Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association, got her start in the apparel world by working her way through college as a fitting model, or a live mannequin used by designers and manufacturers to test the fit of clothing on a real person. Her professional career has included sales, marketing and design for various fashion companies. She bought one, but later shut it down and became president of White Stag, which became part of Wal-Mart. Then she was director of what is now the California Market Center, a showroom facility. She has served as head of the Fashion Association since 1994, when it formed in response to the discovery of a slave-labor sewing operation in El Monte. The organization's role was initially to investigate and address the issue of sweatshop labor. She has continued to serve the apparel community through her work at the fashion association, making connections between businesses and offering insight on the inner workings of fashion and apparel, including technology, education, management and trade issues. Metchek sat down with the Business Journal in her downtown office to discuss her journey from New York marketing assistant to L.A. fashion association leader and her dislike for shopping.

Question: How did you get started in the fashion business?

Answer: I started in the business as a fitting model. That's the way you worked your way through school in New York. So I was very familiar with clothes, and I majored in marketing and management at NYU.

Q: Did you intend to work in the fashion business?

A: No, in the advertising business. My first job out of school was as the assistant advertising manager of what was then called D.B. Fuller & Co. It was a very big, very famous company in textiles. As a matter of fact, I can still see their logo. It was a gentleman in a top hat with a black patch over his eye, kind of like Mr. Peanut.

Q: How did you move out of advertising?

A: When my husband and I first came to California in the early '60s, I was a showroom salesperson and assistant advertising manager. And while I took a leave to have three children in two years, I took pattern-making classes with that wonderful attitude we have in California of "I can do that." But I was not very good at it. I was better at merchandising. My very first job was a disaster, but my bosses were lovely people. They knew I had talent but that I couldn't make a pattern. Fortunately I was good enough to get a better job that got me an assistant who made the patterns.


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