Sara Medd – `06 (Fashion Merchandising Management) Stylist and Founder of “Greyscale Goods”, a unique shopping platform, wherein clients can register and receive shipments of styled looks that are gender-neutral and easily attainable. Here she speaks to us about how FIT has influenced her business and how FIT’s tools and education have made her dreams a reality.
So we’re going to step back to look at your time here. What was it like here for you at FIT?
Sara: It was really good. I was really happy that it was a very business-centric program. I felt like it was the perfect preparation for my career. After graduation, I got a job at Tahari and I was in sales for a private label that we did for Dillard’s. I was doing wholesale for about a year and a half and then I moved into the design department and they gave me the opportunity to be an Associate Designer, but essentially it was a merchandising role. It was a lot of product development: adapting existing styles versus actual design. I was perfectly prepared to be in a product development role because of the FMM degree, so I really felt comfortable.
What class or classes were the most influential for you?
Sara: Oh, it’s been so long. I do have memories of certain classes that were most enjoyable to me. I definitely think that my product development class was incredibly helpful. It was a workshop type of class and I remember wanting to really sink my teeth into that because we went through the process of designing and essentially putting together and merchandising a collection. I loved my e-commerce class. That was probably one of my favorite classes. It was in depth about putting together an e-commerce site.
Do you recall the most valuable experience that you had here at FIT?
Sara: I think that the strong business core of the FMM program has now been so beneficial in creating Greyscale Goods: writing a business plan, accounting, buying. I’m so thankful I had those business classes. Also, I would say just the mere fact that FIT is in New York and being in Manhattan. I think that it allows natural opportunities to arise and having access to the speakers that would come in (I believe we had amazing speakers because we were so convenient to stop by). I think that being able to go to the fashion district and use M&J trimmings, or to go to Mood Fabrics on any given day was so convenient. The access is so much greater because everything is right there. You know what else I really enjoyed? I remember doing office visits and being able to go into buyers offices. It was like a field trip. We would go in and talk to the buyers and also visit wholesale showrooms. That was definitely a standout opportunity that you don’t get at just any school. It was a very specific-to-FIT opportunity and it was a valuable experience.
How did you get into styling from product development? Describe the timeline in your biography.
Sara: I was in that product development role until October 2009, but just before that, (probably that summer) I started realizing that I was not made to sit in an office in front of a computer for 8 or 9 hours a day. I realized that, while my job was fulfilling in some ways, I essentially wanted to work for myself. The role of a stylist seemed natural for me. In some ways, styling is kind of like product development, bringing together existing elements and then putting them together in a new way that makes sense and is interesting. Product development uses existing styles and puts them together into a collection that is tight and concise. Styling is putting together the best parts of what other designers have already created into a picture or an outfit that makes sense for the client.
I first started taking intern positions at Vogue Russia and Vogue Italia, so I was working with some pretty big stylists on these amazing shoots. I was just enamored immediately. I also was assisting on small paid jobs. Basically I researched “how to be a stylist”. Then the interning part was essential. I think that for anyone who wants to be a stylist, interning is crucial. Essentially, styling is an apprenticeship program and unfortunately, you can’t expect to get paid for it for at least six months until you learn the ropes and prove that you can work autonomously and know what’s going on. I was fortunate enough to learn under an assistant stylist at Vogue International, William Graper, who was a great teacher. He is an incredibly talented key stylist and actually just got signed at The Wall Group. So exciting! Also, one of the girls who was assisting and interning with me on a Vogue Italia shoot for Edward Enninful is now Lori Goldstein’s first assistant, so that’s very exciting. Assistant styling is a small world and we are all really supportive of each other.
In 2010, I moved from New York to LA to continue assisting and styling.
What is it that you love about styling?
Sara: I think essentially what keeps me going is that every day is different. I never really know what I’m going to walk into and I thrive on that, just personally. Also, I think now that I’ve been in styling for so long, that most of my recommendations and most of the jobs that I’m hired for are through word of mouth, so I’ve ended up having the lovely opportunity to work with amazing people. It’s these curated teams of people who have worked together for years so it’s like a work family. I’m working constantly with different people and different stylists (I still do a lot of assisting). I really enjoy making another stylist’s dreams come to life because I think deep down, I don’t have that artist quality in my core where I need to get something on paper. I enjoy hearing someone else’s vision and making it happen. So being an assistant and working with someone like Patti Wilson or Lori Goldstein, where they have that vision, that sort of internal drive to create something, is fulfilling to me. It’s like this team effort and I get to make it happen.
What made you decide to create Greyscale Goods?
Sara: I view clothing as a language of expression. For a lot of people who aren’t really interested in fashion, clothing is not a natural expression for them. I enjoy being able to help people in this area, listen to them, and then translate it into clothing. Additionally, in our society, and this is really the inspiration for Greyscale, I’ve noticed that men’s and women’s departments are so polarizing. You walk into a store and instantly the first decision you have to make is, “Am I walking into the men’s department or am I walking into the women’s department? Which side do I want to start shopping in?” In my experience (I’m gay and I’m involved in the LGBT community), I’m surrounded by a lot of women who are more masculine and who like to shop in the men’s department.
