Failing Publicly and Being Present with Fashion Designer Carrie Hammer
In partnership with Undiscovered Worth, we are publishing a series of interviews over the next few weeks with radical women about universally relatable topics like failure, self-care, identity, and more. We are psyched to be collaborating with Kashara Johnson of Undiscovered Worth—make sure to visit her space and follow along with her special work.
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New York City based fashion designer Carrie Hammer, of Role Models Not Runway Models, has been credited for jumpstarting the body positive movement within the fashion industry. In this special series, she discusses entrepreneurship, the fear associated with failing publicly, and being present with Kashara Johnson.
Can you tell me about some of the struggles that you go through as a female entrepreneur?
Oh yea! There are so many struggles. Are you kidding? I started a fashion line with no fashion experience. I screwed up so many things and continue to screw up. One really specific example was the first time that I ever got written up in a magazine. It was InStyle. They asked for a jacket and it was for their one plus sized page. Everyone that I knew was freaking out and was like "Oh my god! You're going to sell like hundreds of thousands dollars worth of stuff." So I ordered $15,000 worth of inventory of that jacket on my credit card figuring that for sure it would all sell. It ended up being photographed in the magazine so that you couldn't really see the detail of the jacket and how cute it was. I only sold like four jackets and I was devastated.
How did you bounce back from that?
I learned to never do that again (laughs). You just have to figure it out. It was a bad mistake. Sometimes you can put yourself out of business doing things like that. Luckily, I didn't go out of business, but it put me in a really bad spot. I just learned don't do that again. It's totally funny now looking back.
So I've talked to a lot of people about failure. One person in particular said that he doesn't consider anything he does in life as a failure and more of an opportunity for growth, which I thought was really interesting. What are your general thoughts on failure?
I think that is a very optimistic view. I wish that I was that smart because I know intellectually that is the case, but for me failure is emotional. I don't like to "fail". So much of my life I've been good at things whether academically and in my career. In entrepreneurship, you lose a lot. You certainly don't always win and if you are always winning then you are not reaching high enough. It's great if you can shift your attitude and that's probably the right thing to do, but I haven't always done a great job of that.
People oftentimes struggle to bounce back or have the courage to try again after failing. What do you tell yourself as encouragement to push through and continue on in your journey?
You have to forgive yourself. I think that the most important thing is keeping your eyes on the horizon and knowing what the longterm goal is. Just because you lose this one doesn't mean that the longterm goal isn't still there, you just have to find another way. That's what happens in startups. You have to reroute.
In creating your business, I'm sure there was some fear associated with the risk to start it. How were you able to conquer the fear of risk?
My fear wasn't really the risk and more of the fear of failing publicly. I wasn't afraid of succeeding or not succeeding, but I was afraid of losing in front of my peers and looking bad or stupid. I know that's not the mature or cool thing to say, but that's always my fear - what others think. You're not supposed to say that, but it's the truth. We always say not to worry about what other people think, but that's the human condition. We care.
I think the more we figure out what it is that we want for our lives, the less we care about what other people think. The reason we care about what other people think is because we're unsure of what we want.
That's very true and I can definitely identify with that. Fearing judgement from others is so real, but I have realized that as I progress in life I don't care as much.
Yea, because now you've kind of figured out what you want. At the beginning of my business, I cared a lot about what others thought because I was unsure, but as a grew more sure and more confident, I started caring less.
I am like you in that I am always trying to move forward, trying to be bigger, and trying to do more, but I never give myself credit for the things that I've done. I never pause or pat myself on the back, but continuing that leads to a really unsatisfied life. Everyone else around you will be really impressed and excited for you and your accomplishments, but the only one who won't be is you. When you accomplish something, take a step back and appreciate it. Life is very complicated and can be very difficult so when you have a win celebrate it.
Do you ever struggle with imposter syndrome?
Yes, sometimes, but less so recently. My thought is that the proof is in the pudding. I've accomplished a lot. I actually do something every year where I write down everything I did throughout the year. It's my "2016 Shit List". I look back at those list and I'm like, "Wow! I actually did a lot!" It's easy for everything to blend together and feel like I'm not really moving or progressing.
Do you have any advice for someone starting out in a new endeavor?
I do and it's really simple advice, but it's also really profound advice. I'm really pulling a page out of the Nike book. The advice is just do it. Literally the hardest part of starting my business was deciding to start it. It goes back to what we were talking about earlier. By saying, "Hey! I'm doing 'X'!," to all of my friends and family that meant that I also would possibly have to admit publicly that I've failed. I had to get over that big mental hurdle and that was the most difficult thing for me.
Once you do it everything is easier because you've drawn that line in the sand and committed.
Okay. I'm going to ask a super basic question. What would be your advice to your 23-year old self?
I moved to New York from LA when I was 23 and I didn't know anyone. I was really lonely when I first moved here. My advice would be to slow down in every way. You'll get there. Enjoy the people you're meeting. Enjoy the things you're doing.
Life goes by really quickly so it's important that we enjoy it and are present to it while we're going through it. I always say that I live my life fast forwarded 3x. I don't think I'll ever live my life in regular play mode, but fast forward 1x is okay.
Any other thoughts relating to failure?
It's okay to not always win in the way that you thought you were going to, but just know that it's not a failure. It's just not the way that you planned and it just means that it's meant to go a different way. Roll with the punches. Enjoy it and see what happens next because it could mean that you're meant for something bigger, more fun, or more interesting.