Lynda Firey-Oldroyd: Senior Director of Consumer Research at Nordstrom

A few months ago I spoke with Lynda over the phone for an informational interview to learn more about her career path and what it's like to work at Nordstrom. By the end of our conversation, Lynda invited me out to Seattle to visit the Nordstrom Headquarters so that I could experience the inner workings of the retail powerhouse for myself. Not only did Lynda provide me with the opportunity to meet and learn from several Nordstrom employees - including lunch with owner Pete Nordstrom, but she also went above and beyond by welcoming me into her beautiful home during my stay. A Bosslady is someone that truly wants to see other's succeed. She doesn't ask 'what's in it for me?', but she does take ownership of her work. A Bosslady lives life with curiosity and passion. Lynda has all these qualities and more. Continue reading to learn more about Lynda's career path and what she looks for when hiring. 

Lynda grew up as a navy "brat" and lived nearly everywhere in that United States that has a Navy base. She loved growing up near the water and having the opportunity to experience living in lots of different places which has fueled her curiosity throughout life. She completed both undergraduate and graduate school at Virginia Tech where she studied business. She currently resides in Seattle, Washington with her family where she is the VP of Consumer Research at Nordstrom. 

Molly: How did you get your start in consumer insights?
Lynda:  I started in consumer insights with RJ Reynolds, after getting my MBA. There I learned a lot about how consumer research can influence business decisions.  A few years later I moved over to Pepsi and had the opportunity to take these skills and apply them to great brands like Pepsi, Starbucks, Lipton, Lays, and Taco Bell.

M: Explain how consumer insights can have an impact on a company to someone who is not familiar with the field.
L:  Consumer Insights is focused on helping others understand consumer behavior, perceptions, motivations and beliefs. Then it connects that understanding with business information and opportunities to influence decisions. This involves a range of business decisions including expansion, design, marketing communications, service standards, etc. We draw information from a wide range of resources including custom surveys, qualitative research, syndicated data, internal information, social, and more. Part of the "art" and the "fun" of consumer research work is integrating information across resources to tell stories.

M: You were recruited by Nordstrom to create the Consumer Insights team. What impacts have you seen at Nordstrom as a result of your team's work?
L: Nordstrom has always been a consumer focused organization since its inception over a hundred years ago.  The work we do brings a little more fact, structure and depth to our understanding. And like most retail, it takes a village to make things happen within Nordstrom.  With that said, my team and I have had the privilege to contribute to things like:

Nordstrom Rack's accelerated store expansion and growth in the marketplace.
Our women's apparel strategy and leaning toward more fashion forward brands such as Top Shop, and Madewell.
Our growth stemming from increased focus on the activewear market with brands like Zella.

M: What are you most proud of in your career?
L: I am most proud of the people I have supported and developed over the years.  Some of my previous employees are now consumer research leaders at companies like Anheuser Busch, Horizon Media, McCormick, and Gap Inc. I also have dozens of former employees still within Nordstrom, who are now in different areas of the company such as marketing, finance, strategy and project development.  I am extremely proud to have been part of each and every one of their career journeys.

M: What qualities do you look for in a young professional when hiring?
L: In entry level positions I look for a range of things including curiosity, passion, positive energy, communication skills, related or transferable skills and experience, and accomplishments in life - whether that be in sports, grades, over-coming adversity, whatever! I like to see when people who take pride in their accomplishments.

With more experienced business people, I look for demonstrated business impact.  It is important to have the right skills and experiences, but even more important that those skills and experiences have led to positive outcomes for a business.

M: You have an impressive pedigree working at PepsiCo, Taco Bell, Levi, Gap, and now Nordstrom. What qualities do you possess that have lead you to excel in your industry and land jobs at such great companies.
L: Working for blue chip companies, I developed a deep appreciation for the importance of understanding the organizational priorities and how myself and my team can support those priorities. I've also learned how to navigate organizational complexity and the importance of bringing people together around the common cause of the customer. I have been fortunate to work for some truly amazing companies across industries, but they have all been united by strategic focus, complexity and excellence in everything they do.

M: What is your advice to young women starting out in their professional lives?
L: Consider how to create opportunities for yourself.  There are so many different jobs in the world today - many of which didn't exist ten years ago.  Nevertheless, it is often hard to land your first job. Network, volunteer, take risks, and figure out what you love to do. Continue to push the boundaries from there, as you evolve and grow in your career.

Leah Karp, Accessories Director at InStyle & Erika Szychowski, SVP of Marketing at Nine West

Last night I chatted with Leah Karp - Accessories Director at InStyle Magazine, and Erika Szychowski - SVP of Marking at Nine West, at the launch party for the Nine West x InStyle Fall collection. Read the interview to learn about their career paths, their advice for you, and find out more about the fabulous collaboration between Nine West & InStyle.

