Style & Beauty

Cynthia Rowley On Why It's Easier To Make It In Fashion Now

11/05/2014 10:19am ET | Updated December 6, 2017

"Yes, You Can Make It In Fashion" is a HuffPost Style series that profiles men and women across every area of the fashion industry and explores how they rose to the top, how they thrive and practical advice they have for young people trying to break into their world.

She has written several books, appeared on "America's Next Top Model" and "Project Runway," collaborated with Target, Band-Aid and Roxy, launched a candy store and is the designer behind one of the most successful brands in the country -- and Cynthia Rowley is just getting started. The American fashion designer has been making clothes for almost four decades, which is no small feat in an industry that is always clamoring after the newest and shiniest thing.


While Rowley is a style veteran, she keeps reinventing herself season after season -- she recently launched an activewear line and teamed up with Zosia Mamet for an eyewear collection. Clearly the Illinois native knows something that we don't. To give us some insight into her prolific career, we sat down with the mother of two and picked her brain on all things fashion. Here's what we learned:

On how being an outsider has helped her in the fashion world:

I do think that being a little bit of an outsider creates a tension and keeps you always forging ahead and always on your toes. It's kept me from me falling into the expected steps that a fashion designer usually goes through. It's made me feel like I can take more risks, like I have nothing to lose.


On the most challenging part of being a designer:

The ideas are always the easy part. I joke at work that all we do everyday is talk people into making things for us and try to figure out how to get something made. One of the things that's really important here and part of the culture of the company is to be inventive and do something that's never been done before and try and influence something that hasn't been influenced before. With that comes all of the problems of how do you get that done? That's always the challenge and yet the greatest satisfaction. How do I get it made?

On what she looks for when she's hiring:

I think it's a mix of a singular vision and a collaborative spirit. I like to feel like I have an elite group. It's really hard to find the person that fits in. A lot of us have worked together for a really, really, really long time, like I don't even want to say how long, more than 15 years some of us. So when you create a group like that, to add newness, which we do, we're always looking for new people, it just becomes harder and harder to find the right fit. [We always look for] somebody who has a strong point of view, yet understands the aesthetic and the culture that we built. And then a curiosity, forward thinking. I want to be able to talk about art, I want to be able to talk about food, I want to be able to talk about a healthy lifestyle -- it's not just fashion, it's really an interest in many things and then how does it go through the filter of our brand.

On why it's easier for fashion designers to make it now as opposed to 20 years ago:

I think it's much easier now. So it used to be that you made a collection, you presented and then it had to go through all these filters. An editor had to write about it, it had to be a positive review, then the stores had to come see it, then they had to buy it, then they had to put it in their stores and someone had to come in the store and buy it, you know what I mean? [There were] so many more tiers of acceptance. Now, you can make a few pieces, put it out there in whatever way you want to and sell something. And if the end customer loves it, that's really all that matters. In the end that was all that ever mattered then and it's all that matters now. Do people like it? It was just harder to jump through all the hoops before. It's easy to get traction now, you see the new kid on the block and then you see Oscar [de la Renta], a legend and in between, that's the burn rate -- in between where you have to survive and build and keep building and have a strong business until you can get to that point. So it's wilderness in between, that's where the hard work comes in. I do think it's really easy to start and everyone loves something new, but then to sustain and get over that middle work, until you become more established, that's the hard part and I have to say don't give up.

On how she stays balanced:

I have no time to myself. I definitely don't. You know when those moms say, "What about me time?" -- there is no me time. I don't know, I don't feel exhausted, I don't feel tired. I love hanging out with kids and my husband -- I love traveling with them. We can go on the most epic journeys in like five days. I think it's important to incorporate everything into all parts of your life. I don't separate all the things -- during the day, I talk to my kids, they come and visit, on weekends we go crazy and do lots of activities. I'm just not good at relaxing.

On advice she would give to her daughter if she wanted to become a fashion designer:

Runnnnn. [laughs]

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.

Cynthia Rowley Activewear