Lessons Learned from Doing (Almost) Every Job in Fashion
She’s been a model, art director, CEO and worked in retail. She’s produced fashion films and is a media personality and lifestyle contributor. In fact, there are few things Tamiko White has not done in the world of fashion. And, to cap it all off, she’s the author of Careers in the Fashion Industry, a reference book to help new members to the business find the right career for themselves.
Naturally, this gives her a great perspective on the business and how to succeed in it. In this interview, we focus on the consumer of things.
Tamiko White is a fashion industry veteran, style expert, media personality and entrepreneur. She has worked with an impressive and extensive list of designers, fashion houses, brands, and institutions over the past 20 years in the acting, modelling, and fashion industry to help everyone she works with build an indelible brand. Either as a model, brand spokesperson, sales director, or fashion consultant, Tamiko tells a brand’s story like no other.
In 2008, Tamiko launched White Noise Showroom and immediately used the knowledge and skills learned behind the camera to attract and work with powerhouse fashion companies. White Noise was successful by helping fashion clients grow their bottom lines, increase revenue from tens of thousands to millions, secure retail distribution, launch national campaigns, produce fashion films, get media coverage, host star-studded events, and build passionate communities of followers and fans.
In 2017, Tamiko pivoted to focus on building her own brand as an influencer and media personality. As a media personality and lifestyle contributor, she lends her style, talent, and fashion expertise to outlets on television, radio and print media. As a fashion industry resource, she’s created educational, digital products and speaks at conferences, events, workshops and trade shows educating the next generation of talented game-changers about the business of fashion. Adding author to her resume with her first book, Careers in the Fashion Industry, Tamiko shares her wealth of knowledge with designers, stylists, and aspiring fashion creatives.
Lessons Learned from Doing (Almost) Every Job in Fashion
Brandon: She’s been a model, art director, CEO and has worked in retail. She’s produced fashion films and is a media personality and lifestyle contributor. In fact, there are few things in the world of fashion Tamiko White has not done. Naturally, this gives her a great perspective on the business and how to succeed in it. And in this interview, we focus on the consumer side of things, specifically why the four Ps of marketing are no longer enough to build a successful fashion brand and the most important element of telling your brand story. We’ll have a discussion on whether we’ve hit peak fashion and why probably not, and what kale can teach us about the longer-term opportunities in the business.
Brandon: So Tamiko to kick things off today, could you tell us a little bit about who you are?
Tamiko: Yes, hi. Thank you. So my name is Tamiko White and I am a style expert and fashion entrepreneur. And under those titles, I do a lot of things. So I’m a media personality: I host a morning show and trend segments. I’m an author; I’m a brand consultant. I work with fashion brands to help tell their stories either through creative directing, photo shoots, creating content for them, helping them scale their business or creating visual assets. So that’s photo shoots and social content catalog believe it or not. Yes, it still exists on layouts for their digital platforms and I keep them focused on their customer and the story that they’re telling. And that obviously affects their bottom line, which is sales, which is where rubber meets the road. So a goal is always to help them grow their sales.
Brandon: You mentioned the idea of helping them tell their story and stay focused on the marketing and branding side of things. What the most important element in a story when you’re working with clients?
Tamiko: So I work with lifestyle brands, whether it’s an accessory brand, athleisure or ready-to-wear jewelry. And the most important element is to know who you’re talking to. I find that, of course, you want everyone to buy it, but you have to be really clear about who your customer is. I found that often people believe their customer is one person. And then when we do some of the back-end due diligence, like reviewing your sales, looking at their social and who’s actually responding. After looking at the stores or their web business, they find out, wow, that’s not who I thought it was. And then once we know that, that information informs everything else we do. It informs even the words we use in posting a photo on Instagram. It influences where you post, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram or Pinterest. It informs the times that you post. Are these people that work or do they work for themselves? Are they on their social at night? So all those things are really valuable. And that’s the most important thing because, the truth is, it doesn’t matter how great your product is. It doesn’t matter if you get all the four Ps of marketing in the right place. If you don’t know who you’re talking to, they don’t know you exist, they can’t buy it. And that is what it’s going to keep you in business.
