by Jilian Naiberg
Professor Wevly Wilson certainly has her plate full. With three jobs that include teaching accessory design courses at Parsons, designing footwear for Land’s End, and designing her very own line of jewelry, W by Wevly Wilson, she proves that both hard work and unfaltering passion are what will push you ahead in this industry. Getting a late start in fashion Wilson threw herself into the woes of internships and constant learning in order to make her dreams come true. Her fast paced path is inspiring and her dedication is unquestionable as we sit down for a coffee to talk about her past experiences.
You began your professional life in pharmaceuticals and the medical devices industry. What made you turn around and start running towards fashion?
I always wanted to do fashion. Ever since I was little it was something that I loved. But I’m from a small country town (near the Mississippi River) and my parents just simply said no. They wanted me to do something practical and go to college. So I did. I was always drawing, and it was always in the back of my mind, but I just didn’t think I could actually make money doing it. Then I started hearing more and more about it, for example Project Runway was a big hit. At the same time I had met the high point of my career in pharmaceuticals. I had achieved the goal of managing my department and I still felt unfulfilled. I needed to go and do something I was completely passionate about.
What were the first steps that brought you to Parsons?
It was a trip to Italy that sealed the deal. I went to Milan and visited a shoe show called ‘Micam’ as well as a shoe design school. On my way back to the U.S., I found myself crying the whole way back! I just had to be a part of the industry and so I changed everything about my life. I put my house on the market, and the following Fall I was attending Parsons. I gave up a lot of financial stability and started everything all over again.
You had amazing internships while at Parsons, including Donna Karan Collection and Calvin Klein. How were you able to find them in such a niche field (footwear), and what did you learn while in them?
I knew Parsons wasn’t necessarily the best school for footwear design specifically, but it is the best fashion school period, and that’s where I wanted to go. To compensate I went to career services even before school started to see if they would be able to help me find a shoe design internship. They were skeptical about the possibilities. As soon as I walked out of the career services office they called me back and told me that Donna Karan needed a footwear intern. It was crazy. The very next week it was fashion week and I was in the back of her fashion show making sure the models were secure in their strappy shoes. That was two weeks after moving to New York. Everything just clicked.
What did you learn about the process of making shoes?
Well, I learned how expensive it is to make Italian shoes! Everything was old school. I ended up feeding beautiful sketches through the fax machine to send to Italy. For Calvin Klein I was literally cutting shoe buckles and gluing shoes together the week of their fashion show. It was more hands on responsibility than any intern should really have! I was just hoping that the T-straps would not come apart as the models were walking.
You took short courses abroad in London at Central Saint Martins in the summer. What was the culture and learning experience like over there? Any key differences?
London fashion is a lot more out of the box than New York fashion. It’s not as focused on sportswear, sportswear, sportswear. The teachers there kept pushing me to be more avant garde, which I really appreciated. It opened me up, forced me beyond my comfort zone.
When you graduated in 2007 you went straight to work as an assistant designer at Anne Taylor. How did you make that happen so quickly?
Literally a month after graduation I got the job. It was a long interview process because it’s such a big company. I have to say that the key to getting the job was my internships. I had great names on my resume, and that’s really what sealed it I think.
What were your responsibilities like when you first started?
I was assisting the associate designer in sketching and making specs. Luckily six months after I started the designer I was working for left the company. As scared as I was I got bumped up the ladder. Beforehand, when I was making copies I was always paying attention and learning every detail of what my boss was doing. Even in my down time I would study all the spec sheets and memorize everything. So when the time came to take over, I knew what to do. I wasn’t so great at it initially…but I knew what to do!
Tell me about the company you’re working for now, Jimlar.
We design and produce shoes for many different companies including Coach and Calvin Klein, and we also own the Frye boot brand. I design footwear for Land’s End. Very Americana.
Aside from this you also teach and have your own line!
I know, always busy!
Let’s talk about your jewelry line. What inspires you?
The materials! This is real lizard (pointing to a beautiful necklace she is wearing)! I like mixing different materials together. Leathers and metals are key and that will follow through with my shoes and handbags in the future. The other element is just shapes. Some people go through images to begin, but I start by drawing shapes.
Are you making all the jewelry by hand?
Right now, yes. But that’s the problem; I don’t want to. I’m in the process of finding a factory here in the US. One didn’t work out, and that’s okay. When you are starting your own line you might face some hiccups, but you just have to keep going. I want to fully launch my line soon though, so in the meantime I’ll do it by hand. I’ll only sell the pieces if they’re perfect, so I’m always perfecting my technique.
How important is it to you to manufacture in the U.S.?
It’s very important to me. I want to support the industry here. Also production minimums are a lot smaller when you use suppliers in New York. As a small company it makes the most sense.
What is your ultimate goal for your line?
For the most part, I want to sell it through my online site. Other retailers mark up their prices too much, so I feel that my customers can get the best value if I sell it myself. Eventually, I want to expand the brand to shoes and handbags, but for now jewelry makes the most sense.
What are the biggest obstacles in beginning your own line?
Paying for production! You can start small, but there are still things that you’ll find you just need. Plus, you want to launch in the best possible way and the quality should match the pricing.
Is there anything else you want students to know about your experience in the fashion industry?
Fashion is a hard industry and you have to work very hard. There are a lot of people who want a very small amount of jobs. And then once you get the job, you want to progress. So you have to work your butt off and it will pay off. The ‘higher ups’ should know how hard you’re working. Make sure you are getting noticed and credited in a genuine way…without being a kiss-up. Also intern, intern, intern! Just keep volunteering and making contacts in the area you want to ultimately be in. You never know who can help you in the future!