Host of “American Fashion Podcast”, Cathy Schepis sat down with us for an in-depth conversation about the ever-evolving world of fashion.
Cathy Schepis, in partnership with cohost Charles Beckwith, hosts the American Fashion podcast, a weekly podcast that delves deep into the fashion industry from all angles. The show spotlights creative thinkers, industry executives and entrepreneurs, sharing successes and challenges. She’s interviewed everyone from small startup founders to CEOs of major department stores. Cathy is also building her own strategic advisory consultancy, helping brands achieve focus and financial stability. We had an illuminating chat with this industry veteran executive about her career path and where she sees fashion going next.
Cathy, can you tell us a little about yourself and how you got your start in the fashion industry?
My parents had great taste, and quality was essential, so that started to lead my eye towards fashion. I was fascinated by textiles, as well as the visual and business aspects of fashion, and decided that the Fashion Institute of Technology would be the best choice for college.
After graduating, I interviewed at Saks Fifth Avenue, which was my dream career destination. As I became a buyer for Saks, I was managing multimillion-dollar businesses and traveling to Europe scouting out new and exciting European brands. I had to learn the various aspects of running a business for multiple stores, and they had to be profitable. This prepared me for future executive positions at Anne Klein, Liz Claiborne and a luxury direct to consumer brand, Doncaster.
How did your career path take you to your current role? Is there any other aspect of the industry you would like to experience?
I think early on in my career I developed the ability to work with creative people. My roles allowed me to collaborate with both creative and analytical teams and merge their efforts into productivity for the business. Relationship building was key as well. The industry now has changed enormously, and I wanted to learn more about what entrepreneurs and current businesses were doing to stay relevant, so the podcast was a perfect opportunity—that is, once I became used to hearing my own voice!
I see myself going further into creative branding. It’s so important to have strong internal branding, in order to achieve the best external branding. The podcast is part of MouthMedia Network, and we have started proprietary podcasts for corporations; it’s brilliant for effective internal communication and internal brand building.
What is the best piece of advice you would give to someone looking to break into the highly competitive fashion landscape and excel there?
My best advice: Get experience in a few companies because it is invaluable. I think when you are starting off in your career, you need to observe and learn. You have to experience success and failure—that is what will make you a well-rounded leader as you move on to other opportunities. Additionally, stay current and connected, always!
At EA, we are all about building on our classic heritage and expertise in craftsmanship. How do you use your experience and skill set to create your own unique brand?
Develop a network and be authentic to yourself. I think you have to present yourself and your skill set and experience in a way that feels natural to you. Be confident in what you know- you don't have to be everything to everyone. On a personal level, set a clear intention with people you think you may want to work with and express that at the right time. I take the time to get to know people, ask them questions and really engage with them. That is how they will remember you!
On the “American Fashion Podcast” you cover a variety of relevant topics. What’s your biggest hot topic right now, and how are you pushing for change/awareness/action in this arena?
The sustainability topic, for sure. It is here to stay. I see on the show that there’s a lot of confusion around what sustainability is and what it means. I think the biggest challenge for brands is how do we “go green” and still be profitable? It’s about gradual integration into your practices, and implementing what you can afford to change, and knowing that every new practice won’t drive higher costs.
It is absolutely key right now for brands to be part of this movement, as consumers are increasingly educated about what and how they are buying and that will only continue as more brands start down that path.
You speak a lot on the podcast about the prominence of e-commerce. In your opinion, do you see this replacing retail or do you feel there will always be a place for in-store shopping?
I truly believe there will always be brick and mortar stores—and many independent stores are performing well. We see lots of digital businesses that are finding they still need the retail store footprint. Fashion is very sensorial after all; you want to feel the texture of a sweater. Is it too heavy, too scratchy, what is the color like in real life?
Additionally, I think the future lies in experiential concepts. Educational and inspirational events and pop-ups create brand loyalty among consumers and are not only a play to drive revenue.
Can you describe your style and its evolution?
I would say I stick to a more classic aesthetic, but not 100%. I like to inject some edgier or unique pieces into a look. I follow a simple formula for the most part. I do like color, but find myself not wearing it, especially as a New Yorker! I like neutrals with an accent of color, texture or chunky jewelry. I like clean lines with a twist.
As we celebrate our 60th anniversary, in what ways do you think a heritage brand like EA can honor our deep-rooted history yet still remain relevant and innovative?
Consumers love a story--it’s powerful for a company to speak about its heritage. It is also vital to be honest and authentic. Brands should make an effort to be transparent and not be afraid of that! It also helps to have a core product that keeps getting adapted for current trends. Etienne has the riding boot as a tremendous part of their heritage….boots have been relevant in fashion for so long, and I believe it will continue. The brand can have fun with it for all seasons, they can be plastic or fabric. The point is if you believe in it and are passionate, it can become contagious!
What do you look for when making a clothing or accessory purchase?
Overall proportions of the piece. It’s look and feel. And I think about how it is going to perform in different types of weather, like when its 100 degrees. Then at times, I don’t think at all; I just buy the item because I love it!