Brandon: That’s a very good point and something I’ve noticed in my own practice. I’m curious, when you are working with clients, and you’re going through this entire process, do you have more clients that say “yeah, this is exactly who we thought they were.” Or do you have more clients that say, “I can’t believe this is my customer. I never thought that this would be the market”?
Tamiko: The latter, believe it or not. And also a lot of times, people design for who they are. But often who we are and how we perceive ourselves is not really how we’re perceived. I even ask them, ask your friends, ask your family how they perceive you. And a lot of times they come back and they say, “wow, I thought they looked at me this way,” or “I felt, I portrayed this characteristic and they look at me more as an authority or they look at me more of a leader. I thought I was actually someone who kind of was passive and went with the group, so I thought my style was this way.” And so with that said it, it requires a lot of introspection. But I do help the bulk of my customers with this. I really help them shine the light on those areas.
Brandon: Now, the fact that you’ve done so many different things within the business and you’ve had the opportunity to learn, I’m sure, many things from all of those different activities. What’s been the most profound takeaway that you’ve gained from so much experience across the business?
Tamiko: The most profound takeaway actually has been there’s no shortage of creativity, especially in the fashion industry. Whether it’s on the merchandising style set side, whether you’re a stylist, a buyer, a blogger, there is no shortage of creativity. However, I have found that there is a real disconnect between the creatives and the understanding of the business side of fashion and what it takes to maintain and grow a business. Everyone can start a business, but maintaining a fashion business and then scaling it are two of the most challenging parts of the industry. People usually can do it for a short time. Or they get in, they get in over their heads and they realize that a sample line is going to cost them $17,000, four times a year. And that marketing is going to be the lion’s share of their budget.
People think it’s so exciting and it’s fun and it’s fashion and fashion shows, but that’s a marketing budget. And then what happens after the fashion show? Are you ready to go to sales? Are you ready to do what the purpose of the fashion show is? And it’s been perceived by so many as entertainment. It’s also the culture we live in, the fashion show fun, but the fashion show is a huge marketing component of your fashion business and there’s a lot of work after the show. So it’s not just about the show. find there’s a disconnect between people understanding the business side of it. And in all fairness, there hasn’t been a lot of access to the information, which is why I wrote the book that I wrote.
There are a lot of fields and industries you can research and find out about. But with fashion it seemed for some reason – I’m not exactly sure why, but it’s been such a closed-door industry to people outside of the demographic of New York and outside of a major urban or contemporary cities and hubs. People just don’t know, they don’t know. Because of technology, now more and more people are exercising their desire to be in fashion. But like I said, they don’t know the business side of things. Fashion is a business just like Hollywood is a business. These things are businesses first, and everything you do in fashion is strategy as well. Everything you do in the fashion business that is successful is strategized, is planned, well thought out, is well-financed and then is also reviewed at the end to identify where you fell short. And then you do it again. And then on top of everything else, Brandon, it moves at a lightning pace. So there’s a lot going on in the industry, and people can be successful. I think it’s a wonderful, fun, amazing industry. You’ve just got to know what you’re doing.
Brandon: Do you think it’s possible – going to the numbers side of things for a second – do you think it’s possible for young brands to get started and create a business on a shoestring and almost fall into that dream and find success, or is it really a pay to play type of business?
Tamiko: Anything’s possible, right. So I’m a huge believer of that from a spiritual metaphysical side. Anything’s possible. And that does trickle into my business. I believe anything’s possible. I’m a creative, and I’ve been in front of the camera – I’m still in front of the camera. I’m also a business head. So I would never quelch anyone’s dreams and say, Oh, you don’t have money. Don’t do it. That, you’ll never hear that from me. However, again, I think it’s important to research the industry you want to be in. Learn what’s required to be successful – money – and then make a decision based on that.
Brandon: Let’s move for a second to the consumer. Because you mentioned earlier in the interview that brands need to know exactly who their customer is and how to sell to them, how to appeal to them. And, over the years, obviously, the definition of what a fashion consumer is, has changed. How have you seen that concept develop over the time you’ve been in the business?
