Love, Sunday is honored to shine the spotlight on career rock star and working mom, Michelle Taveras Thumpituk. Michelle's elegance, beautiful heart and pulsating ambition made me an instant fan and following her career and journey into motherhood has always been inspiring. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Michelle has been named one of Marie Claire's Top 35 Fashion Insiders Under 35. Read about Michelle's life working at a start up before they were trendy, managing a thriving career, balancing marriage and parenthood, Michelle Obama and what inspires her daily.
What is your current position? Brand Director for fashion designer Jason Wu.
Stomping Grounds? I spent half of my childhood in the Dominican Republic and half in New York City. As a kid, I was shaped by life in the South Bronx and school in Spanish Harlem. I now live with my husband and daughter in the Forest Hills section of Queens, NY. I love New York!
How did you get started in the fashion industry? My love affair with fashion started when I was very young, clothing dolls with a toy sewing machine and my grandmother's fabric scraps. I studied Fashion Design at Syracuse University where I learned how to make patterns and sew properly. When I graduated from college I interned for one of my fashion heroes at the time, Narciso Rodriguez, who designs with clean architectural lines with a sensuality that felt powerful and genuine. He had an immaculate studio on Irving Street in New York, which is where I met Jason Wu. We instantly clicked and became close friends. When Jason decided to start his own line he asked me to join him. I knew a startup was a risk but I also knew that it was a risk worth taking. I could feel it. Slowly growing over the years, I’ve done everything from design, to sales, to rolling up my sleeves and shipping our first few collections, figuring out distribution systems with our retailers and setting up the company structure. A few years after starting out, our gown was selected by Michelle Obama to be worn at the Inaugural Ball. A leading lady if there ever was one.
How did you know that you wanted to be in the fashion industry? I was always interested in the arts. Writing, music and drawing. As I got older and I got dressed every day I was instinctively attracted to the notion of transformation. Clothing became a tool to wordlessly communicate what you were about. Your clothes could comfort you, empower you and transport you. That became the driving force for me. I wanted to have a positive impact on how women felt.
Has your career mindset evolved since you first started working in this industry? Did you have any shifts in your journey? Certainly! Becoming a mother changed everything. I knew early on that I wanted a family of my own and that I had to really push myself to grow as much as possible while I still belonged to myself. At that time, my primary focus was my career. But when you become a mom you start developing multiple personalities. There is so much you want to do, but there are really only so many hours in the day. My challenge every day is to make sure that I am giving each area the right amount of focus. My career and the personal fulfillment I get from my work is a part of me that I can't, and shouldn't have to, give up. It makes me that much more whole. It allows me to be a multi-dimensional person and as a mother, that is an important value that I want to pass on to my daughter. You will have to compromise many things in life, but it is your responsibility to fight to hold on to the things that make you complete. In this way you give those around you your best self.
The notion of “having it all” is infuriating because that’s an impossible bar. If that's the aim, we will never feel like we are enough. Having a career, a marriage, children, and self is a lot to balance. Lets accept that fact and be kinder to ourselves about the reality of it. I consider myself a practical optimist but multitasking to that degree is damaging. Giving everything a thousand percent is not possible, or sustainable in the long run. This fact requires reaffirmation. As women we have to learn to be more forgiving with ourselves, as we are our own worst critics. When I start spiraling down trying to do so many things, I have to stop and remind myself to prioritize. The more I try to do at once the more diluted my contribution will be. So, I figure out what I am comfortable letting go of, and I focus my energy on the things that truly demand the best of me. Yes, that means that the pile of laundry has reached epic proportions on my dresser but I got to kick ass at work and spend quality time with my daughter and husband before passing out with all my makeup still on. Sure not ideal for my skin, but I am not going to beat myself up about it (I'll just have to try again tomorrow!).
What do you and your husband do to maintain a healthy relationship? Two full time careers and a young child takes a lot of stamina. At the end of it we just learned to be more understanding of what the other person is capable of contributing and knowing that some things will inevitably fall through the cracks. And that's okay. There has to be a lightness about things because we are all trying to do and be so much. When you have a child, nurturing a marriage becomes secondary to nurturing your children, so my biggest challenge as a wife is reminding the both of us that we need to make time for ourselves as a couple. It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day of making life happen that we neglect the need to be romantic and fall in love with each other, be in tune with one another. My husband is a huge supporter of my goals and career and he’s got my back. He makes sure things are running when my focus is set on a goal. That kind of support is critical to raising our family.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to work in the fashion industry? The job is 10% glamour and 90% grit. When I was coming up, an internship in the industry was a right of passage. Education is one thing but practical working knowledge is only solidified on the job. Yes, I was not paid. Not many interns were. But that meant you did it because you were truly passionate and I learned through practice as much as observation. It's an apprenticeship opportunity to learn a craft first hand.
What qualities do you look for when interviewing someone for a position in fashion? What would be a deal breaker? Fashion is a business and one that is saturated with a lot of options. I find that the most successful designers are not only interested in creating beautiful and functional things, but they are also interested in the nuts and bolts that will get their product to the customer. That sensibility, when applied to any area from design, to product development, to sales or distribution, is a solid foundation for a candidate. Also, take stock of your skill and personality and assess where you fit. Your natural inclinations are your best bet to finding the most successful career path. A deal breaker for me is someone who is stuck in a box as far as what their role or position entails. Going beyond your scope not only affords you an opportunity to diversify your skill set, but collaboration makes all things possible.
What inspires you daily to keep pushing forward in your career? I crave personal fulfillment, inspiration and creativity. I could not imagine doing the same thing day in and day out - I need to keep evolving.
What values and intentions do you live by? Honesty with myself. I think it's easy to get caught up in the surface of things, but not taking the time to stop and reflect on them can have a profound impact on our actions and relationships. I try to be aware of my flaws and own them. That makes it easier for me to recognize when I am behaving in a way that doesn’t resonate with who I want to be. In this way I check myself and I just keep trying to be a better person.
What are your strengths and how do you use them in your life? I trust my instincts on when to be strict and when to be flexible, which is an essential survival tool when you lead a life with so many moving parts. I don't get stuck in any one way to do things - that just holds you back. There is more than one way to do everything and getting creative about angles makes for more positive outcomes.
What’s next for you? Are you working on any personal projects? I've always loved the idea of a being involved in programs benefiting women and girls. I find that the world would be a better and more peaceful place if girls everywhere were afforded an education and the paradigm of womanhood shifted. As mothers, we shape generations. To raise self determined women, and raise men that not only value that in women but support it, would be revolutionary. I am determined to find my own way of contributing to this cause.
What are your 3 must have items? Amore Pacific hydrating gel, my giant iPhone and a Bialetti stovetop espresso maker!