Michelle Zara Evans has transformed her passion for fashion into a successful career as an e-commerce and merchandising executive – working her magic at the likes of Tiffany & Co., Gilt, and Bespoke Post. Along her path, she’s been focused on supporting and connecting with other women and women-owned brands. In this empowering interview, Michelle discusses her pivot from jewelry design entrepreneur to high-powered exec, and reveals how saying no, following her gut, and going after her big dreams continue to pay off. She also reminds us how women elevating women helps us ALL reach greater heights.
In this episode, you’ll hear:
- [2:29] The evolution of Michelle’s career in fashion
- [5:16] How Michelle discovered the power of networking during her career change
- [10:51] Michelle’s advice for a successful creative career
- [13:13] The importance of saying “No”
- [16:36] How working with Paloma Picasso influenced Michelle
- [18:07] Michelle’s Tip to Rock It
Links from this episode:
- Michelle on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/michellezaraevans
- Connect with Michelle on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/michelle-zara-evans-305bb21/
- Shop Elia Fulman: https://eliafulmen.com/
She Rocked It is a media and mentorship platform where creative, courageous women rock it together. We are eager to learn from, listen to, and lift one another up — driven by the belief that women’s voices are essential. On our podcast and Instagram Live interview series, She Rocked It host/founder and creative entrepreneur Karen Gross gets trailblazing women leaders, creatives, and entrepreneurs to reveal how they rock it – and their insights may surprise you. Their behind-the-scenes stories, best-kept secrets to success, and actionable tips are sure to inspire the rockstar in all of us!
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Michelle Zara Evans Transcript
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: It took me being able to say no sometimes to be able to say yes and hold on to like what I really wanted to do
INTRO: Hey Rockstar, thanks for tuning in to the She Rocked It podcast. I’m your host, Karen Gross. And I’m so glad you’re tuning into this episode today, because I’m speaking with Michelle Zara Evans, who I have had the pleasure of knowing since we went to college together at Wesleyan University. And I’ve always been wowed by her confidence and her poise and her kindness. And it has been so cool to see her career skyrocket over the past 20 years, yes 20 years, as she’s really dug into her passion for fashion. In particular, she’s an expert in e-commerce and merchandising, which means she has a lot to do with what we’re shopping for and what’s being picked by various brands. And over her career, she has had the opportunity to work with some incredible brands like Tiffany & Company, and most recently Bespoke Post which is focused on subscription boxes for men. She is also a jewelry designer and has launched her own jewelry business. So for all these reasons, I know you’re going to be inspired by Michelle’s journey as a creative. And here’s another thing I love about Michelle, she is incredible at connecting women with opportunities. In fact, she connected me with the founder of Elia Fulmen, a jewelry brand that Michelle is involved with and that’s really focused on women’s empowerment. So without further ado, let’s dive into this incredible conversation with Michelle. And bear in mind that this interview was also recorded on Instagram so it may sound a little different than a regular podcast. But I didn’t want you to miss Michelle’s incredible wisdom about the power of women connecting women.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: So welcome to She Rocked It and welcome back into my life after some 20 years. We went to college together at Wesleyan, I’ve always thought so highly of you, and it’s just so awesome to reconnect with you.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Same absolutely amazing and amazing to see what you’re doing with this platform.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: Well, I really appreciate that from you. Because what I’ve now come to realize is that you have really been supporting women throughout your career. We’re going to talk about that tonight a little bit. But first, why don’t you tell us a little bit about what you’re up to lately?
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Sure, I would love to. So I’ve spent the past 15 years working in the retail industry, mostly in e-commerce and many different kinds of business models. Many use pretty diverse and unique, you know range from flash sales at Gilt Groupe, to social retail, which is basically a modern version of Avon at Chloe + Isabelle, to a text message-based shopping platform called Jetblack that was part of Walmart’s Innovation Center. And then I joined Bespoke Post right before the pandemic. So January 2020, which was a very interesting rollercoaster time to be working in retail as well as e-commerce.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: It’s interesting because I know you had a time with Tiffany & Company, you work with Paloma Picasso on her beautiful jewelry. So that’s kind of an interesting stretch. And it shows how nimble you are to go from that to that, you know, so how does that feel for you kind of keeping nimble within the fashion world? You know, going from I would say very woman-focused brand to more of a man-focused enterprise.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Yeah, you know, I was lucky in a couple of ways. I mean, one, I’ve worked for businesses that have just been very focused on the customer. And so if you can, if you can think about the customer and everything that you do, then it’s less about sort of your personal interests. I mean, of course, it’s fun, it helps if you love the product that you’re buying, and that you’re working on. But if you can really put yourself in a customer mindset, it’s easier to kind of move from one brand to the other, or one, you know, one type of customer to the other. But also the time I spent at Gilt was a really pivotal time for me in my career. And Gilt was a business that really focused on, you know, all categories from women’s apparel, to men’s apparel, to home to kitchen. And so in that in that time, I held many different roles, one of which was a business development role that I think we’ll talk a little bit more about in terms of developing your network and being a connector. But I got to work on a lot of partnerships in the men’s business there and so it was a nice way for me to kind of get my feet wet in that in that customer base and then it’s come back to benefit me later on.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: I love that and let’s just dive right into kind of what you were just alluding to about connecting women along our career journeys, connecting with women connecting women with one another because already since I’ve launched, She Rocked It you’ve connected me with, I want to say at least two women who have had very fruitful collaborations with. So it just seems like this is a throughline for you is about connecting women tell, tell us about why that’s important to you, and how that’s kind of manifested, manifested itself throughout your career.