Leading Ladies: Christa Smith

Last fall, when I needed a wardrobe stylist to help with a TV segment in Nashville, I posted a message on Facebook.

My friend Becky Boaz, who teaches in Harding University's fashion merchandising program, immediately referred me to one of her "star" graduates who had recently moved to Nashville:  Christa Smith.

Christa did a fantastic job working on that segment.  We became immediate friends - and she was my first call when I booked another fashion shoot in Nashville last month.  I love her enthusiasm for life - and her very practical advice for people wanting to work in fashion.

Let me introduce you to...

Christa Smith

What do you do?

I am the Visual Supervisor for kate spade new york at the Nashville, Tennessee location.

Where do you live, where are you from, and where did you go to school?

I currently live in Nashville, and am originally from the smaller town of Jackson, Tennessee, which is located between Memphis and Nashville.  I graduated with a bachelor’s degree in fashion merchandising from Harding University in Searcy, Arkansas. Southern girl through and through!

How did you get your job?  Where did you work before kate spade?

The story of how I landed the job can best be described as pure fate. Before kate spade, I worked as an assistant buyer for Kirkland's Inc., a home decor company with corporate roots in Nashville. After two and a half years with Kirkland's, I decided to quit and buy a one-way ticket to Australia to travel, explore and work as I went along. 

While in Australia, I worked as an au pair for a wonderful family in Brisbane, bartended for a brand new live music venue and beer garden, traveled as a recruiter for Reach Out Volunteers (a charity organization that does phenomenal rehabilitation work in areas of Cambodia, South Africa, Mozambique and Peru), and waitressed for a southern American BBQ-themed restaurant on the coast of Oz. 

About six months into my time away, my dad was heading to Maui to do a contracting job for the new kate spade being built. So I hopped on a plane and helped my dad lay hardwood, tile and carpet for a week. It was back-breaking hard work, but allowed me to spend quality time with my dad, explore a beautiful place and learn invaluable new skills. I returned to Australia for another four months before making the trek back to USA in September 2015, but not before helping my dad on another kate spade - this time in Honolulu. 

After close to one month, there was a break in the work to be done at that store so I traveled to Maryland with my dad for yet another kate spade, where I helped for a week before taking one more gypsy-style trip to Iceland with four of my girlfriends. Upon my return, I was en route back to Honolulu to help my dad finish the job there when I received a phone call out of the blue from the store manager of the kate spade in Nashville. She found my profile on an online retail job posting site to which I had uploaded my resume probably three years prior - and completely forgot about. There was no correlation between the contracting work I had been doing with Dad and the phone call I received. Fate, right? 

I had plans to move back to Nashville eventually, and this opportunity felt all too perfect. At this point, I'm guessing you can figure out that I'm all about taking chances and having faith, so I flew home the next week to go for an in-person interview and ended up starting the job as the visual go-to key holder the very next week!

What is your typical work day like?

Every day is different. Not only is our main goal to make sure every guest who walks through our door has a top-notch shopping experience and leaves feeling inspired, but the managing team has a number of business responsibilities to tend to as well. 

As the visual supervisor, my main division of responsibilities include constant management of product on the sales floor. There's the business acumen side and the creative side. Business acumen basically includes analyzing where our store is for the week/month/year on sales and what I can do to help.  Is any product sold through and if so, what can I replace it with that will hopefully have a positive impact? I look at various reports to help make my decision, but also take into account what the Nashville client is looking for. The creative side is the monthly floor set changes (the window displays are my favorite!) along with adjustments made throughout the month to accommodate any possible holidays or promotions.

If you've never been inside a kate spade I highly recommend it - the colors and overall feel of the store are sure to make you smile! After all, she is quick and curious and playful and strong.

What is the first thing you do when you get up in the morning?

I'm not one of these people who immediately jumps out of bed (it's too comfy!) but to get myself going and alert I check my email. There's a daily email I subscribe to called theSkimm that gives news highlights of what happened in the world the day before. No matter how busy my days may be, I always want to stay informed. You never know what conversations you may be part of and I don't want to be that clueless person in the room who only knows of the latest Kim and Kanye debacle. After email, my Pandora radio gets turned on along with the coffee pot. 

What five items in your wardrobe could you not live without?

I'm definitely a black & white basics kind of girl.

I could not live without a white tee (Gap has a lot of different fit options), a pair of great fitting jeans, my black leather moto jacket, a classic pair of flats (current favorites are the Corina black patent loafers from kate spade), and last but not least would probably be my high-waisted red and white striped wide leg culotte pants. I am a huge vintage lover and found this pair of pants at a funky vintage store in Brisbane, Australia - one of my absolute favorite finds!

What inspires you?

I love this question! The current background on my phone is a quote by Vogue editor Grace Coddington:  "Always keep your eyes open. Keep watching. Because whatever you can see can inspire you."

I find inspiration every single day whether it be from of a flower I saw, a conversation with a friend who is doing something she's passionate about, a book I'm reading or a song on the radio.

What tips would you offer people who want to work in fashion? 

I recommend anyone who is interested in fashion be knowledgeable in clothing construction (what type of stitching used tells you a lot about quality) and fabric use (is this silk or rayon and what care is required). Also, it has helped me greatly to study body types and what looks best on them so you can offer up styling or alteration tips. Whether you want to be a buyer, editor, retail manager etc., having this basic knowledge will help you greatly.

Also, there is always room for growth and development. Stay interested and keep exploring your ideas. Even when traveling Australia, I still craved doing something creative. Since I didn't have a sewing machine, I went to the thrift store, bought up several pairs of cheap jeans, some bleach, rubber bands and a plastic tub. I spent my free time tie dying jeans and using scissors to alter their construction. 

What advice would you offer to new grads starting their careers?

I am by no means an all-knowing and uber-experienced professional, but here are just a few key things I've learned in my five short years out of college: 

  • Always be willing to volunteer for even the most mundane tasks. If the office kitchen needs cleaning and they're asking for helpers - be the first to jump in. It speaks volumes to how hard you work and that you really care about every aspect of the company's success. It's not just the big "important" projects that stand out to upper management.
  • Don't put yourself in a box when it comes to a career path. What you start out doing may not be what you're best at - and that's okay!
  • Don't be afraid of failure because failure means you tried - and it's always an opportunity to learn and make it better.
  • Hustle. But your mental health is important. Do constant check-ins with yourself to make sure you are keeping in line with your passions and happiness. And don't ever compromise your morals.

Thank you, Christa! 

You can follow Christa on Instagram.

Have a great week!


* All photos courtesy of Christa Smith.