Alle Fister is just the kind of woman we want to be taking career advice from. She's a 32-year-old self-made entrepeneur, supremely stylish, decidedly down-to-earth, and listens to Led Zeppelin in her office (a girl after our own heart). After serving as a founding member of online fashion mecca Shopbop straight out of college, in 2006 Fister started her own bi-coastal PR firm, Bollare Communications, specializing in fashion, beauty, and lifestyle. We visited Bollare's New York office and chatted with Fister about her journey, secrets to success (hint: a cold e-mail goes a long way!), and what it really takes to standout in sea of job applicants.
Marie Claire: What was your major in college and why?
Alle Fister: I was a PR and Communications major at Pepperdine University. I liked the idea of presenting, debating, and arguing. I wanted to get people excited about what I was sharing with them!
MC: How did you land your first job?
AF: In college, I interned like crazy. I interned at a boutique PR firm, more-mass PR firm, and in-house at a large fashion house. As I approached graduation, I knew that I wanted to work somewhere where I'd have close proximity to a lot of brands, so that I could continue that education curve. I also wanted to work for a start-up, so that I could be entrenched in many facets of the business. I also wanted something that was fashion-centric.
I'd write these letters, pitches essentially, to different companies and brands telling them what perspective I could bring. A friend of a friend went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where the first Bop store was located. I wrote a letter to Bob Lamey, the owner of Shopbop, and gave him my spiel. He called me and said 'I thought what you did was really clever, we're going to bring you out and talk to you about working at Shopbop.com.' I was an early team member hired to style photoshoots, and after two weeks on the job, I knew that if Shopbop was going to go anywhere, we'd have to get coverage on local television shows. I pitched and appeared on my first style segment in Portland, Oregan, and from there went on to do about 300 or 400 more.
MC: What compelled you to found Bollare?
AF: Almost 9 years ago, Amazon absorbed the business and in that transition, I had a lot of brands reaching out to work with me. I pitched starting my own consulting business, with Shopbop as my first client, and that's how Bollare was born. Having friends in high places, The Wall Street Journalwrote a small business piece about Bollare and that's what brought me some of my initial clients. We've had the opportunity to be super selective with the brands we work with and now we've scaled it to 65 team members with offices in New York and L.A. We're now in the process of opening in London.
MC: From your own experience, what're your secrets to success?
AF: I'll give you three!
1. Always think of the other, never yourself. Explain how your idea will help propel the business and provide a test on why. If you do that, the answer is usually yes.
2. Don't be afraid to try — failures are learning lessons.
3. Be a sponge
MC: How did you make your first dollar?
AF: Rocks. [Laughs] I would take rocks from parent's yard in Arizona, color on them with markers, call them art pieces, and sell them to the other kids. I remember making my own business cards!
MC: What are your tips for building and managing a chic, wearable wardrobe?
AF: I always splurge on the more foundational pieces. I'll go to the more cheap and cheerful stores for trends. I'm very particular about one rule: if one thing comes into my closet, another one or two have to go out. Otherwise, you can just amass so much! Space is premium.
MC: Let's talk about creating an image: what does one need to be cognizant of?
AF: First thing's first, be directional. You need to decide where you're going and why. Any brand that comes to us and says we want to be all things to all people, I'm like 'Oh, we can't work with you.' We need to know who your customer is, where you're going, and why you're getting there. From there, we can articulate a path on how to get there. Next, you have to be directional with your messaging. You have to understand who you are and make sure all your collateral is matching it. It can't be clouded. Last, you have to be really repetitive with it, because one and done is never an effective brand strategy. An average person has to see something a half-dozen times before they feel like they've seen it once. Be very, very repetitive with that concise, directional messaging.
MC: What about developing a personal brand within a career?
AF: You have to decide what kind of career you're going for because a start-up tech fund is going to have a different aesthetic than a top-tier magazine. Decide what your career goal is, then make your choices articulate to that message point, whether it's your internships or social media presence — and trust me, we look.
MC: What advice can you offer to women in the interviewing process?
AF: First, it's the applicants who think about 'The Other' and get specific about the job they're going for that always have a higher retention rate. You have to make it personal. Next, make sure that all your collateral is echoing what you want to do. Lastly, have polish, because this is when you should be putting your best foot forward. Show up a few minutes early, never too early. You know what questions are going to be asked, so practice with a pal. You must understand what job you're going for and have all of those points, from your presentation to the way you speak, echo to that culture. That's the great thing about social media, you can get the vibe of what you're getting into.
And don't forget good old-fashioned edicate! Send a handwritten thank you note, follow up with a personal tidbit that you spoke about in the interview, and make everything come full circle so that you're memorable and standout. Show, not tell, that this is the career you're really jonesing for!