Nashville Fashion Alliance CEO Van Tucker Shares Challenges Of Developing A Thriving Fashion Industry In The Tennessee City
The city of Nashville is known for its strong music scene, but some people in the Tennessee capital are working hard to draw attention to its fashion industry as well.
Earlier this month, two-year-old Nashville Fashion Alliance launched a Kickstarter campaign to raise $100,000 to support Nashville's budding fashion industry. With about $35,000 raised in less than two weeks, the Nashville Fashion Alliance is well on its way to reaching its $100,000 goal.
Wanting to learn more about the people behind this nonprofit organization working to support Nashville's community of creative fashion companies, we reached out to Nashville Fashion Alliance's CEO, Van Tucker, for more information. Keep reading for our full interview with Tucker to get the inside scoop on Nashion Fashion Alliance and what it's like being the CEO of the organization.
1. Why do you think Nashville needs an organization like the Nashville Fashion Alliance?
"Nashville, the South really, has a wealth of creative talent in the fashion industry but very little industry infrastructure. Many of our fashion companies have to figure out how to be successful on their own or move to NYC or L.A. to realize greater success. The NFA's vision is to build an ecosystem that helps independent fashion companies — designers, photographers, models, manufacturers, suppliers, etc. — thrive and sustain their business outside of the major fashion centers. We're not hoping to displace NYC or L.A. as fashion centers...we're just looking to help our creative talent build sustainable and successful businesses."
2. How did you transition from banking to fashion?
"After retiring from banking, I took a long time to think through what I wanted to do with the rest of my days. What I enjoyed most about my role in banking was working with creative clients and companies who did not have knowledge of business fundamentals to scale their businesses (much of my banking years were spent in the entertainment industry). I started a consulting company focused on helping creative brands build a business infrastructure around their product or idea. I was introduced by a mutual friend to Amanda Valentine, a Nashville-based designer, to help her put some structure around her growing business. Amanda allowed me to learn the fashion business, and from there, the idea of the NFA was born."
3. What did you know about fashion before joining Nashville Fashion Alliance?
"I love great stories with interesting characters — and the fashion world is full of them! As far as I can remember, I've always loved and followed fashion, but I'm certainly not an expert. I subscribed to Vogue when I was 12 years old. At age 14, on a back-to-school clothes shopping trip, my mother and I had a disagreement about what I would wear to school. She wanted to buy little plaid skirts and tights for me...I wanted to wear jeans and overalls (it was the early 1970s). She told me that I would wear what she bought for me until I could afford to buy my own clothes. I called my aunt that evening who owned a jewelry store and pleaded for an after-school job. Within two weeks, I bought my coveted jeans to wear to school."
4. What are some of the major challenges in trying to develop a thriving fashion industry in Nashville?
"Resource availability is always a challenge. To attract resources, you need data to help potential 'investors' understand the size and economic impact of the industry, which can be difficult to assimilate. Our brands need mentors to help them grow their business instead of just figuring it out on their own. Our greatest challenge, however, is to just get everyone on the same page and speak as one voice. We're building a family of designers, stylists, models, photographers, manufacturers, textile providers and other supportive businesses that will all benefit from the work of the NFA."
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5. What needs to happen before Nashville can become a major player in the U.S.'s fashion industry like New York and L.A.?
"We're not seeking to become a major player. We're just seeking to build an infrastructure that helps creative fashion companies be sustainable and successful in Nashville. Our area has a very low-cost structure, so it's easier to start a business here than in NYC or L.A. We have many of the amenities of a larger city, but our city is so much more accessible. We don't want creative companies to believe they have to move to NYC or L.A. to scale their business."
6. Surely no day is the same for you, but can you try to describe a typical work day?
"I'm a very early riser...I like the quiet of the morning. Usually, after I feed my seemingly starving cats and dogs, I'll catch up on the news, emails, etc. I'm trying to learn meditation, at which I am not very good. But the discipline of attempting to meditate every morning is impactful. I spend most of my day with our brands, either helping them with a particular challenge or problem. It helps define the bigger picture when you listen to the opportunities or challenges that they all share. I also spend a great deal of any given day recruiting new believers...people who have resources they can bring to the table that will help accomplish our mission. Then, around cocktail hour, there is usually an event to attend. Might sound boring to many, but I truly cannot believe how I get to spend my days and with whom I get to spend them! I am constantly learning something new."
7. What skills are crucial to performing your job as CEO of Nashville Fashion Alliance?
"Communication skills are certainly at the top of the list — being a good listener, asking the right questions, as well as the ability to communicate the vision of the organization in a way that makes people believe and act. Any leader should be cautiously optimistic with a bias toward execution and priorities. You simply cannot do everything at once, and the ability to prioritize important initiatives is handy. I also take great comfort in knowing that I'm surrounded and supported by a group of really smart people on our board of directors, as well as leaders in our community."
8. How will Nashville Fashion Alliance work with/support Nashville Fashion Week?
"Nashville Fashion Week is a city-wide celebration of Nashville's thriving fashion and retail community and its vast array of creative talent, with the proceeds benefiting The Nashville Fashion Forward Fund. NFW just celebrated their 5th year. We applaud their success and support their mission. The NFA's vision is to create a sustainable ecosystem that will not only connect local and regional fashion brands with resources to help them grow and thrive, but to also nurture a creative business environment that will be attractive for all industry brands to consider as a location for business. While our focus might be slightly different, both organizations share similar goals. Why would we not find ways to support one another?"
9. What's the best career advice you've ever been given and who gave it to you?
"I've been incredibly fortunate to receive so much amazing mentoring over the years. What resonates most powerfully to me right now is 'Be kind. Nobody wants to work with unkind people.'"
10. What's your favorite part of your job?
"Oh, that's easy. I love working with creative entrepreneurs to help them better understand business fundamentals. Then encouraging them to 'jump' off the bridge and watching them soar...that's my favorite part of the job."
11. What skills from your career in banking have been helpful to you in your new job?
"Certainly, a background in finance is helpful. I've worked closely with the CEOs and CFOs in many different industries; from the healthcare industry, automotive industry, manufacturing and distribution and the music industry. So I've developed a really broad understanding of how the same business fundamentals apply across different industries. Great bankers develop really intuitive people skills over the years. You learn very quickly who you can trust...and maybe more importantly, you develop a BS radar."
12. What major lessons did you learn while transitioning to this new job?
"I've always been a curious learner...so I'm not sure the major lessons have surfaced yet. However, I do know for sure that I don't know everything, don't have to know everything, and it is the lessons that will make this a meaningful experience for me and allow me to help our fashion community realize their dreams."
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