Full Name: Jodi Cottongim
Current Title/Company: Sr. Designer, Pattern Engineer Blackbird Dillinger
Educational Background: I graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York and hold degrees in Apparel and Accessories Design; I earned my B.A from Washington State University.
During the past 10 years, I’ve worked for some of the top brands as a designer including Helmut Lang, Juicy Couture, and Coach.
Congratulations Jodi on being a featured designer for the Nolcha Shows Fashion Media Lounge! Please tell us, what was your first job and how did you land that position?
Do you mean my first job EVER or my first fashion job? My first job ever was working at a candy store my friend’s father owned. I wasn’t quite old enough to work legally, but her father saw I was determined and wouldn’t take no for an answer, so he let me work a few hours after school and on the weekends. That job? Sure was sweet! Lol.
My first ever fashion job was as a paid intern at Anne Klein under then designer Patrick Robinson. To get that job I reached out to the HR department regarding another position in PR, at the interview I was very bold and showed my sketches. I talked about my love for design and expressed a desire to be a part of the Creative Team. She passed my name along for a design interview and I got the spot.
How have your designs evolved since your first sketch?
The thing I’ve had to embrace is my own unique design process. I start with a rough idea and then let it evolve as I work on it. Unlike the traditional design process where you spend many hours sketching or making thumbnails I just get right to it (as a sewer and pattern maker), I can do that. At times I freestyle on the fabric, trying something, then evaluate, that leads to another idea, then I try that, I’ll box myself into a corner then work out of it.
In the beginning, I designed kind of airy-fairy but now I’m much more practical and disciplined. For the most part, I create based on the desire for something. For instance, I wanted a statement bag, I choose a classic shape but then made it out of authentic black python skins, added fringe, gave it a silk lining, expensive hardware, leather whip stitch. I’ve carried it for 3 seasons so now time to switch up.
What have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how were you able to overcome them?
People. There are some that will root for you and help to guide while others do everything in their power to stop you. The fashion industry is very click-ish and it has its own set of rules sorta like high school. The cool kids are a crew, the athletes get the attention, the tech-heads have all the answers, then there are the “Heathers” who decide if they like you or not, you either get included or become a target. So I say get in where you fit in. I don’t think I’ve necessarily overcome any of it, but I see it for what it is – – game. People are scared and insecure so they act from fear. You can be the favorite one-day – – then your boss gets transferred and now you’re on your way out. It’s funny to me because I’ve been hired at places that said they wanted something different only to find they wanted more of the same. If you want another Barbie to hire a Barbie, but if you want a G.I. Jane then be ready for something fresh and unorthodox.
In general, I’ve adopted this position: I’m committed but not attached. I’m committed to doing the very best work I can but I don’t hold on too tight, I keep it fluid.
We want to hear about your inspiration as a creative! Where does your inspiration come from?
Nowadays for me form follows function I create things because people have come to me with a need they have for something to fit their lifestyle. As an example, a girlfriend of mine’s boyfriend said: I need a simple wallet, I only carry a few cards and a little cash, I don’t want to cram a lot of stuff in it, I want it elegant and streamlined. So I created the “Chicago Slim” (he was from Chicago…) the design is minimal; I used the least amount of everything but hit every single one of his pain points.
There are times I think I’m more of an inventor (but who does that anymore?) I love solving problems with thoughtful design solutions.
How did you learn the ins and outs of owning and operating your brand?
I learned a much as I could on the corporate side by being apart of the design process, now I’m figuring it out as I go. I’ve taken business classes, seminars, workshop, have a mentor and am teaching myself how to think like a “business”. I also know I can’t do this alone so am gathering people to sit on the advisory board. The mantra for this year is “velocity”.
As a business owner, how do you achieve a work/life balance?
For me, there is no balance, only work, but I live for this, it’s just what I do, defines who I am. Right now I’m on Tinder making myself meet single, straight guys I’ll let you know how it goes!
What do you see in the future for your brand? How do you hope to grow the business?
At the beginning of each year, I make a vision board (very much like a mood board) but for my work life and plot out what I want to accomplish in visuals. I list very specific measurable things to achieve and what it could or should look like.
For instance participating in the Nolcha Fashion Lounge falls in line with this year’s goals – – I said I would put out two collections and I’m on track with the first.
In terms of growing the business? The two things I need more of are exposure and working capital to scale and go to the next level. For now, I use the resources that I have (thank God for ex-boyfriends) and do the most I can with what’s available.
Growing the business could look like launching a single product and/or going after crowd funding.
What is the most rewarding part of your job?
I am doing what I love. I’m comfortable with taking calculated risks and I’m not sitting on the sidelines dreaming about what I’d like for my life or myself. I’m in action on the court playing full out.
What is a typical workday like for you?
16 hours of “get it done”. I live by the list.
Best moment of your career so far?
As a freelancer, I designed a bag for a particular company than many months later randomly saw a girl on the street with it. I was like “Ha”! She could have picked ANYTHING but chose that. I was so gassed up – – I snuck a picture of her and sent it to all of my friends.
What advice would you give your younger self?
Be careful of what you make things mean and internalize. Do not dim your light so others feel less threatened.
Go to coffee order?
I don’t drink coffee, but if I were at Starbucks I would order: “a vanilla soy chai tea latte”, why are you treating?
If you could have lunch with anyone, who would it be and what would you order?
Alexander McQueen. I wouldn’t want a traditional sit-down but a working lunch session. I’d love to be able to run around the garment district with him, and then go to a museum or exhibition for inspiration and talk about his process. He was a master, genius and at another level, he was an incredible talent and visionary. I imagine we’d have pasta and salad with a power green juice.
Best advice you’ve received?
From my ex-boyfriend who is one of my BFF’s: “To get something you’ve never had you have to do something you’ve never done”.
Who would play you in the movie of your life?
No one that I can think of would have to be an unknown actor.
The Nolcha Shows are a leading award winning event, held during New York Fashion Week, for independent fashion designers to showcase their collections to a global audience of press, retailers, stylists and industry influencers. Over the past seven years the Nolcha Shows have become established as a platform for discovery; promoting cutting edge innovative fashion designers through runway shows and exhibitions.
The team at Chic Galleria is thrilled to again be collaborating with the designers featured at the Nolcha Shows on February 15, 2017. We are looking forward to showcasing these talented designers and attending their shows this fall. – Beth Anderson, Founder and Senior Editor, Chic Galleria