Growing up, Julie Mollo always knew she was destined for something bigger than scooping ice cream in her hometown of Massachusetts. Her design career began in high school when she started making purses out of capri-sun pouches- you know the ones you used to bring in your lunch bag to school. From there, Julie went on to attend Pratt and eventually interned for designer Betsey Johnson. It wasn’t until after her sophomore year of college though, that her life drastically changed. She began designing clothing for an up-and-coming pop star whom you may have heard of, does Katy Perry ring a bell? Read ahead as Julie tells us how one email changed her entire career, and how she has since gone on to develop her own online course for aspiring fashion designers. Below, her tips, tricks, and advice for Making it in Manhattan.
When did you first realize you wanted to become a fashion designer?
It was always in my blood. My grandmother and my great grandmother would always make clothes for themselves and for my mother. My mom has been sewing forever, but hated making clothes. Mom taught me how to sew in middle school, and it was not until high school that I started to draw. Once I put the two parts of my brain together and learned how to create what I drew, I knew what I wanted to do. I’m from a super small town with a very small art department so I started taking classes outside of my high school at colleges and museums nearby to learn as much as I could about fashion design. I knew I wanted to eventually move to NYC so I only applied to schools here. 11 years later, I'm still here.
What was the first thing you ever designed?
I started a business selling purses made from capri-sun pouches out of my locker when I was a senior in high school. Everyone at the school knew where my locker was and would slide empty pouches through the slots of my locker for me to go home, clean out and use in my designs. I had like, 6 different styles and even developed a wallet for men.
What internships did you have during your time at Pratt and how did they impact your career?
I interned at Heatherette while I was a freshman at Pratt. Heatherette aesthetically was right up my alley and it was a dream to be surrounded by their world (plus it was on the 66th floor of the empire state building so I felt like a baller at 18). Heathertte was known for their crazy custom dresses for My Super Sweet 16 and other shows like that. I landed my dream internship with Betsey Johnson during the summer between my junior and senior year. I spent 40 hour weeks there in July & August leading up to her SS10 show that September at the Plaza. Interning made me realize what I did and didn’t want, and I saw the importance of sticking to your guns.
What did you wear to your first interview?
I always had the opinion that if you couldn't dress up in your style 100% for an interview, then you probably don’t want that job. I remember wearing my "lucky" party dress* to my interview at Betsey Johnson, it was a beige seersucker sweetheart strapless top with black circle skirt and tulle- it had little gold music note buttons on the top. I wore that party dress a lot that year, and to an interview I would just pair a cardigan and my black satin boat shoes with it to be a little more "profesh". That was definitely my uniform when I was 20-21.
I met Katy Perry and Gwen Stefani while wearing that dress so it had a special place in my heart.
What is the best advice someone has ever given you?
I live by a few mantras- “If it’s not fun, why do it?” and “you have nothing to lose”. I don’t remember where I first heard either of those, but they are both things that I think about every single day. When you think about it, my business started because I was not afraid of sending an email.
During your time in college you began designing costumes for Katy Perry, how did that happen?
In the summer of 2008 Katy Perry released I Kissed A Girl and it was being played on radios everywhere. I was back in Massachusetts for the summer working as a substitute teacher, a nanny and ice cream scooper all while also making a 10 piece collection of clothing for myself. I started seeing pictures of her and knew that if she knew about my clothes, she would totally wear them. I found Katy’s manager’s email address on her MySpace and sent an email. A couple hours later Katy’s stylist emailed me and Katy herself emailed me the next day. I sent a huge box of clothes to LA and she was wearing the collection I made that summer on stage on the warped tour. She loved what she saw on my website and she gave me a backstage pass to her concert the following week at a 6 Flags in Massachusetts. I brought my mom and my best friend backstage, took Katy’s measurements and discussed doing designs for the Today Show, The VMAs, Tonight Show and so much more. She blogged about me after the today show performance and just like that my life was changed. Thousands of girls flooded my website and emailed me wanting custom clothing. My business was started right there in my Brooklyn dorm room. If Katy hadn’t responded to my email then nothing would have happened, but because she did, everything changed.
You now run Julie Mollo designs, where you make clothing, jewelry, and now (the cutest!) bags, what is your favorite aspect of your career?
My favorite aspect of my career is knowing that people love, wear and use my designs. Every time I ship out a package it brings me so much joy. Having pop up shops and meeting everyone IRL, selling my designs to them and watching my fun stuff bring other people joy is the absolute best thing. My sparkly bags have been a total game-changer in my brand. They have opened up so many doors and have opened me up to a much larger audience.
You recently created an online course for aspiring fashion designers, tell us more about that!
I did! Very exciting! When I graduated, I had press hits and a-list clients, but didn’t know how to actually take this small hobby-business out of the dorm room and turn it into something profitable and stable in the real world. I didn’t learn the practical step-by-step way to start a business because design colleges don’t always want you to go down a career path that is uncertain. My E-Course, So You Wanna Be a Fashion Designer, is the 5 floundering post-grad years of my life summed up for you so that you don’t have to make the very expensive, time-wasting mistakes that I made. soyouwannabeafashiondesigner.com
What are the three beauty products you never leave home without?
Russian red matte lipstick by Mac has been my go-to color since high school. I wont leave the house without that, mascara (currently loving Smashbox X rated by Smashbox) and my sidekick cosmetics highlighter/bronzer. I literally get stopped on the street about my highlighter at least once a week.
Where do you hope to see your line five to ten years down the road?
Completely out of my apartment! Haha! I would love to be carried in more stores all around the country and world and have a permanent location somewhere in NYC. I’ve always dreamed of having my own boutique where girls could go, shop, hang out, sip champagne and do crafts with their friends. Experiencing a brand is so important, the internet is amazing, but seeing your customers and making those connections face to face is what it’s all about!
What advice would you give to aspiring fashion designers out there?
If you work hard enough, it will happen. I am a big believer in that. I do not believe in luck. I work my ass off. You have to be a little crazy to work as hard as you’ll need to, and I am totally aware of my craziness. I always tell people that I wouldn’t tell anyone to do what I do, but I wouldn’t do anything differently!
Come meet Julie and shop with her IRL! She’ll be at various pop-up markets this spring and summer- we can’t wait to stop by!
4/1 - Brooklyn Expo Center @ BUST
4/2 - Brooklyn Night Bazaar @ Hop, Bop & Shop
5/6-7 Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse @ BUST
6/17-18 Brooklyn Expo Center @ Renegade
7/3-7/18 Chelsea Market @ Artists & Fleas
For an inside look into the fashion industry follow me on Instagram & Snapchat @cvazzana.
Have a question or just want to say hey? Shoot me an email.