Leading Ladies – Julie Cobbe
TELL US WHY YOU CHOSE FASHION AND EDUCATION AS YOUR CAREER ?
Well, I have always adored fashion and how it makes you feel. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved putting my clothes together and loved rummaging around shops with my Mum! Fast forward and I guess as one does, it can be hard when you are 18 to see any anything unconventional can be achieved. So, I went down the road of getting a Commerce Degree from UCC. A good solid business degree my Dad said would get me far! I pursued the legal world for a while and knowing in my heart it wasn’t for me, I took a teaching post with a secondary school to earn some money while I figured out my next move. I knew I was born to teach from the moment I stood up in front of my first class. I loved every minute of it. I didn’t consider the fashion opportunity around it until a few months later when I studied Personal Styling and Image Consultancy. I suddenly put two and two together and said ‘why not combine my love of teaching with my love of fashion?’ and so Stylefish was born…
TELL US ABOUT STYLEFISH…
Stylefish started out as a fashion school teaching styling classes to the pubic through department stores, shopping centres, hotels and women sitting rooms around the country. 3,000 students later, I turned it into a training school, first training a couple of teachers and so giving other women the same opportunity I wanted, to teach fashion to then developing my own Diploma in Personal Styling and opening up this exciting industry to others who might want to pursue many different fashion career paths…I guess what has made my course different is that it is very personal to my own experience of setting up and running my own business and so my groups are small and learn from me, the lessons I’ve learnt and the fun I’ve had along the way! I also try to make the training as practical as possible so for example I have a group of 9 ladies finishing in July and an element of our last day will be spent being shown the gorgeous Helen McAlinden Spring collection so students can learn how personal stylists and brands work together. I believe too many courses make training about books and not real life!
WHO ARE YOUR STUDENTS?
My student mix never ceases to amaze me. Right now I have 9 ladies who come from all corners of Ireland (Galway, Offaly, Dublin, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Belfast). I guess I would say my age profile tends not to be very young girls but around 30+. Although I do have the most amazing girl from Belfast at the moment who is only 25 and has a fashion design background. She is super trendy, arty and bubbly and although she loves design and has a great eye for design her passion is for helping and inspiring real women. That is what attracts my students. If you have a love of fashion and style and like the idea of working with real women with real bodies and real body worries, Personal Styling is for you. I think when we are in our 20’s students will be attracted to ‘fashion’ courses whereas as we grow we realise the importance of the personal side to styling. Personal Styling is very different to Fashion styling which is much more about magazine styling and editorial. I have a number of women who might be thinking about a change of career, some would love to set up a blog and others simply want to style and understand themselves better!
BEFORE STYLEFISH WHAT WAS YOUR CAREER PLAN?
I have always had a ‘business’ head I guess. My Dad had his own business and so I dreamt of having my own business when I was younger but I never really had a plan! I have always believed that when you choose to do something, do it with all your heart. If your not happy, you stop and make a change. I have made many changes that have led me to my light build moment with Stylefish if you like including law, newspaper ad manager, commercial manager with a weddings website, you name it i’ve done it. My CV makes for interesting reading lets just say! It definitely says I am entrepreneurial and can approach pretty much any industry and business with a pretty strong sense of strategy and focus around what would need to be done to make things better! I am a strategy girl! But I’ve never had that clear plan I hear people talking about!!
WHAT HAS BEEN YOUR GREATEST CAREER CHALLENGE?
In Stylefish it has definitely been accepting that my business is about me! For a long time I tried to put my ‘brand’ out there and hide behind it but I don’t have a team of people who work with me, it is just me. So accepting that my readers and clients want to connect more with me, my life and my style has been a long process. I have been inspired recently by a blog I greatly enjoy calledlostgirlinthecity.com. Emma Gannon is the lady behind it and I have enjoyed immensely her honest voice and how she remains so true to herself in her style of communicating. Sometimes in fashion or the creative industries in particular you can feel there is this pressure to be ‘perfect’ in what you put out there but I have learnt you have got to be true to you. If you decide to go it alone, it’s all you have got. Never try to be someone your not. So, I finally feel in doing this that a new type of client has emerged for me. Retailers, brands and others who want to hire ‘Julie’ for her experience, her strategy focus and for the wide range of areas I can help with. For example right now, I am working with retailers recruiting and training their first personal shopper right through to working with a beauty brand running style and business development training courses to help freelance consultants expand their client base! So, my wonderful Diploma in Personal Styling course has become one of many things I am working on!