Me with Leah Karp and Erika Szychowski at the Nine West x InStyle party.

M: Tell me about your career background, and how you ended up at your job today?

Leah (Accessories Director, InStyle): I started as an intern at Harper’s Bazaar Magazine. When I graduated an assistant position opened up and I jumped at the opportunity. I started there and have worked at several magazines from Seventeen, Marie Claire, Allure, and now InStyle. I’ve been an accessories director for 9 years, 3 of them being at InStyle.

Erika (SVP Marketing, Nine West): I actually started my career in Sports and Entertainment and then made a transition into sponsorship marketing in financial services. I started working in footwear at Nine West about five years ago. My career path has been unconventional, but I’ve never been bored. I got to where I am by hard work, and lots of networking.

M: What's your career advice for young women that want to pursue a career in the fashion industry?

L: When you're young don’t take a job just for the paycheck, be eager to learn as much as you can. Focus on making the right connections, and creating a foundation for your future. Building off of what Erika said, every job I’ve had has been the result of a connection I made at a previous job. Work hard and people will take care of you. This is important especially for the interns coming in today. If certain interns are working really hard we take notice. If you prove yourself during your internship I will help you find a job. I will do anything for my former interns; a lot of them come back and become my assistant or freelance for me if I don’t have a position open.

E: Throughout my career I’ve been able to create a space full of great leadership and mentors, which is crucial. Now I mentor a lot of young women and try to help them build thought leadership skills. Thought leaders take initiative. They inspire people with innovation and turn ideas into reality. They surround themselves with other dedicated people that help them scale those ideas into sustainable change. They have an impact, and create a foundation for others to build on. These leaders often envision the end result first, and then build the steps to get there. This kind of leadership reveals ambition. You can still be a thought leader in your field even if the company you’re working for isn’t aligned with your long-term goals. Your first job might not be your dream job, but you can still decide to excel at it. Be a go-getter.

M: What skills or qualities do you look for when hiring?

L: When I’m hiring I look for people who are incredibly detail oriented. I’m so busy, and I need to work with people who are on top of it. I can’t have things falling through the cracks. Above all, the most important thing is being dedicated. If you want a career in fashion you have to be willing to put everything else on hold to make it happen. It’s pretty easy to identify who's willing to do this. If it’s not you there is someone standing right behind you willing to step up.

E: I look for courage to step out of your comfort zone. When you’re young and starting out you might not have the experience, but you have to have the courage and perseverance to get through it. You need to be a self-starter, but you don’t have to do it alone. I look for people who have a spark to their personality and will be a fit for my team. When you’re surrounded by others who are self-motivated and courageous, that’s when the magic happens.

M: Thanks for your great advice, now I want to talk about this amazing Nine West x InStyle Fall collection. What was the process like for this collaboration?

L: The idea for the collaboration came to life over a dinner in Paris between Ariel Foxman (Editor in Chief, InStyle), and the former CEO of The Jones Group (Nine West). I was then brought on to the process. I start each season with books full of trends, color boards, and inspiration and decide how I want these to translate to a collection. I work closely with the head footwear, handbag, and jewelry designers at Nine West to create a collaboration that is cohesive with both our brands. This is the third season that we’ve collaborated.

E: The hardest thing about collaboration is finding the right team for the job. When you put a lot of creative minds in one room things can tend to go off on a tangent, but this team has been such a harmonious match. We’re so proud of what we’ve been able to create together.

M: What’s your favorite piece in the collection?

L: My favorite piece is the shoe that I’m wearing, the Cate. It’s very comfortable, and classic with an edge. It’s a great transitional piece from season to season, and also day to night. It’s a shoe that I think is so versatile and fits with anyone’s style.

Cate Pointed Toe Pumps, $89

E: My favorite is the Jaiden. It’s an amazing bootie. I also love this knot collar necklace we’ve created. It’s pretty fabulous.

 

Jaiden Pointed Toe Booties, $119

InStyle Knot Collar Necklace, $60

L: I know. I actually think the necklace is my favorite piece. I’ve wanted it in my mind forever, and our design team was able to create it for me.

M: Thank you for chatting with me. I can't wait to incorporate the collection into my fall wardrobe! 

Click through the slideshow to check out the collection and find styling inspiration.

My Opinion: At the party I had a chance to try on the shoes. I was pretty surprised with how much I liked the collection. Sometimes these collaborations between megabrands can end up being a little cheesy, but I was impressed with the quality and style of the collection. Like Leah, my favorite shoes were the Cate. They somehow manage to be timeless and modern all at once.

Above is a photo of my friend Jessica and I at the event. I'm wearing the Cate shoes with a leather clutch from the collection. Jessica's wearing the Tessa pumps. Check out this limited edition collection in stores and online.

Stalk me on social media! 

