Meet Kerri Lelievre: Business Development Manager for taylor

Studying a fashion design degree doesn’t always mean that you have to become a designer or work in production. It can led to working on the business side of the fashion industry, whether it be sales, wholesale, retail operations or business development.

We caught up with Kerri Lelievre, who is the business development manager for taylor and previously the operations manager for Sabatini. Kerri’s job is really diverse, challenging and an excellent example of where your fashion degree or retail experience can take you!

Here’s what Kerri had to share with us;

How did your career start: I moved to Auckland at 18 to study Fashion Design. I then went on to study Marketing and during studies I interned to learn as much as I could. That proved to be very valuable and I landed my first industry role as Operations Manager at Sabatini. It was a huge role and quite daunting to walk into. But I put my head down and worked as hard as I could, and over the 7.5 years I was there my role developed so by the time I left I knew most aspects of running a fashion business.

Tell us about your first role and how you got to where you are now: I was very fortunate to be offered the role of Operations Manager for my very first industry job. Looking back, the role was very different when I started to when I finished 7.5 years later. As I learnt more about the business I was given more responsibility, essentially I worked as hard as I could to do the best job possible, and with that I was given more opportunities. I credit the Business Diploma, unpaid work experience, and a 3 month contract I worked for a fabric and trim supplier over one summer to being able to land on my feet with a really good first full-time job. From Sabatini I came to taylor and have been here nearly 2 years.

Did you study or learn on the job: Definitely a mixture of both! I started with a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Fashion. I graduated in 2008 in the GFC, so with very few jobs out in the market I decided to go back to uni. I was really interested in the marketing side of business so I enrolled for a Graduate Diploma of Business majoring in Marketing. I found that marketing very easily related back to everything I had learnt studying fashion so that was a very valuable decision. Meanwhile I was interning at Max in their head office for that entire year. By the time I started at Sabatini, while I had learnt a lot at uni and at Max, there was certainly a lot of on the job learning. The industry is so varied, no job will ever be the same so it is impossible to learn everything while studying. I am still learning to this day! But in saying that university definitely gave me the base skills and understanding to get into my career.

What are the most important aspects of your role: People are a really big part of my role. Whether it’s customers, suppliers or the people within our business. It is really important to be able to communicate with people and create good relationships. In the fashion industry we are surrounded by creativity, but for my role I also need to be really analytical. And at taylor passion is at the core of everything we do. I couldn’t get up and do what I do every day if I wasn’t passionate about it. I also find if people are passionate, hard working and willing to learn, you can teach them most other things.

What do you love about your job: I have always loved this industry for the variety it offers. Each season we are creating new designs and evolving the brand. I love being able to see the end product and feel a sense of achievement knowing I was part of the journey to bring these amazing pieces to life. I look back at pieces I still have from Sabatini 8-9 years ago, I still love them and they remind me that all the hard work is worth it.

What don't you love so much about it: To be honest I really love my job! I think every job has tasks or aspects that may not be your favourite, but in general I know that even those tasks are working towards the bigger picture, and that makes it easier to get through them. I also really love the 'eat the frog' philosophy.

Who inspires you: Right now, Vicki Taylor. Working for taylor has been an amazing journey. Vicki started taylor 20 years ago and you can see her drive and vision in everything she does. It is truly inspiring!

What advice do you have to people who are just starting out in their careers: My biggest advice to people starting out in this industry is to intern as much as possible. Generally this is unpaid work, but you learn so much that you will never learn at university and it gives you a huge advantage against other graduates trying to find their first industry job. I absolutely wouldn’t have been offered the opportunities I was without that unpaid work experience during uni. It also shows a great work ethic and willingness to learn which will go a long way on your C.V. I would also say that a longer term of interning with one company will allow you to learn more, as you will see how the tasks vary throughout the season, plus it shows commitment and responsibility.

Thanks for sharing Kerri! Next week we will be hearing from Juliette Hogan!