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Careers in fashion is a hot topic here at FashionUnited. Recently, we interviewed Joanna Herrick, the Director of Showroom Experience and Operations for Santa Monica-based start-up, The Black Tux. Established in 2013, TBT is a premium online suit and tuxedo rental company founded by Andrew Blackmon and Patrick Coyne, longtime friends who, while preparing for Andrew’s wedding, saw an opportunity to create an alternative to traditional tuxedo and suit rental outlets. The Black Tux offers customers the most modern, high-quality products with its own exclusive designs at an affordable price.
What does a director of showroom experience and operations in fashion and retail do?
High level, my position owns the end to end success of our showrooms. This includes process efficiencies, employee satisfaction and development, inventory strategy, growth and sales strategies, innovation, etc. All of these feed into the goal of achieving an optimal customer experience, which is the North Star for all of our company decisions.
Where are you based and do you travel often for your job as TBT’s Director of Showroom Experience and Operations?
This really varies depending on the week. Our HQ is in Santa Monica, CA, but we have showrooms all across the country. I am based out of our Chicago showroom, and travel to CA and our other showrooms regularly. My days are pretty consistent between Chicago and Santa Monica, but if I’m out in a store then it’s really different. Since the showroom is the focus, I move any meetings possible and spend the day in fittings and meeting with the store associates to understand any challenges facing them. It’s also important for me to connect with customers when I am in each location to learn about their experience.
What does a typical workday look like for you?
I’m a get up and go person. I wake up naturally and get to work. If I’m in Chicago that means a commute. When traveling I just stay on Chicago time, which helps me perform because I don’t get tired from jet lag. This means in Santa Monica I’m up really early, so I get to walk by the ocean with my coffee before the city wakes up. It’s a beautiful way to start the day.
Once I’m in the showroom (or wherever I’m working from), I start by checking our numbers from the day before and how we’re tracking for the month. Then I dive into new emails and review my priority list and meetings for the day.
My afternoons are often filled with meetings of all sorts. Examples might be a touch base with a team member, team meetings, learning about a new tech roll out, inventory planning with our merchandise team, etc. Right now there are a lot of conversations happening around the execution of our 2020 initiatives. Unless I’m in Santa Monica, I dial into these remotely over video.
I had to learn over the years to protect personal time. My instinct is to be the first one in and the last one out. I’d be checking emails all night and weekend. The reality is that I’m better at what I do when I have balance. Our team knows if there is anything urgent they can always text me and I’ll jump right in. And of course, if there is a big project or deadline, I do what I need to do. But generally speaking, I try to leave it be until the next day. I cook dinner and eat with my family. My husband and I go for a long walk when the weather permits, or I read.
What is your professional background and how did you become the Director of Showroom Experience and Operations at The Black Tux?
I had an unusual path into menswear. My first profession was as an orchestral French horn player. As you can imagine, it wasn’t exactly a stable career. In my late 20’s I decided to make a change and knew apparel was my other passion. I got a back of house job with an amazing menswear store in Portland, OR called Michael Allen’s and fell in love. Because the business was small, I got quick exposure to all aspects of the industry, including sales. Michael taught me everything I needed to know to continue to progress in my career.
From there I moved on to run operations for the custom clothing and tailoring divisions of Trunk Club. That allowed me to take what I’d learned with Michael Allen’s and scale it, all setting me up for the great position I have now at The Black Tux.
Can you share any memorable moments from working in fashion?
The most shaping experiences of my career have been in the factories. Witnessing a suit being constructed from scratch informs everything else you know about fitting and making your customers happy. I’ve been to factories in Asia and the US. I’ve seen mass production, and I’ve watched something get draped and sewn by hand.
It’s great to understand the impact of production on a garment’s quality, and the experience the customer will have wearing it. The most nuanced of adjustments to a pattern can massively shift the fit and feel. The knowledge I gained on those trips helped me improve as both an operator and as a salesperson. I’ve been fortunate to have employers and vendor relationships that were very supportive of my development.
Do you have any advice you’d like to give to your younger self?
I wish I could have understood early on in my management years the power of letting your guard down—really being human with your team. There is definitely a fine line to walk; getting too personal with your team can create a host of other issues. But when you’re real and they know it, they trust you and teamwork flourishes.
One of my favorite pieces of advice is: “Don’t get attached to your work, get attached to what works.” With a career in start-ups, agility and humility are crucial.
What is your must-have fashion item?
A classic black pump (mine are patent leather Via Spiga) can be your workhorse where you expect it, but also take good jeans and a nice shirt from day to night in a pinch. I’m also very into high waisted pants. It adds a dimension of femininity to a tailored look.
Photos: courtesy of Joanna Herrick, courtesy of The Black Tux