Insider Industry Interview: Head Designer at Macy’s, Gina Anselmo

To be (a corporate designer) or not to be, that is the question. Living in the big city, (New York City) you would think that being a fashion designer, regardless of the work is the absolute epitome of being. But as Gina Anselmo from Macy’s tells us, designing for a large corporation, even in the heart of NYC, is not as glamorous and creative as she was led to believe.

Gina grew up in Monument, Colorado and graduated from Colorado State University with a BA in Apparel Design in 2001. Directly upon graduation she secured herself an internship at Macy’s and has worked her way up the corporate ladder ever since to become Head Designer for Alfani Women’s knits and sweaters line collection.

Reflecting back on Gina’s education, she states that it definitely was informative but was not a true representation of what the fashion industry really is. Her courses in school were completely different from what she is doing now. Gina reflects and wishes she would have taken Illustrator and Photoshop classes in school. She frequently has to create technical sketches in Illustrator and has had to teach herself along the way.

When Gina first started working for Macy’s she was shocked at how much knock-off “designing” truly goes into creating a line. When she begins the conception of a new collection, the first thing she has to do is research. She researches what styles and colors have sold for her line last year, as well as figures out how to translate what walks down runway into what will sell on the retail floor. She figures out what her major trend statement for the season should be and tries to focus on three to five elements that will express that idea throughout the line.

Living in NYC, Gina loves to shop at upcoming boutiques and designer’s studios for additional inspiration and uses Style Sight (Trend forecasting publication) as well. Each season, she also purchases designer label’s garments to gain inspiration and technical ideas from too.

Gina sources all of the fabrics and trims for her lines and feels that this selection is what can make or break a line. All the small details are very important and can really elevate the look of a garment. The workmanship also plays a very important role, but since all of the garment production is currently outsourced overseas, she has less control over that aspect of the line.

Gina was definitely surprised by the corporate design environment stating, “I don’t feel that I have as much creative freedom as I would like”. While Gina is extremely grateful for everything she has learned from Macy’s, looking back she would have preferred to start at a smaller company. She now sees that working in corporate environment “…the focus is not on design…it’s about making money”.

“I would say the most difficult part of designing for someone else is trying to design for someone else’s vision. It doesn’t feel as much your own as you would hope. There are more boundaries that you want to break through.”

When we asked Gina what it was like to work in the garment industry and in NYC of all places, she replied, “It is a very stressful industry and people are very critical of your work. You have to be very thick skinned and not take anything personally. Think Devil Wears Prada…”. Enough said.

So how has she made it 10 years in the garment industry so far? Simple, she is creative, organized, opinionated, has knowledge of good construction, a good sense of color, able to spot a trend and make it right for her customer, resilient and passionate about what she does. You have to be all of these to make it in any fashion career.

Yes, but why does she do it?

“It’s that feeling of walking down any street in America and saying… Oh I designed that and occasionally attending NY Fashion Week. There is nothing better than a live runway show!”

Gina’s advice for people aspiring to get in the garment industry is, “I would really think about what you want to design…do you want to work for a major retailer or do you want to work for a small designer? You need to ask these questions of yourself. The first few years of your career, try to gain as much experience doing different things as you can…it makes you more marketable in the long run. You can take knowledge from each of these experiences and really narrow in on what you want your concentration to be. The more experience you have in the beginning, the more choices you have in the future. And don’t stay somewhere too long…it’s good to mix it up and get a lot of different kinds of experience under your belt. You will work very hard at one company and sometimes they might have unrealistic expectations of you. Just always stay true to your integrity and don’t forget why you love fashion.”