Gemma Sole: Co-founder of Nineteenth Amendment

WHAT IS NINETEENTH AMENDMENT?

Nineteenth Amendment is a marketplace and scalable production management system for emerging fashion. You can discover the future of fashion and the trendsetters of tomorrow in our online Virtual Studios, and support the designers you love by pre-purchasing exclusive designs by the next big names in fashion.

Molly Flynn: You didn’t have much fashion experience before you started Nineteenth Amendment. Can you elaborate on your professional background and how it led you to a career in the fashion industry?

Gemma Sole: I’m originally from Boston, but I went to the University of Rochester in upstate New York. After I graduated I received a scholarship from the Kauffman Entrepreneurship Foundation. With the grant I started a consulting group in upstate New York that employed college students to work on projects for local businesses. From there, the strategy-consulting firm Booz Allen recruited me. I worked there for two years, but was feeling a little stagnant. I moved back to Boston and decided to try Startup Institute. There I met my co-founder of Nineteenth Amendment, Amanda Curtis. I remember she was one of the first people I saw on the first day. She was wearing heels and an A-line skirt. I was kind of surprised since startup uniforms are typically much more casual.

M: How did the idea for Nineteenth Amendment come to life?

G: Before my co-founder Amanda attended Startup Institute she was working on a fashion line that made it all the way to London Fashion Week. Still, she was having trouble manufacturing and selling her line. Companies were interested in her designs, but she didn’t have the data or previous sales reports for buyers to take a calculated risk on her brand.

At Startup Institute, we learned about lean startup methodology, pivoting, and knowing your customer. With that in mind, she came up with the idea for Nineteenth Amendment as a tool to help other new designers solve the problems she was having. She pitched the idea during the institute and a handful of people worked on the business. After the institute ended, she continued to work on her idea. I came on board to help her as a part-time consultant but it lead to a full time co-founder role pretty quickly.

Gemma with her co-founder Amanda Curtis. photo credit Trish Fontanilla

M: Why the name Nineteenth Amendment?

G: An amendment is a change to an existing institution. We’re trying to change the fashion industry. We want to support independent designers, and give consumers the power to decide what gets manufactured which essentially paves the way for new trends. We want to give everyone a voice in fashion.

M: Explain Nineteenth Amendment to someone who has no fashion knowledge whatsoever.

G: Nineteenth Amendment is a marketplace that connects up-and-coming designers with fashion forward customers. We’ve married a patent-pending virtual studio optimized for social media with an on-demand manufacturing service that young designers need to bridge the gap between design and delivery. We’re a platform to help these emerging designers gain an audience so that they can fulfill orders and gather data in order to sell to larger retailers, such as department stores. To give you a comparison, Nineteenth Amendment is kind of like a combination of Etsy and Kickstarter for clothing, except we’re a lot more selective about who is featured on our site and we do all order fulfillments on the designers behalf.

Find out more about how it works here.

M: Have designers been receptive of the Nineteenth Amendment model?

G: Yes, definitely. Designers love Nineteenth Amendment, because developing an audience online and manufacturing clothing is one of the hardest parts of launching a fashion brand. We’ve thought about the logistics, all the designers need to do is bring their creative design skills to the table.  

Designers have their own private dashboard on the site. Through this dashboard we help them price their items. They have access to how many people bought or viewed they’re clothing and in what part of the world. Customers also have the ability to critique designer’s garments. This helps designers understand who their consumer is, gather feedback, and pivot on their next line. They would probably not have access to this data if they were working independently on their own website.

M: What are the challenges that you run into as a fashion startup?

G: Primarily, our biggest hurdle has been that we’re young women - both my co-founder and I are under 30. In addition, Boston’s fashion scene isn’t as large as other cities. Local investors don’t see the problem we’re trying to address from a manufacturing or a consumer standpoint. 

M: Are your investors mainly women?

G: So far, all of our investors are men. We’ve actually found that women investors are a lot tougher on other women. There are also fewer women investors in general.

M: You were recently involved in the New York Fashion Tech Lab (NYFT Lab). Can you elaborate on that experience and the benefit it had to Nineteenth Amendment?

G: We were involved in the first round of the NYFT Lab. We were selected as 1 of 8 startups out of 127 companies that applied. We were definitely the youngest, and most consumer oriented out of the group.  The goal of the program was to introduce us to retailers or partners that we otherwise wouldn’t have had access to. It was invaluable in that respect. Keep an eye out for some exciting partnerships soon!

M: What do you see for the future of Nineteenth Amendment?

G: Long term, we plan on filling a void in the retailer consumer fashion space. Right now, we’re focused on closing our first round of funding, and getting more consumers to the site so that designers can fulfill the orders that they need to be successful. 

Visit www.nineteenthamendment.com to be an influencer in fashion and learn more.