Not-so-average: Sharon Lawrence – Senior Sales Executive
When asked ‘who are you,’ Sharon Lawrence didn’t give the usual answer - her name, or even her job title. She gave us insight into who she is as a person. Lawrence describes herself as a 53-year-old Caribbean American, African American woman with a “make it happen” attitude. She added that she’s a person who has worked in the fashion industry for over 35 years.
There’s more to the fashion industry than jobs in designing or styling. Like any other sector, fashion is a business so there’s a space and a job for everyone. That includes a person who loves math, a person who solely loves to shop or a business-minded individual.
The word “everyone” doesn’t just refer to those who have different interests or job titles, but also those of a different race or gender. We’ve decided to highlight how diverse the fashion industry is, could be, and should be with a series of stories on Black professionals with not-so-average fashion careers.
How did you get to work in fashion?
Unlike most, Lawrence’s journey doesn’t start with attending a fashion school. Growing up she made her own clothes with her mother, and in high school she began modeling in school fashion shows, and producing school fashion shows. When a friend told Lawrence about her journalism internship, Lawrence realized she could also become a fashion intern.
As a result she started interning at a showroom called Jeffery’s Room in 1987 at the age of 16, which turned out to be her fashion education. She stayed with the company for seven years allowing her to watch Jeffery’s Room grow from a startup company into a public company. “There was a lot of growth in between that,” Lawrence said. After Jeffrey’s Room she moved on to Smash, an LA-based company specializing in novelty tops where Lawrence became their eastcoast Head of Office. She explained that it was just her and her assistant in the showroom selling to stores, but remembers it as “one of my greatest jobs.” In addition to being one of her greatest jobs, Lawrence said it’s also the job that made her a textiles person and that this has helped make her a better sales executive today. After almost four years with Smash, Lawrence moved on to Jordache, well known for its jeans in the 80s and 90s, which is where she started her journey as a sales executive.
What’s your current fashion job?
Fast forward to today, and you’ll find Lawrence working as a senior sales executive and brand manager under her consulting brand Garmento Lab, founded in 2010. Through her business, Lawrence has worked with clients such as Fleet Street and her most current client, Lousie Paris. In addition to her duties at Garmento Lab, Lawrence also has an ecommerce business called Haute Sauce & Honey. Lawrence said she enjoys her work because she has the opportunity to express both sides of her brain – the creative side as well as the analytical side. “I really do like what I do, [she likes] the business element [of course there are] hurdles that come with it. It’s a part of [any job],” Lawrence explained. But, “I get to meet a lot of people, I get to be creative and I get to do business. So I get to do a lot of different things, it’s not a monotonous, same routine job.”
What does an average work day look like?
Every day is different, and every day requires a different task. From working on a photoshoot to working with numbers, Lawrence experiences all sides of the fashion industry through her work.
As a sales executive and brand manager, Lawrence works six months in advance to when the merchandise hits the stores. The timeline of her work goes as follows: She works closely with the designer to trend shop, color forecast, and competitive shop. This allows them to see what outwear trends are popular and what direction would be best for the collection.
“So for outerwear right now what’s popular is a lot of puffer jackets, faux leather jackets, the whole curly wool plaid coats, trench coats, denim jackets, varsity jackets,” she said. “What’s in the stores now is what’s trending…but those trends will continue into next year. The colors may change, or the style may be updated a little.”
Lawrence explains that the shopping takes place everywhere. She shops on Pinterest, online, Walmart, Forever 21, etc. She also watches and takes photos of people on the street to see what they’re wearing. Once the team knows their direction, they either design it and have it made at a factory or they express what they’re looking for and the factory sends what’s in their library. Each sample includes the style number, the fabric it’s made from, and the FOB (Free on Board, ed.) price. Next the line is put together by looking at what was found from research, what the factories sent over, as well as what the designer wants specifically - color, length, linings, zippers, and more. Lawrence added that the line is built by category and laid out on a line sheet that shows each product on paper. Once the line sheet is finished, Lawrence emails it to buyers and they meet in person or virtually to make selections. This process is usually conducted during Market Week.
After buyers have made their decisions, Lawrence then starts to negotiate pricing which includes factoring in her client’s line prices and the buyer’s company’s markup structure. “It’s a back and forth negotiation between me, design, the factory, and then production,” Lawrence explained. Sometimes this includes changing the garment to lower the price. After this, Lawrence collects the orders and puts them through to manufacturers starting the production process. During production they are making patterns, making sure things fit properly, making sure the quality is right, ensuring things get boxed and labeled correctly, and more. Within three to six months - depending on whether garments are produced domestically or internationally - the line is finished and ready to sell.
A word of career advice
For those who want to become a sales executive in the fashion industry, or who are currently working their way up the ladder, Lawrence wants you to know that every store buys by category – knits, woven, active wear, etc. She added that there’s a separate buyer that buys for each of those categories in the larger stores. “So, you really have to know your calendar on getting the process started and finished because the calendar for outerwear is different [than] the calendar for swimwear [and] different than the calendar for ready-to-wear,” Lawrence said.
She added that something she realized, and something to remember, is that “middle America is the main customer, that’s millions and millions of people.” Lawrence also emphasizes the importance of having thick skin when working in the industry.
“That’s the [most] basic I can get,” said Lawrence. “Your boss can bring you to tears, different people at the office can push your buttons, the buyers’ rejection – you have to have a quick comeback and not so quick to [take] no for an answer, you’re trying to make things happen as a mediator between the owner and the buyer. I find myself in that position a lot.” She continued to say that there can be competitiveness within the industry which is why Lawrence gives back to interns and young people. But she only helps those who help themselves. “If you want something you have to really do your homework, do the work,” Lawrence said. “A lot of people think there’s shortcuts, that you can just get in and get on, but you have to really understand the business. If you really want to do something, the more you help yourself people will want to help you. And that’s who I help.”