Fashion recruiter Terre Simpson elevates careers.
Don’t call Terre Simpson a headhunter. She’s a fashion headhunter, thank you very much, which means the shoes she’s hired to fill often bear designer labels (an important distinction, indeed). A former buyer in accessories and sportswear for the May Company Corporation, she decided to use her firsthand industry know-how to launch the New York City-based search firm Simpson Associates in 1984. Since then, her revenues have increased an average of 30 percent each year, with companies
such as Calvin Klein, The Limited, Delia’s, and Abercrombie & Fitch signing on to let Simpson do what she does best—bring them fashion’s brightest stars. Here, she shares ladder-climbing insights for would-be ascendants—and says that in the
fashion world, wearing a tight skirt and a pair of Jimmy Choo’s might actually aid your arduous climb.
Do companies ask you to recruit talent from the competitors?
They wouldn’t tell me to go to a specific rival company, but they make it clear that they’re looking for someone in a similar market. If I’m looking to fill a wholesale position, for example, I would directly to a similar manufacturer and find the person that handles the exact same accounts my client wants.
Any tips for a would-be buyer? To have a strong retail career, you cannot start in a corporate office. There are just too many limitations. You have to start in
an actual store and get the hands-on training. If you’re not willing to do this, you’re going to short-circuit your career, because in a store there are so many more parameters by which you can grow. Also, get yourself a four-year degree, preferably in business. Retailers are doing a lot of on-campus recruiting right now, and they’re going after some really high-profile schools to get trainees.
What about tips for breaking into design or production? The big-name manufacturers want design and production people who’ve had a traditional background at a comparable company—not someone who was a designer for him or herself. If you want to get with the larger houses, I would suggest
approaching them directly. You see, wholesalers don’t do a lot of college recruiting, and many of them don’t even have human resources departments. Also, they’ll consider unusual and/or creative backgrounds, but they also require some sort of
Is it possible to “switch tracks” in fashion and go from the retail side to the manufacturing side? Some of the more sophisticated manufacturers actually like to hire people that were originally retailers, and it’s a very good idea. A very clear example of that is Liz Claiborne. They’ve been able to take a retailer that doesn’t have a following, for instance, and transpose their retail management skills into the wholesale side. Smaller companies can’t typically afford to do that, though, because they want somebody who already has accounts.
In general, what qualities do fashion companies look for in an employee?
Every company I work with says they want someone who’s extremely motivated, who can think independently and who has good management skills, but those qualities have to be in a certain package. There’s a certain look you have to have, a
certain demeanor you have to have, and it differs from company to company. Gucci’s idea of the “package” is different than Target’s. Not better, just different.