WHO ARE YOUR GREATEST FEMALE INSPIRATION?
An American lady called Jessica Herrin is a lady greatly admire. Jessica is the founder and chief executive of Stella &Dot , a direct selling company focusing on jewellery with over 10,000 independent, in-home sales reps dubbed “stylists.” around the world. Herrin founded the company in 2003, Previously, she cofounded Weddingchannel.com sold to Theknot.com for $78 million in 2007. She for me is proof that once you have vision for your business especially an idea that doesn’t yet exist, it is a very powerful thing.
WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU GIVE TO YOUR YOUNGER SELF?
How long have we got?!
I feel lucky that my approach is to do the thing that scares you because the fear of failure is nothing compared to the fear of regret. That is my biggest advice and I feel lucky that is how I have approached my career as much as I can. I guess I would also say, don’t feel you have to follow the traditional routes. Once you have energy, passion and focus, there are ways and means to get to where you want to go no matter what anyone tells you when you are 18.
WHAT DO YOU LOOK FOR WHEN YOU’RE HIRING ?
Well, as I am in the process of hiring a Personal Shopper for a retail client the number one thing I am looking for is someone who really ‘cares’ about helping others. You can’t teach that soft, kind and caring approach that women find so easy to connect with. Being perceptive is another. Being able to read a situation and understand what the client needs. Sometimes what they think they need and what they actually need are two different things. I would also finally look for someone with a commercial side. Whether you are working freelance or as a Personal Shopper with a retailer, you are only as good as your last customer and you have got to be focused on building your client base, understanding what brands sell best, how you can achieve more and how fashion and the bottom line go together!
QUALIFICATION VS CULTURE WHICH WINS OUT?
Culture, everyday of the week. God the amount of people you meet with every qualification under the sun and not an once of common sense. If an organisation has the right culture, people ‘want’ to join so it’s easier to recruit the right people, they always go the extra mile because they care about what they do and you just get so much more out of your people. I look at Stella & Dot as a great example of this too. Essentially, all their ‘people’ are self employed and their business model is so successful because they have created a culture that women long to be part of. They don’t just sell jewellery, they sell a lifestyle. That is hugely inspirational and motivational.
WHATS THE BEST ADVICE YOU WOULD GIVE TO ANYONE ATTENDING AN INTERVIEW?
Stop reading off your CV and let people get to know the real you! Interviews just like anything else are about making a connection with someone. It is impossible to do that if the person keeps it too professional. Be confident and show you! I would ask interviewees to prepare a 5 minute presentation on ‘The essence of you’. I get people to deliver this before I ask anything about their CV. It can be really interesting to see how different people interpret this brief, some go straight down the cv route while others use it as an opportunity to tell you things about themselves that a CV never says! These are the winners for me!
WHAT DO YOU THINK IS THE GREATEST CHALLENGE FACING WOMEN TODAY?
Belief in themselves and having the confidence hence to go for the things they want….
FASHION TIPS FOR THIS SEASON?
Oh lord, I will keep it brief – Topshop denims, statement coat, something from finerylondon.com, comfy pair of funky trainers and a structured jacket. Done. Less is more. Think strategically about your wardrobe this season! Buy less and buy better!
WHATS YOUR ONE WARDROBE STAPLE ?
Definitely my black three quarter length Topshop denims with frayed ends 🙂
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than the things you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbour. Catch the winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.
Each month we sit down with a leading lady and ask her to share her secrets, advice and insight around achieving her career goals and making them a reality! Through sharing their stories and offering us their wisdom we hope this will inspire you to pursue your career ambitions.
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Julie Cobbe is the founder of Stylefish, a style training school and consultancy business.
Since setting up the business in 2009 Julie has taught over 3,500 women, developed a fashion franchise, trained a network of teachers around Ireland and now runs a Diploma in Personal Styling for those interested to gain a personal styling qualification. Julie also consults with retailers and brands looking to create staff and customer training programmes