Fashion Expert Flora Brunetti is Back: On Teaching, Mentoring, and Taking Good Risks
Adjunct Instructor Flora Brunetti is a multi-talented artist with an expertise in fashion, journalism, and academia. She sat down with us to talk about her life teaching in both Chicago and New York, her perspective on navigating COVID, and her advice for students interested in carving out their own paths to success.
You have an interesting background in Communications, Journalism, and Fashion. What first sparked your interest in these areas?
When you look at the content of communications, marketing, and journalism you see a lot of similarities because you are in some way or another telling a story. You want to engage, entertain and maybe in the end sell something. I always knew I wanted to go into fashion, and my goal was to work in fashion media. I chose Columbia because it had two programs that I wanted to eventually combine one day. Journalism and Fashion. I chose the major because I wanted to learn how to write better, then took extra courses in Fashion Journalism and fashion business to learn about the industry.
How do you see the worlds of Fashion and Journalism intersecting?
I believe that if you look at it in a broader view such as fashion media, you can still enter the industry in many ways and still be able to write about fashion. I see a lot of students being interested in both industries and I think as long as you get the skills needed to write well, you can choose the industry you are most interested in. For me, I always tend to navigate towards jobs that focus on building content, educating and telling a creative story. I feel lucky enough that I was able to always stay in the apparel/retail world in order to do that.
Coming out of school, what was the job-searching environment like for you? How did you overcome challenges as they presented themselves to you?
I think when I was in school, the market had more jobs, and it was easier to get interviews. I was fortunate to have the opportunity in my senior year at Columbia to get an interview at Conde Nast in New York. I was so excited, but quickly learned that it takes a whole lot of money, grit and determination to make it in New York, and I just wasn’t ready both financially and mentally. I knew at that age I wouldn’t survive, but I did not give up on the industry. I chose to look for jobs closer to home that I was interested in and could possibly one day lead me again to fashion journalism. I was determined however to find jobs that were in apparel and learned so many valuable skills along the way in all of my positions. I think you need to stay focused on what you want, but understand that it takes hard work to get there. I did end up moving to NYC years later, because it was always something that I was focused on. You never regret the things you tried, just the things you don’t try.
You are now teaching at Columbia as well—what is it like being back where you did your undergraduate work?
It is an interesting feeling to walk back through the halls in a place that you were once discovering your adult life. At that time, I was not so much interested in academic studies as I was working and gaining experience. I love academia, and I wish I could have spent more time focusing on school and take it more seriously, but since I had to pay for it myself, money and working while attending classes was always an issue. Whenever I have the opportunity, I continue to take classes and learn new things, so teaching helps me to keep up with the industry and develop myself both personally and professionally. It is also great to feel like I can understand a lot of what the students at Columbia are feeling, since I was exactly in their position.
What courses are you teaching?
I teach all kinds of fashion business courses, and at Columbia I have taught a social and digital media workshop, branding, fashion business start-up, trendspotting, marketing and Introduction to Fashion. I also teach for LIM College in New York in graduate studies around the same topics, but have been focusing more on Retail Management and Merchandising because I have more professional experience in that area. I find that now with my current position in Product Education at lululemon, I can build upon all the topics of the industry and bring students even more valuable information.
What do you hope students come away from your courses learning?
My hope is always to challenge them, but really to learn something new about themselves by pushing the way they think about the industry and their creative abilities within it. I don’t want students to just follow my rules and do whatever I ask them to do. I want them to show up with curiosity, and leave with something tangible that they created that they feel proud to talk about. This will help in all interviews after you finish school and it is now more important to find the place you really fit in, and show them how you are different. Just continue to do things, try things and be your own individual.
You split your time between New York and Chicago. How does life in each city help inform your work as a teacher, mentor, and marketing expert?
I think each city has its benefits and challenges both professional and personally. I grew up in Chicago, but never felt that it is going to be the place that I stay because I feel that you can grow as an individual by experiencing different places. Since I am curious about everything, I feel that for me to continue learning I want to experience what new places offer. What helps to be connected in a place like New York is that there are more opportunities and connections to make in the fashion industry there. For me, I was lucky to find really great jobs in Chicago that all related to the apparel and lifestyle industry in different roles such as marketing, merchandising and communications. I continue to grow professionally by looking at other ways I can enter the industry all over the world, but wouldn’t mind living there full-time one day again in different circumstances allowed it. I would advise everyone to look in your own city for people who are like-minded and have skills and interests related to what you want to get into.
COVID certainly threw the Fashion industry for a loop. How do you think things will be different moving forward for people interested in marketing, fashion, and e-commerce?
I think people will have to really develop their own sense of belonging and carve a path that might not have been traditional before COVID. Nothing is normal right now and I say anything goes. If we can take anything away from what is happening globally, is that while you focus on finding a career that makes you happy or that has a bigger purpose, you must also make sure to find a company that has your best interests in mind too. All industries have shifted their perspective on work-life balance and other equal opportunities for human beings. I can also say that you have to look outside of the box even more, and if you can’t get that dream job now, find something that you can learn from or that you can challenge yourself in. Work on building yourself as an individual, and other things will fall into place.
What advice do you have for students who may want to follow in your footsteps?
I am an adventurous soul and if you are willing to take risks, you might find some interesting jobs and experiences that will lead you to the place you want to be. A journey is intended so you can enjoy the little moments that could be much bigger in the long run. Go out and do as much as possible. If you want to write, write everyday even if it is for yourself. If you want to work in the apparel industry, start by understanding the retail environment. If you can, volunteer your time in various organizations, reach out to people in the industry you want to work for, and never stop being curious.