NEW YORK — Getting a good job in the fashion industry in New York City is difficult, but at least three Wichitans have shown it's possible with determination, helpful contacts and a bit of luck. Here are their stories:
Elizabeth Cochran is senior director of design and product development for the fashion label L.A.M.B. and handbag company Harajuku Lovers.
The East High grad from the class of 1992 is the daughter of Helen and Charles Cochran of Wichita. After high school, she enrolled in New York University.
"After I graduated my mom encouraged me to call the Kate Spade company because there was a Kansas connection," she said about the well-known handbag designer. "I did and got the job on the spot. I worked there almost nine years."
The company grew so rapidly that Cochran says she saw the work atmosphere go from casual to corporate. "As it got bigger it wasn't nearly as much fun to work there," she said.
She loves her job now and says it's fun to work closely with entertainer Gwen Stefani, who owns the companies. "Gwen really is involved and that's why it's so successful," Cochran said.
She grins when she recalls her interview with Schifter & Partners, the company that handles the brands. "I had always been a big fan of Gwen Stefani but I was trying to be cool and didn't know if I should say that I was a huge fan. I finally did and I was very exuberant," Cochran said.
She was concerned that her enthusiasm might sound immature or unprofessional, but later was told it was one of the main reasons she got the job.
"I think it's good to be exuberant. It has served me well," she said.
Cochran lives in an apartment with her dog in the Hell's Kitchen area of New York City, not far from Times Square. She hasn't owned a car since her "Volvo tank" died on Webb Road when she was a senior in high school.
Even though Cochran has been in New York City since 1992, she still considers herself a Kansan.
"I'm very glad I grew up in Kansas," she said. "Being from the Midwest is helpful, not a hindrance."
Andrew Shirk, a 2002 graduate of North High and 2007 University of Kansas grad, packed up his belongings two weeks after graduation and headed to the Big Apple. His parents, Janet and Verne Shirk of Wichita, drove him there, and although he didn't have a job, they told him they knew he would get one. And he has.
He credits his determination — along with good connections and the right timing — with getting him a full-time position with Ralph Lauren. He was a freelancer for the design company before landing the job of associate designer in the Blue Label denim division about two years ago. Blue Label jeans are priced from $200 to $1,400.
"We reference a lot of vintage denim," he said. "There are so many washes, rinses, stitching — it's so much more than just jeans."
An example of that: One style that will be in stores next fall has rips that are repaired with sequins and metal beads.
And what is like to work for an American icon? Shirk isn't complaining.
"He is very quiet and a really nice guy," he said. "He's very sincere and very involved in all parts of the company, which is amazing, considering all he does."
Eventually, Shirk would like to work in Ralph Lauren collections, but for now he says, "It's great to have an office by Central Park and it's exciting to see our jeans in a magazine or a person, an actress like Cameron Diaz, wearing our jeans."
Cally Varner, 25, graduated from El Dorado High School in 2003 and made her way to New York City, where she spent two summers as an intern at Escada. Today, she works as a showroom manager for Viva International, a company that represents Guess, Skechers and Harley Davidson sunglasses, to mention a few.
She works with buyers and schedules trade shows and seasonal launches in stores. Her office is small in the 3,000-square-foot showroom on Fifth Avenue, but that doesn't bother her.
"I must say that I was one of the few of my friends working in New York who has an office with a window, and it has a door," Varner said.
"I live close enough to walk to work," she said. "That saves time and money and is less stressful."
There's a lot about New York City she loves, including lots of live music.
"I have played the viola since fourth grade and love orchestra. My boyfriend loves opera so we like to go to musical performances at Lincoln Center and around the city," she said.
She's looking forward to a visit soon from her mother, Linda Varner of Augusta. And her dad, Ronald Varner, made his first visit ever to New York City to visit her.
"He said if you can't find something in New York City, it doesn't exist," Varner said.