Unfortunately there is a lack of resources for style inspiration for this market. There are some great blogs, but there are not magazines out there for them to look at for inspiration and shopping advice. There’s not a Lucky Magazine for masculine women. My inspiration come from these women who are having to navigate style themselves and creating a safe space where they can find good quality clothing that is label-less – it’s not labeled as one gender or the other. They’ll tell me what their style is and I’ll pick out the clothes that I think will fit them. I may be shopping in women’s showrooms but I’m choosing and curating the most androgynous items from these showrooms and not necessarily saying, “This is from the women’s department.” It’s just a well-fitting, good quality shirt that is going to look the way you want it to look. So again, it’s kind of that same theme through my career: curating something that’s already been created, taking the best of it and putting it together in a new sort of way. This new outlet, this new way that I’m presenting it, is “grey”. It’s a grey area of style. It’s the tomboy, the androgynous, the sometimes more masculine, but really just the center-of-center.
I was curious as to how you choose your looks and your styles?
I’m creating a brand right now, so I’m going to keep my look and my overall seasonal selection simpler to begin with. I’m going to be limited to buying in New York and LA in the beginning. I think LA is doing some good things as far as just simple, basic kinds of styles. There are some awesome brands in the US that are doing the androgynous look or the tomboy look and I think that the influence that companies have, from J. Crew through Jenna Lyons, has been helping that spread. It’s commercializing the tomboy look as classic. I’m only going to be shipping initially in the states, but I have a huge number of supporters from all over the world. It is exciting, but that means I’m going to have to quickly figure out how to ship globally.
As far as the states, I actually have a lot of customers and support from the Bay Area, up near San Francisco – definitely a lot from LA and the midwest – just really right in the center (Missouri, Arkansas, Kansas, and middle America). I expected that, just because of my knowledge of this target customer. There is very little access to androgynous brands and progressive companies in that area.
In New York and LA we have companies like TopShop, TopMan, Uniqlo, and even Nordstrom has great options. However, I want to increase the accessibility to boutique companies, so I’m going to be supporting a lot of small businesses and bringing them into my offerings to help customers have easier access to them, and for them to reach customers more easily.
With that, where do you hope to see yourself in the next two years and the next five years with Greyscale Goods?
Sara: I definitely want Greyscale Goods to keep growing. I think in the next two years I would say I want to grow the team first. Right now I’m a one-woman show and I would love to have a strong small team that is all working towards the same goal alongside me. I would like to be (hopefully) shipping globally, and also I’m really anxious to add in plus size inventory because that’s another underserved market, especially in this tomboy aesthetic. So, I’m really looking forward to increasing my inventory to plus size offerings and adding global shipping. I just want growth in sales and customers in the next two years. I just want to be able to reach everyone who wants to be reached. I think in the next five years, I would love to be where Stitch Fix and Trunk Club are. They’re both currently valued around 350 million dollars, clearly incredibly successful. I want to be the J. Crew of the “subcom” world; the “go-to” for classic wardrobe.
It seems like your company empowers those shoppers that you just mentioned before that don’t really use clothes as their expression, yet they still want to express themselves. Feel free to speak more about that.
Sara: Sure. Empowerment is a great word to use for that because everyone should feel empowered to be themselves. I think it’s so important for everyone to find that happy place where you look on the outside the way you feel on the inside. In the current shopping environment they’re still feeling judged for what they want to wear. You know clothing is an expression and clothing can be an extension of you, it’s often the first thing people see when you walk in a room. They’re noticing you as a whole but clothing covers a large area of our body, so it’s an important opportunity to offer an impression to people. If you’re offering the wrong information to people when you meet them, then it’s easy to be misjudged for who you are. Greyscale Goods is giving people the tools, the resources, and actually putting it in their hands and saying “here it is”. “I’m listening to what you’re saying, what you want to look like, and I’m translating that into clothing and here it is.” Empowering customers is one of my key goals for Greyscale Goods.
What advice do you have for FIT alumni and for graduating students with your personal experience, being out in the world afterwards and also being an entrepreneur while building your company?
Sara: Open your ears and open your eyes. Pay attention to all the opportunities offered because while I wasn’t using my business management classes or my accounting classes in the first five years after graduating, I’m using them now and I’m thankful for those. So you never really know where your career is going to go in the long run. I would say pay attention to everything that you’re learning because those things could come in handy down the road, even if you don’t see it happening in the first five years. One thing that I tell my sister (in college right now) and anyone else in college or looking at colleges, is that internships are crucial. Internships will form so many relationships in your career and you just have to take advantage of as many as possible, and really value those as learning opportunities. I think that at FIT, a big drawing point for me was the opportunity of all the internships that they have access to and the connections FIT has with the fashion industry.
Do you plan on coming back to New York or are you set on staying in the West Coast?
Sara: I love New York and I still come back. I work with a production company during fashion week so I’m still back twice a year for work, and I plan to come back for buying trips for Greyscale Goods. I feel like New York is in my blood. I’ve always wanted to live in New York and I did for seven years. It was a great experience for me and a lot of my close friends are still there. I would say that it’s not out of the question to come back. As of now, I don’t see a move happening any time soon, but I will always love it. New York is in my heart and I absolutely can’t go a year without coming back. So as long as I have that opportunity to travel between cities still on the table, I’m going to stay based in Los Angeles.
Sara, thank you for participating in our Alumni Blog and FIT welcomes you back anytime!