Working in fashion is one of the most sought after careers out there. It takes passion, hard work and commitment to stand out among the crowd in this fiercely competitive industry.
After being told at school that she’d never amount to anything, Zoe Kotey has proven her teachers wrong. An avid fashion lover, she worked her way up the careers ladder and is now owner and managing director of online retail company the wit and the will.
She tells Success at School how she got where she was today and what it takes to be your own boss.
Name: Zoe Kotey
Company: the wit and the will
Industry: Online fashion retail
What is your job: Managing director
How long have you been doing this job: One year
University: University of the West of England
Degree subject: Psychology
A-levels: English, French, Geography
What was your very first job?
My first job was aged eight or nine I think, mucking out horses (literally shovelling poo) at my local stables in order to have free lessons and a bit more pocket money.
What did you want to do when you were at school?
I didn’t know what I wanted to do at school, I wasn’t a dedicated student and I couldn't find much purpose or reward in my studies. I remember being impressed - even a little envious - of friends who knew what they wanted to be.
Because I was a bit all-over-the-place, my teachers said that I would never amount to anything, and of course for a while then, you believe that.
Then you realise that’s nonsense and no one can define all that you are and what you are able to accomplish.
What made you want to do your current job?
I was looking for a product I couldn’t find…and they do say the best inventions are born from necessity! I saw a gap in the market.
The process of having an idea, putting it together and following it through to a finished object was hugely exciting. There is always that fear of course… will people like it just because I like it? But I had confidence in my aesthetic – London fashion quirkiness with Singapore’s tropical influence – and just thought, “I can do this”.
How did you get there?
After doing mainly restaurant and bar work through school and uni, I got a job in a small fashion boutique aged 23 and I loved it. So from there I worked for a number of retail brands, personal shopping, doing styling work, and working my way up to management level, learning as many skills as I could and just working really hard.
I did two and a half years in fashion recruitment where, looking back, I learned valuable skills, but I knew in my heart it wasn’t really me. From there I started writing and contributing to a start-up online magazine, before becoming fashion editor and then creative director.
At that point, after working in various different jobs I saw the continuous thread: I finally began to understand what I was good at, what I was passionate about, what drove me. And also, what I was not good at.
Rather than trying to fit into a pre-determined mould, I looked at my skills, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and most importantly, what I love. From there, all it took was the bravery to go for it.
I took the passion and the skills learned from all those jobs and applied it to what I wanted to do, something I had never dreamed possible but now feels like the best fit.
What is a typical day at work like?
Because we’re a small company at the moment, I’m involved in absolutely everything.
Day to day involves: product design, going overseas to source and purchase fabrics, design and maintenance of the website, SEO, social media, writing copy, graphic design, sourcing models and styling shoots, events, press, PR and media.
Then there’s the operational side like stock control, dispatch, liaising with the factory over deliveries and customs issues. My to-do list is massive!
What’s the best thing about your job?
No day is the same and I’m constantly learning.
What is the most challenging thing about your job?
Passion is an amazing driver but sometimes, like when you receive a return, complaint or hurdle to overcome, you have to put the passion aside and be very detached. I find that hard.
What advice do you have for people who want to do what you do?
The most important thing is to work hard, believe in yourself, be brave, go for it.
To set up your own business, it’s all of that x100. You have to be your own motivator, your own cheering squad…that can be tough and ultimately you have to be a real grafter because when it’s your own business there is never an end to the work you can be doing to better your company.
There’s no 9-5, you’re going to work weekends, you’ll sit on your laptop every evening, but every accomplishment and milestone will make that worthwhile.
What things do you wish you’d known before starting your career?
I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is not only knowing what you know, but what you DON’T. There is a place for optimism and a can-do attitude but not for arrogance. It’s important to know the difference.
I wish I recognised the value and importance of a good mentor earlier in life. You should be seeking advice and learning from others’ experience, particularly in start-ups where there is so much room for personal development and growth.
Having someone to bounce ideas off, get advice, even have a little grumble, is invaluable.
Finally, do stop and celebrate your achievements. It’s important to pause and appreciate how far you’ve come.