One of the best things about Chicago’s fashion community is that fact that there are so many emerging talents in the city. Mashallah Ghouleh is a perfect example. The owner of the eponymous two-year-old jewelry company is young, ambitious and equal parts creative and business-minded.
I caught up with this designer to talk about the decision to start her own company, the importance of getting your foot in the door and (obviously) accessories.
Statement Scene: First of all, tell me a little bit about your background.
Mashallah Ghlouleh: My background is just fashion everything. When I first got into the industry – I think I was like 17 – I was doing hair, makeup and wardrobe for years. I used to do a lot of fashion loans from Akira and I was in there so much that one of the district managers was like, ‘would you give us a chance?’ and I was like ‘I don’t know because I’m in school and it’s just crazy.’ She convinced me to just come in and work one day.
Being that I had a relationship with them, I couldn’t just say no. The rest is pretty much history. I started working for them, I stopped doing hair and makeup, I only did wardrobe. I was at the store so it just made sense that I’d have clients come in for editorials and things like that. They’d shop with me there. I was there for about four years and I helped them open a ton of locations. It was insane. I was there for a long time. It’s a baby – they’re still growing it, but at lighting speed. My work was always doubled or tripled. It was a great experience.
SS: Did you work retail for them? Were you mostly in the stores?
MG: I worked in the stores for my first three months. I was only a stylist, like a sales person. After that they asked me to manage their North Ave. shoe store. That was my first store. After that I was in a different store every six months, just kind of fixing it up. I was kind of their go-to for underperforming stores or if they opened a new store and needed to great the vibe, the lifestyle, the imaging, they used me to do that.
SS: That’s a great story for the importance of getting your foot in the door and then proving yourself and moving up the ranks.
MG: You know what, as crazy as the experience was, an intense as it was, as time-consuming it was – I would never undo that experience. It got my foot in the door. I learned from Jon Cotay. I learned the marketing scheme from him. In regards to sales, they just threw me in there – but when it came to building a business, building clients and a name, it really helped to work with him and see how he did things. It was the ultimate experience. He took a name that had no meaning and in 11 years he turned it into an empire. It was an amazing experience.
SS: At what point did you decide to start your own line?
MG: Well I bounced around at Akira . That last store I was asked to take over was the mens’ store. At the time I was contemplating my move. The company seems huge because there are 20 some stores, but it’s a tiny company on the inside. They couldn’t afford not having me in the role they had me in but I really wanted to get into buying or something different. I wanted to grow. I was looking for a way to move and I hit a plateau. I took over the mens’ store and once I got it to where I wanted it to be, that was my exit.
SS: Do you feel like you could have made it on your own without the experience at Akira?
MG: You know, I’ve always been an entrepreneur, ever since I was a little girl. I used to make cards and sell them when I was in fifth, sixth grade. I used to sell them for a dime but my friends ate it up because it was when everyone was just starting to understand what a boyfriend or a girlfriend was. I’ve always been my own boss. I was doing freelance work, working with models on their comp cards and getting taken on by photographers prior to Akira.
I had an understanding of how to build something of my own but I loved experience of working with Akira. I love high-energy and positive environments. I loved the music, I loved the people, I loved that I got to help them leave feeling confident. I wanted my own boutique so rather than continuing to do hair, wardrobe and makeup, I knew I could put that on the side and work for Akira and get a stronger, better knowledge on how to operate a successful boutique. There’s operating a boutique and then there’s operating a successful, driven boutique – I wanted that experience.
Working at a company like that, they never micromanage you. There are three owners and they’re always so busy. I’m a self-starter. Always have been and always will be. They knew they didn’t need to micromanage me, but I do believe that experience is everything.
SS: What advice would you give somebody who wants to start a fashion-centric business?
MG: The number one thing i say to all my friends in the industry is that it’s really, really hard. It’s not all about all the glitz and the glamour; it’s all about sacrifice and dedication. And if you don’t know how to sacrifice and dedicate your everything to the end result you’re trying to reach, it will be super tough. That’s the advice: Stay positive, be ready for people to decline whatever it is you want to show them and be dedicated to whatever you want to do.
SS: How would you describe your company to someone who knows nothing about it?
MG: The company in general: Everything I do, I want to do originally. I want everything to be colorful. By colorful, I mean the energy that you feel when you hit the web site, the energy you feel when you attend an event.I value timelessness over all. I love anything vintage. When I design, it’s all about timelessness, forever fashion, not minute fashion. Not what’s just in the season. I want to do what’s in today, next year and five-ten years from now. That’s how I modeled my company.
SS: Do you have a team working with you?
MG: I do. My jewelry is handmade here in Chicago so I have a team of about eight of us who manufacture and handmade the jewelry here. I’m a brand new company so I might have my team of eight come in one week out of eight. Other than that, it’s me and my husband doing everything. He does information security for the telecommunications industry – this guy’s like a whiz. All of our photography, both product and lifestyle, we do ourselves. We do the majority of….everything.
SS: Where do you look for inspiration?
MG: Everything inspires me because I’m an artist at heart. Street style – I love to sit and people watch when I can, which is not that often, but still. If I can’t do that I’m online on my Google feed.
SS: Since you design accessories, what are the five accessories you couldn’t live without?
MG: I am an accessory whore. Everything on me is basic and it’s my accessories that carry my outfit. Right now it’s a battle because I really, really love scarves. I’ve always worn scarves but then I really can’t do too much around my neck.
My wristwear is a must. Good shoes are a must. The right handbag is really important to me. I usually travel with at least the iPad, maybe a couple notebooks, my perfume, an extra pair of flats in my bag. The right handbag in the right size is so important. My fifth one…this might sound awkward but my hair is an accessory. It’s kind of my signature look. It’s kind of evolved here and there in regards to how I do the bun but it’s one of my accessories. My hair is super long and i refuse to cut it. People always ask me why I keep it so long if i’m just going to put it up. It’s just a signature look. I meet someone once and more than likely they’re not going to forget me the second time they cross paths with me.
As far as accessories go, outside of everything, the only reason I am where I am is because of my confidence. I never leave the house without it. That’s my number one accessory. Outside of the shoes, the handbag, all of that – because even though I am a designer, I can lose all of that. It’s all about confidence. That’s the reason why I am where I am.