It was 4:32pm on February 16, 2010 and I sat in a box of fabric in our sewing contractor's office.... Our samples weren't complete and we had our first full collection's debut fashion show as part of The Greenshows (www.thegreenshows.com) at NYC Fashion Week in slightly over 24 hours. My head was in my hands... puffy sleeping bag coat still on... sweating profusely... and on the verge of tears...
From Finance to Fashion
I started my career in finance in 2003. I had a respectable job as an Investment Banking Analyst at Houlihan Lokey. I lived in Atlanta, owned my own house in the Virginia Highlands, navy BMW 330i, six figure salary... life was good. So how did I end up 6 years later, knee-deep in a box of fabric 6 in the middle of NYC's garment district?
I moved to NYC in 2006 to become a High Yield Credit Analyst for Primus Asset Management. I wanted to focus on retail and consumer products companies. I owned millions of dollars of loans and bonds in names such as Neiman Marcus, J. Crew, Dole Foods, St. John Knits, etc. and managed our investments across several credit investment funds. I loved it. Bond roadshows at fancy hotels, lavish vacations for high yield conferences... it was great. And then... it all blew up in my face. The market crashed... The party was over. Donezo!
My dad had a heart attack, my company almost blew up, my beloved boss went to another firm, my boyfriend got transfered to London and dumped me... February 2009 was my own personal hell... That was the thing about the credit crunch... Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse... you reached an all new low...
Welcome to Rock Bottom: Population: Me.
I did what any smart and driven girl would do. I picked myself up, thought about what was going to make me happy, and went for it. Specifically, I wanted to work in fashion on branding and operations and furthermore I wanted to do it while attending business school (Now studying at NYU Stern). I teamed up with Christine Marchuska in August 2009 and we haven't looked back since. I focus on operations, sourcing, production, financials, a little modeling (ha ha), and we work on design, branding, and marketing together. She's not only my business parter, but also my best friend. Team CMar is unstoppable. We will literally do whatever it takes to get it done.
Rule #1: Don't ask questions
Back to 4:32pm February 16th... box of fabric... The samples were finally finished. I rushed out with the collection on my back to meet Christine at our designer's apartment to work on fit and styling for the show. And... you know what? It all came together in the end... Somehow it always does... Just another day in the life of the House of CMar.
As I sit here sifting through every expense related to my fashion house, C. Marchuska, I repeatedly wonder, why am I an entrepreneur? I decided to write this post tonight because so many emotions were stirred up when looking over the past year and remembering both the highs and lows. As part of our new found strategy, Brooke, my partner and I, are going to be sharing a lot more of our story with you here. We hope you enjoy these posts, and feel free to comment with any thoughts, criticisms or support.
I guess I should probably start at the beginning. I was born into an entrepreneurial family. My paternal grandparents came over to the US, specifically Binghamton, New York, from Lithuania. My grandfather held many odd jobs over the years, but never lost hope in the American dream. However, my grandmother always made him choose stability over risk. Similarly when my father approached high school graduation, his parents advised him to take the safe route and pursue college where he could study to be a teacher. Being the dutiful son, my father packed his bags for Buffalo State College– solidifying their dream, but not his.
After college graduation he moved back to the Binghamton area where he started a motorcycle shop while maintaining a full-time high school teaching job. Shortly after moving back to the area he met my mother, a country girl, as she would refer to herself, raised by her Slovenian immigrant parents on a farm in Northern Pennsylvania. My mom was immediately attracted to my father because he was a teacher and could play polkas on his accordion (oh how I tried to hide that story during my teenage years).
So it was a match made in teacher heaven…or so my mom thought. Growing up on a farm, my mother wanted to escape the 24/7 work hours. She was the only one of her siblings to graduate from college and move away from the family business. She thought marrying a teacher and moving to the “big city” of Binghamton would provide the stability she always longed for, but as I often tell friends, never underestimate the power of Marchuska’s.
Shortly after getting married, my parents began their double lives working as full-time teachers while purchasing real estate and various other businesses. It all seemed so innocent in the beginning. But, my father’s drive and motivation to fulfill his father’s dreams along with his own, was too strong. Thus, he kept taking bigger risks and getting involved in more businesses – all of which he had no previous background or knowledge in.
Now, imagine my two older brothers and me growing up in this environment. It was normal for us to see our father in the morning for breakfast before he took off to teach, followed by a quick break in the afternoon before he went to rebuild the apartment buildings he purchased. We might catch him again for a brief moment at dinner before he took off to play in his band that would provide him extra cash to fund his various business ventures. The man literally never slept.
One notable memory that stays with me even to this day is when I was probably around five or six years old. My brothers and I were helping my mom set the table and get ready for our father to come home for dinner. He finally arrived at the house forty-five minutes late. He ran into the kitchen and proclaimed to my mother that he just purchased a million dollar apartment complex in our area. My mother’s mouth dropped. In general, my father never consulted my mother about any of the businesses he purchased after seeing how it was a road block for his father in pursuing his dreams. In the upcoming weeks it would be revealed that the realtor had lied to my father about several parts of the transaction, including the most important fact, which was that less than half of the complex was rented.
Over the next few months my family pulled together to make my father’s purchase a success and most importantly, avoid bankruptcy. We prepared the vacant rentals while my mom unwittingly became a real estate broker. It was at this point in my life that I told my mother that I NEVER wanted to own my own business or be an entrepreneur. I wanted to work for IBM like the other kids’ parents in my first grade class. I mean those kids got to go on real vacations to Disney World for weeks at a time where they stayed in hotels, not like our once a year 3-day summer jaunt to the Jersey Shore, where we would be stayed at an Inn sharing a bathroom with other vacationers on our floor.
Obviously, the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. In upcoming posts I will give you more details on my family’s entrepreneurial path, but more importantly how I started my own eco-fashion line while later joining forces with my business partner, best friend and sanity keeper, Brooke Bresnan. We also will be interviewing our mentors in the eco-fashion realm as well as fellow entrepreneurs who have inspired and helped us to continue on this exciting journey. Feel free to contact us if you are inspired or would like to share your thoughts on fashion, sustainability and the American dream.