Tamiko: I’ve been in the business many, many years, so I do have myriad experience in seeing how the consumer has evolved. So can I also just really be honest? The consumer has also in a large way stayed the same, and I’ll tell you why. I started out in luxury, which I’m so grateful for. I started out at Neiman Marcus, and I was an assistant manager there during my college years. I also was a model, and I did trunk shows at stores like Neiman Marcus. I started out in luxury so I had a really interesting perspective on how people shopped, right? What that customer wanted. And when I look back now, a large part of it was customer service, and that’s what you’re taught when you’re on the retail side of it. But the other side of it too, I learned as I got more experienced in the industry is people wanted a reliable product.
So the reason you purchased St John or David Yurman was because you knew what you were going to get; it was consistent. But then also a service came along with making those purchases, from tailoring to repairs, et cetera. So all those were pieces of the puzzle. I believe that’s why they put a Nieman Marcus at Hudson Yards in New York City in 2019. There’s never been a Neiman Marcus here. And I can imagine what the rents are there, but that speaks to the fact that the customer that wants service quality and is willing to pay for it still here. Okay, now, let’s add technology. And again, the truth is, I don’t think anyone in the fashion industry has really figured it out. I think people are still trying to understand if there’s real value in still having market weeks and fashion weeks, or do people want to buy now? See now, buy now layaways are coming back and they have all these pay later options.
I do think technology has opened the floodgates to access to all different categories of fashion: luxury, fast fashion, et cetera. And fast fashion has given access to trends that used to only be available at the luxury level. So you have a little bit of trickle down and a little bit of trickle up. But, in that, I do believe between shall meet. I do believe in the middle, that there’s a consumer that can have a little bit of both. And it doesn’t mean that either industry will completely die. My personal opinion is no, it doesn’t mean that everyone’s trying to figure out where the chips may fall. But I believe that there are brands that will still survive because they know their customer base. As long as they deliver, they can survive because that consumer still wants what she wants.
So let’s take a millennial that’s grown up on fast fashion and wants what’s trending. Only wants to spend $20 on it, and doesn’t care that she doesn’t have it for three seasons. She doesn’t need it because three summers from now it won’t be on-trend. I believe that consumer will eventually, with age, become the consumer that shops at Neiman’s because I think consumption evolves just like we do. The consumer now is smarter, brighter, has more access. Never before did you shop, well you didn’t have one, but now I was in Target the other day. There was a girl in line behind me with her phone and she was scanning the barcode of everything in her cart. And because I am who I am, I’m doing market research as well as shopping. I said, “what are you doing?”
She said, “well, I’m just looking for it on Amazon Prime. I’m looking for it to see if it’s going to be cheaper on Amazon.” And I was like, yes, I love that. Not because, oh, I can save money. But I love how a consumer thinks, because now I can teach the brands that I work with how to speak to her because she’s smarter, she wants more, she wants something specific. And I think it’s about tweaking your storytelling because she’s still there, that consumer, she still wants what she wants. You just have to know where she is and how to talk to her.
Brandon: Do you feel that at some point we’re going to hit peak saturation in terms of the amount of fashion in the industry and the consumer’s ability to…well, take it all in and purchase it?
Tamiko: I think the answer to that question is kind of loaded. As long as humans have desires, we will never reach saturation. And it’s physiological humanness, if that’s even a phrase, as long as we have a desire. I think food follows the same trajectory as long as we evolve. I mean, you can look historically and, as long as our needs change and our lives change, we will always need apparel and products and consumer goods to manage, maintain and meet those needs. So, the answer to me on a primal level is no.
On a specific, trend or product category level, we already see that trends come in, everyone buys a fanny pack and now no one wants a fanny pack. Everyone buys a backpack and now you don’t need a backpack. You know what I mean. I think we will always reach saturation, and that’s just the cycle of fashion goods. Any fashion good or food can actually follow a fashion cycle. Like, remember how popular kale was? I still eat kale at least three times a week. But remember everything was kale two years ago? And then it was turmeric and everything was turmeric and, and so foods even follow that. Again, I think it’s more driven by our demands and our lifestyle. And as long as we are human, as long as we are alive, and as long as we have a human population, I don’t think we’ll reach saturation. The kind of goods will shift, and that’s just the nature of the fashion cycle in my opinion.
Brandon: What do you think about the public perception, at least the perception within the industry, that a good segment of the market is moving back to the slow fashion movement and the idea of investing in fewer pieces, but pieces that will longer. Is this a real trend in your mind, or is it something that we’ve kind of made up in the industry and the actual consumer is very different?
