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Monday, July 8, 2013

FAB Exclusive: Interview with NBC Fashion Star Cassandra Hobbins

fashion star cassandra hobbins

I first met Cassandra Hobbins working on a cute sportswear collection called Priorities.  She made it look great, and as a technical design director, I made it fit.  A few years later, I saw her design and sell her way through to first runner-up on NBC’s Fashion Star.  Mentored by menswear icon John Varvatos, her chic aesthetic and designs made her a judge and fan favorite. 

What many people don’t know is that Cassandra started her career in psychology in Canada.  She soon found her calling in fashion and found an internship at a menswear company on the West Coast.  A shoe company discovered her talents and flew her to New York to run operations.  Soon, she was hired as a senior designer for many top labels.

Cassandra sat down with Ms. Fabulous editor Mariana Leung to chat about her working style and upcoming plans:

Ms. Fabulous: Prior to the show, you had a fast trajectory when you first started out in as an intern in menswear on the West Coast, then flying out to NYC when you were hired to head up operations for a shoe label. Soon, your work led to a prestigious position as head designer at Elie Tahari.  What specific things do you think you did differently from your peers that led to your quick advancement?

Cassandra Hobbins: Well, I am still not as far along as I want to be! However, I am doing pretty well considering I am self-taught and didn't go to school for fashion design. I always felt really fortunate to be given the opportunity at Orthodox to pretty much learn as I went along and run a company for someone despite having no previous experience. So, I just poured all my time, energy, effort, and passion into that first position and worked my way up very fast. That is the beauty of working at a small start-up - you get to wear many hats, learn all roles, how they function together, and move up the ladder faster, with a well-rounded set of skills under your belt, as well as having to become a manager of any new people who come on board. 

For me, I always go into every job thinking this may start out as one thing, but I am going to make sure I go above and beyond to make it even more. I'd accept a job as a janitor somewhere if I saw opportunity to turn that janitor position into CEO.  I am a sponge, love to learn, love to have fun, love my job so much and work very hard - It's good to know that  there are employers out there that will actually reward you on those merits alone, even in this cut throat industry. 

Ms. F: It was a big risk leaving an established position at Tahari for a shot to compete on television.  What were the pros and cons you had to weigh in making that decision?  Would you advise someone else to follow in your path?

CH:  Leaving Tahari was the easiest decision I've ever made, there was absolutely nothing on the "cons" side to leaving Tahari. The pro's side to leaving Tahari was about 7 pages long,  I'll leave it at that .... haha.  

Ms. F: What was the typical process week to week in designing for each challenge on Fashion Star?  How many hours and how many people did you work with?

CH: We were given the challenge let's say on a Monday at 10 am. The garments then had to be completed by 10 pm the next day. So about a day and a half once you throw in all the fabric shopping, meetings, making a tv show stuff.  We had a pattern maker to work with. There was a sewing and cutting room that was assigned / communal at crunch time. 
fashion star john varvatos

Ms. F: Your mentor on the show was John Varvatos.  What was the most valuable thing you learned from him and other mentors you have had in the past?

CH: John Varvatos was amazing. He was always very supportive of me even in times when everyone didn't understand why.  I definitely learned the importance of having confidence from him - a thing I often lack because I don't want people to think I am being arrogant or delusional about myself. 

 I have had the extreme fortune of having several mentors in life , the most important one being Jon Levine in Los Angeles, who owns a consulting firm called Apparel Advisors . He has consulted Wild Fox, Rock N Republic, has several brands himself , was COO of James Perse - he taught me the importance of everyone and everything being transparent in the structure of your company. You can't keep everything in your own head and at some point you need to delegate because trying to do everything will only hurt you and the growth of the business.  Doing "the most" work doesn't define your worth at a company, it's the quality of your work that does. 

Ms. F: What are you working on now after the show has ended? Where can fans find your work? 

CH: I am working at a company called Jump Apparel.  I am doing a dress line there , my first season for the brand being Spring 2014. I am excited to be working under the creative director of Isaac Mizrahi (which is one of approximately 20  brands under the companies umbrella) . I am also hoping to launch a line under my own brand name that will be an extension of the styles I did for Express and Macy's on the show.

I am also in talks to do some guest writing for an amazing Canadian fashion magazine called, Niche Magazine. 

Finally, I am also honored to be part of an amazing project created by a great friend and former colleague of my first brand Prose IV , Casey Cleveland. It's a fashion lifestyle project targeting the Health and Medical industry that will work to provide healthcare services to the under privileged through the sales of the product. We are expecting to launch later this year. In the meantime you can follow us at S.A.L.T on social media with the handle "saveanotherlifetoday" - on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest.....
brown vest

Ms. F: For designers hoping to compete on the next season, what tips can you give for being cast and the actual competition?

CH: I really hope there will be a next season! The Friday night time slot this year was hard, so I hope they come back with season 3 and on a different night. People need to know that this format for designing product is literally how fast designing works in the fashion industry. We have serious time constraints to pump out tons of product with the help of a manufacturing team.

If in fact, the show does come back next year, I would tell the cast members to enjoy the process of making a TV show.  Interact with your other cast mates, have fun, and get to know all the production crew and people who make the show happen. If you are working as a designer, you will likely always be a designer, but this may be the only time in your life you get to film a TV show so make the best of it and don't take yourself so seriously (the public will do that for you, haha!) 

Ms. F: Thanks Cassandra and good luck!
Photos from NBC Fashion Star, Saks and Cassandrahobbins.com

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