“How I’m Making It” is a new feature where we interview young people making a living in the fashion industry and pick their brains about how they got there.
First up, 24-year-old LA-based designer Donna Mizani. Mizani designed her first collection for her eponymous line in 2008, and debuted at Harvey Nichols Hong Kong in 2009 when she was 22. Now you can find her collection at Kitson, Revolve Clothing, and she just shipped to Nordstrom’s.
I always wanted to be in fashion ever since elementary school. I never thought about doing anything else. We had career day and everyone had to come dressed as what they wanted to be when they grew up. Everyone walks in as a teacher or a doctor or a lawyer and there I was saying that I was going to be a fashion designer and I was dressed up as a little fashionista. I wore a button-down plaid Calvin Klein mini dress, a little scarf around my neck in a bow, and a slicked back high bun. I was in fourth grade. Everyone was very confused. I think people laughed at me.
What’s your fashion background?
I moved to L.A. after I graduated high school and went to study design at FIDM. After school I met a designer through a mutual friend and she became my mentor. She introduced me to a private label designer who needed an assistant. I started as her intern – it was my first real job in the industry. I started out getting coffee but sometimes she asked me to help her out on a few projects and she was really impressed by my design skill level so she promoted to associate designer. I worked with her for about 2 years and we designed for Nordstrom’s and Macy’s and JCPenney’s. That’s where I learned everything about the business.
What was your big break?
I would say my break was when I was 20 and working as a designer for that private label and I got a job offer from our competitor – a company called Flourish. They offered me a head sportswear designer position and I took it. It was a lot of work. I was managing a team of cutters, sewers, and essentially managing pre-production. I worked there for almost two years and it just got really repetitive. I was designing for the junior market and I always wanted to do contemporary.
I didn’t want to quit with nothing lined up. So I started my line while working full time. I worked during the day and designed Donna Mizani at night. Then I took some time off from work, flew to New York, met with a couple showrooms, and found a showroom that wanted to rep my line. I got my first few orders within that week. Even after I got my first orders and told my dad, “I think this is really happening,” he said, “Nope.” He still didn’t want me to quit my job. So I got to a point where i was juggling both jobs and I just couldn’t do it anymore. So I quit.
How did people react when you told them you were starting your own line?
I think the only person who believed in me at first was my mom. Everyone told me I was crazy and that I was too young. They told me “We’re in a recession, you have an amazing job.” I didn’t listen to anyone and I quit it anyway.
What’s the ballsiest thing you’ve ever done for your career?
Quitting. People worked for years and years to get where I was but I left because I believed in my line and I knew it was going to work. And then after I quit I had no choice – I had to make it work. I moved out of my apartment and moved in with my mom and worked out of my mom’s kitchen for the first six months. My mom eventually kicked me out because I turned her kitchen into a factory and now I have my own headquarters.
After that, I would have to say dropping out of FIDM after two years was pretty ballsy. I just couldn’t stand the fact that I was sitting in the classroom for so long–I wanted to get out and do it. My parents flipped out and didn’t speak to me because the only reason they let me move to L.A. was for school. But I’m not a school girl – I want to work. I have a really strong work ethic and I’ve always made my own money. I go to bed by 1 a.m. and I’m up at 5 a.m. I can’t sit still.
Who has helped you the most along the way?
First, my parents – without their support i wouldn’t have anything. And then Jane Kim, my sales rep at my showroom, Aaron Matthews. It was just me, knocking on doors, making cold calls to try to get a showroom to rep me. When I walked into Aaron Matthews and met Jane, I knew it was where I wanted to be. We had this immediate chemistry, and the way she talked about my line, I could tell she really believed in it. Jane got me into Kitson and she also got my clothes on AnnaLynne McCord
What are your biggest challenges now?
I make mistakes every single day. I love that I make them because that’s how I learn. I put in an order of 2000 yards of fabric for spring – and when the fabric came in I had only 3 weeks to cut and sew and it came in the wrong color. So I figured out a solution – i sent it to a dye house and dyed it to the right color. Just yesterday we shipped the wrong sizing to a store.
Where do you see yourself in five years?
I want to be a brand that people know and like. Eventually I want to have my own runway shows, and be in big department stores. I want to keep reinventing.