Tamiko: A little bit of both. I think that, again, everything follows a cycle. And so fast fashion became really popular the last several years, was driven by a millennial culture that didn’t know life before technology. And now those millennials, guess what? They’re getting a little older and they have real jobs now and don’t want to. And when I say real jobs, they have jobs with actual salaries that they actually may stay in for three years. And with that said, you don’t want to have to shop because of the trend of experiences, people want to spend money on experiences. You want to spend money on other things as you start to mature. And so you don’t want to have to buy a white blouse or a black suit or a pair of Khakis every single time the seasons change.
It’s much better to buy one. And with that said, you may have to pay a little more for it. So I do think, again, it’s cyclical. I do think that the consumer, he or she evolves because you grow with age, your needs change. By the time you’re in your, whatever age you are. I don’t even like to give it an age because I don’t think demographics follow that. I think demographic marketing has shifted to more of a psychographic. But the more you move into a different phase of your life, your demands change. So your demands are different than if you have a full-time job and you work in an office place. Your lifestyle needs are different than someone who works from home.
You buy different clothes. Once you start having children or you buy a home, your disposable income starts going into your home. So the way you purchase clothes changes your thinking. You’re thinking, do I want to buy clothes every season? You don’t even have the bandwidth, between taking care of kids and maintaining your own health, trying to get to the gym. If you’re married or you have a partner and you’re socializing and traveling, shopping is the last thing you want to do. So then you spend smarter. If you are going to go shop, you’re going to buy something you don’t have to think about when you wear it. I truly believe there’s a movement for that, and I’m a big advocate of it. And I’m working on some other projects right now that will support that. I believe it’s important to have a smart wardrobe, and I believe that’s going to transcend all demo and psychographics. I truly believe that. I believe that we have a smart home. You have a smartphone and now you need a smart wardrobe.
Brandon: You mentioned before that for the brands that you work with, more often than not, who they think is their customer is not their customer. It’s some other market segment. Are there any other big misconceptions that brands have about their customers in a general sense?
Tamiko: I’d have to think about that. Well, actually, I’d have to say I think one of the biggest misconceptions is about brand loyalty. And I think this varies from brand to brand, but I do believe, and we’ve seen that in the media, especially with larger brands having real mishaps about some of their storytelling. I think that brands sometimes don’t realize how culturally sensitive their market is. And we’ve seen that – you know with the products and the Gucci’s – we’ve seen a real disconnect between storytelling. Or H&M with the monkey on the shirt. We’ve seen a disconnect with brands moving at a lightning pace to produce and get things out and not really considering the sensitivity of their customer, their audience and their consumer.
I would say actually that’s a huge misconception because, like I said, she’s here, she is smarter, she is conscious. People buy into brands now not because you’re a legacy brand. People are buying into brands now because of what you stand for. Again, that speaks to what I said. The difference now is, instead of demographics where you just targeted a woman that was 34 to 45 and made $200K or more, now you’re targeting someone who has a really strong commitment to her personal wellness, believes in living a greener lifestyle. It’s much more about a lifestyle and choices and how and what a brand represents, and what a brand means and how a brand speaks to its audience. That’s what’s affecting and informing people’s purchasing decisions. And I think when brands don’t understand that they start to have real hiccups. And nowadays, because there is so much access to information, a hiccup can cost you a whole season for a lot of fashion companies. That can be the difference between making it and staying open or closing your doors.
Brandon: Especially in the early days.
Tamiko: Yeah, especially in the early days.
Brandon: Now, the first time we chatted, you had a line that you gave me, a mantra of sorts, that you sell by listening. You sell by listening. And I really liked that. That jumped out at me. Why is that so important for fashion brands?
Tamiko: So that, actually, I can absolutely not take any credit for. That was from my business mentor, Ashley Ann. And the first time she said that it dropped down in me, and I’ve held onto that like a curtain on a curtain rod. The reason is that listening tells you what your consumer wants. That’s your story. And I use that across all platforms. Again, like I said, I’m in front of the camera and behind the camera. So whether I’m, doing a voiceover, whether I’m creative directing a photo shoot for a brand and merchandising the looks, I merchandise the looks based on their consumer, who she is, what her life is like. Listen to her. And listening nowadays can also just be visual. Listening can be going on her social page and looking at what’s important to her because social media is so great in that sense.
