to be an upscale, tailored menswear line. But unfortunately, Garcia seemed to have the determination to actually make progress. “I realized that some people weren’t as into the idea as I was. I would assign homework for the others while I was at work,” he explains. Another detour in plans occurred due to costs. Working in retail as a stock associate at the time, he didn’t have the money to support his original idea. “The issue became, ‘do we sacrifice quality for the quantity?’” He went on to do the majority of the market research, booked the place to host an event for the brand, and even found a place for screen printing and wholesale to produce the final product.
Garcia’s journey is an example of the difficulties young designers face when they move to the New York City, one of the main fashion capitals of the world. To be a creative person is a tough task. Each semester, students from all over flock to New York City for an education in fashion design. With 18 colleges, including Parsons and The Fashion Institute of Technology, or FIT, to choose from, these students hope for a chance to make an impact in the industry. According to them, the struggle of living in one of the most expensive cities in the U.S. is the least of their worries—until they actually get here. What follows is constant migration from apartment to apartment, a revolving door of new roommates, and retail jobs that make it almost impossible to work on their projects due to the irregular hours.

Kathryn Couisellant, 20, a fashion student of the New School at Parsons, barely has the time to take a break. She works at least three days, at least 24 hours a week, at her retail job as a stylist for Madewell and then spends her nights writing 8-10 page papers while designing and creating a wardrobe for her classes, which she attends full time (five classes each semester). Originally from Massachusetts, she always knew she wanted to work in fashion design. “I could have went to school in Mass, but if you’re going to do this, you might as well go to the best and that’s here. In New York.”

Suzette Pioske, 28, a stylist originally from Minnesota, had to work as a sales associate in retail, at JCrew, because the search for good insurance became a frustrating task. “I didn’t have a lot of time to give the job because my styling jobs would keep me traveling a lot. I know everyone was mad at me for always calling out, but what could I do? I needed the insurance though, so I stayed as long as I could.” Unfortunately, her work as a freelance clothing stylist for various companies couldn’t provide her with the insurance she needed because there wasn’t steady employment.
The need to be fulfilled through creativity and to actually live in New York City proves to be a constant battle, not for the weak-willed. For those looking for a fashion career, NYC is one of the best options since it’s a fashion-conscious state and offers good opportunities. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, New York’s economy is strong in general, but the projected employment for fashion designers is expected to decline in the following years. In 2012, the number of employment for fashion designers was 22,300. But by 2022, it’s expected to drop to 21,700. According to a study by Rob Sentz of the Economic Modeling Specialists, New York ranks as the top city for the greatest concentration of fashion designers with the greatest earnings as well.
Even if they choose to go to a school where they grew up, many students are told that New York is the place to be. Omar Mornan, 30, went to school at the American Continental University in Weston, Florida, earning a degree in Bachelor’s of Fas He is now working as a designer for his own men’s line by night while working as a visual coordinator for the Tommy Hilfiger store in Soho. He decided to make the move to New York after being advised to do so by an executive of the French fashion house, Yves Saint Laurent whom he met when working at a trunk show. “I was worried—I wasn’t sure if I could do it—there’s so many people who design here,” he says. “But she told me, ‘If you’re good at what you do, you don’t have to worry about it. It will work out.”
Mornan, also known as Sergio Wonder, prepares for his new capsule collection to be featured in his friend’s upcoming show for Men’s Fashion Week.
Once he moved to New York, the hard work began. He was connected with James Black through a mutual friend who thought they would make a great team if they worked together. From there, SergioJames was born, a line of handmade bracelets and necklaces that ranged from $48-98. They created their own website and were featured in BET’s Rip the Runway fashion show where they received a lot of exposure. That opportunity led to huge orders from retail sites such as Fab.Com, but they needed help producing. Fortunately, Mornan has friends that are creative in their own right and they have banned together to help each other move their projects forward. “We would stay up all night and they would help me make bracelets. And then Curtis [my friend] offered to curate a show for a bunch of us to show our designs.” After 2 years as SergioJames, the duo split and Mornan decided to concentrate on men’s apparel line under the name Sergio Wonder. He’s currently working on a second capsule collection for an upcoming fashion for Men’s Fashion Week, curated by another friend.
The determination factor needs to be high. As in any field, students will start off on one path and as life happens, they may be derailed. If the desire remains, and if they manage to avoid distractions, the dream can be achieved. If not, there’s always a chance that a changed goal can be just as rewarding. After his experiences, Garcia’s goals completely changed. “I don’t think I’m going to continue the clothing line. Now I think I’d like to help other people find the help they need. Like connect them with other people so that they can help each other progress, or give them advice on what they need to make things happen.”

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