Specifically, Instagram because Instagram is not necessarily truth. People post on Instagram what’s important to them. So whether it’s their meal or whether it’s them working out, it shows their value system. And that’s the way I look at Instagram. I don’t look at Instagram as, oh, this person has an amazing life. I look at what their value system is. That’s because that’s what people subconsciously put on Instagram for the most part. So when you look at what they post on their social media, you find out what their value system is. And then you speak to that because that’s what clothes do. Clothes and fashion products speak to your value system. So if my value system was that I worked out and I really loved my body, then I wear more fitted – especially for men – I wear a muscle shirt or then I wear things that show my arms because I work on them.
If I’m an exotic dancer and I make my money that way, then my clothes will represent that. And you will see that on my Instagram. If I am a beauty aficionado and I love all beauty products, you will see that on my Instagram, and my clothes or my fashion products will represent that. So I listen with my eyes to what the customer or the target customer “is.” And “is” says that their social and their purchasing habits and what they talk about tells me where I fit in their life, where this brand, where the brand I’m working with, where it fits in their life, if at all.
Brandon: You referenced it earlier, you’ve got a book called Careers in the Fashion Industry. Could you tell us a little bit more about why you chose to write it first of all?
Tamiko: Sure. So I actually wrote Careers in the Fashion Industry because after I listened several times to my mentors say, you sell by listening. I listened to one of my frequently asked questions and the frequently asked question was, I want to be in fashion, but I don’t know what to do. My daughter wants to be in fashion, but I don’t know how to guide her. And my sister, cousin, brother in law, nephew loves fashion but doesn’t know what to do. What should they do? And for me, again, that translated to, I love fashion. I’m not a designer, right? Because that’s the obvious go-to, a designer or a stylist. So if you’re a designer or a stylist, you typically don’t have that question.
So that means you have a skill set outside of the two most known and most popular skill sets, and you don’t know how to utilize it to create a profitable career in the fashion industry. That’s what that meant to me. So I started saying, hmm, if I had $5 for every time I got that question, DM Inbox, message on Facebook, or text message from a friend I went to high school with. If I could answer that, how would I answer that? And the reason I did it in a glossary style guide to jobs in fashion is that I wanted people to really be able to use it as a reference book. It’s not a fiction book or it’s not a fashion magazine. It is a glossary guide to jobs in the fashion business by industry, design, production, merchandising, marketing – and it literally defines what the job is and what skill set is required for that job.
And the reason, again, why I did it is because I wanted the mom who has a child that has skills in fashion to be able to look through it and say, “oh my, you know what? She really does like sewing and maybe a designer is not what she wants to be. But she can be a pattern maker or she can be a sewer. She can be a sample maker.” Or someone, say, has a daughter who loves writing. And she also loves fashion, but she doesn’t want to be in front of the camera, and she doesn’t want to be the face of a brand. She can be a fashion journalist.
Or someone could say, “oh, I thought I wanted to be a buyer because that’s what I’ve always heard is the best job in fashion. But guess what? I suck at math and I don’t even like math. So maybe it’s a merchandiser where I get to really be creative on the floor or maybe it’s a visual merchandiser and I can actually put clothes together.” I wanted someone to be able to look at all the things that they could do within fashion with myriad skill sets. I wanted someone in her second career, she’s 55 and she says, I always loved fashion and I have a human resource or an accounting background. How do I get into fashion? And you can go in and say, “oh, you know what? I can be an accountant for a fashion brand. Or I could even start a business where I am an independent accountant. People are creating All these online fashion stores and they don’t have the time to do the back end. I can help them with that.” And that’s not only why I wrote it, it’s also why I laid it out the way I did.
Brandon: Very good. And how do people get a copy? I guess Amazon – all roads point to Amazon nowadays.
Tamiko: All roads point to Amazon, but they also point to my website. Those are the roads we really like. and I’m at www.tamikowhite.com.
Brandon: Alright, perfect Tamiko. Thank you very much for sharing information on your book. And that’s a great place to end the interview. I would like to thank you for being on today. It’s really been a fascinating conversation.
Tamiko: Thank you. Thank you for having me. I love having these conversations, and I really appreciate you guys having me on your show.