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Sure. I never really thought I would be someone who had a big network. I’ve always had, you know, more like small groups of friends kind of growing up and that type of thing. And I think there’s a couple experiences, I really have, like springboarded, the kind of connector than I am today. And I think the first major one was that I wanted to change careers. So when I first graduated from Wesleyan with you, I worked in management consulting, which was great, and I learned so much, and I have so much respect for that industry. But I knew I was missing a creative, a creative outlet. And I had always had a passion for jewelry. And I knew that long term, I kind of wanted to combine my analytical side with my creative side. And I thought that retail would be a great industry to do that in. But in order to get there, I needed to find a path. And I not only went into a business school and use that as a springboard to change careers, but I wanted to sort of have a great story and put my money where my mouth is. And I definitely recommend to anyone who wants to change careers that you think about that, like how do you really create something that’s authentic, and really show that you have a passion other than just saying that you like something. And so I created my own jewelry business. And in doing that, like I had to put myself out there, I didn’t know anyone who owned stores, I didn’t really know many people who worked in the retail industry. And so that really sparked this whole idea of like, I have to go talk to people I don’t know. And I can’t be afraid, I have to ask and I have to meet and I have to then meet, and then if someone says save a friend of a friend who owns a boutique like I just started to add to talk to everyone.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: Wow, you created your own jewelry line.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: I did back then yeah,
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: I didn’t know.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Yeah, back in the day.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: Okay, it’s coming back to me now a little bit. But so like, because you had this incredible combination, Michelle, of like creativity and business savvy, which I think is really spectacular. And we can learn a lot from that as creatives, you have an MBA. But you also obviously, are very creative. And I didn’t realize we’re actually making your own jewelry at one point, and really trying to launch your own brand. That’s really interesting.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Yeah, I did. And I think that gave me the confidence to realize that I can meet people and when you meet people that are, you know, how excited about what you’re doing, as a woman just liking your product, all of a sudden, you start to meet other entrepreneurs, and I met other people in the retail industry. And that was really the beginning of realizing that to get where I wanted to go and switching careers, I was really, I wasn’t going to be able to rest on the career center, you know, bringing people in to interview on campus. For me, I was gonna have to find people who worked in the industry on my own. And that, to me, is really where I started to figure out like, how do you network? How do you have informational meetings? How do you kind of give and get, and that experience of really changing careers, like set me on a path to, you know, knowing I needed to network and, and connect people, and starting to really love doing it, and then seeing the benefit of it and wanting to help other people find, find those connections. And I think, you know, the combination of going through that experience, and then just my own personality, being someone who is I call myself a helper, like, I always want to help like, I always want to figure out, there’s something I can do sometimes that drives my family crazy. But I think the combination of those two things of one of wanting to help people, but also now being in a position where I can, has become really, really powerful. And you know, we were chatting about this earlier, but I really take a lot of pride in in maintaining and always continuing to build my network, and helping you know, other people find ways to benefit from the connections that I have. It gives me like a ton of just personal joy, but also like a lot of pride and a huge sense of accomplishment that I don’t just want to help someone but I actually can, I think can make like sometimes a real difference by putting the right people together and opening doors.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: I love that. And I love that it’s kind of nourishing for you. And it’s nourishing for the people that you know, you support in this way. You just have such a generous spirit and it’s really refreshing and I appreciate it so much. And I think as women there’s really something that intentional, we can be very intentional about making these connections for one another. Because I do agree with you that in these times of sort of pivoting and need and so many women now have been impacted by the pandemic by the “She-session” then the “Great Resignation,” and we’re all so many of us, I should say are in this moment of needing that kind of support. So I think, listen up everyone in like, let’s take a page from Michelle’s book and really try to support one another in a moment where I think women are especially needing and will be appreciative of that kind of connection. So so thank you for like modeling that for us. Because yeah, I think it’s crucial in this moment in particular.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Could not agree more.
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KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: And in terms of your career trajectory, as we kind of reconnect and I’ve learned more about what you’ve been doing it just strikes me that you’ve really crafted a career on your own terms. You followed your calling your passion for fashion, for lack of a better expression. And, you know, for joy, what advice might you offer to other women to really carve out a path that is that is nourishing, that’s fulfilling, that’s successful? Because it just seems like you’ve really excelled at that.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Well, it’s taken me a while I think I mean, I had a vision of wanting, as I mentioned earlier to be in this industry. And I really, I really fought for that. But I think in terms of finding the right combination of doing a job that I love in an industry that I’m really interested in, and having like a good and good experience on the ground. I think that that’s come from a couple of places. One is that I tend to always have additional extracurricular activities that help to nourish me, like working on Elia Fulmen with Whitney at times, still creating my own jewelry and doing you know, holiday trunk shows here and there. And so those things kind of helped to make, to round out, you know, my experience in the in the industry and make sure I have some, you know, pet projects going on.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: I’m actually really glad you brought that up. I was, funny, I was speaking to a woman today about just that about we have kind of our, maybe our bread and butter, you might say or we have our things that we do and then that’s okay, you know, that’s okay to have those parts of our lives. And then there’s other parts of our lives that we do, because we love it. And we don’t necessarily, like rely on it for our 100% income. But it’s okay to cobble it together in ways that are holistically nourishing. So it’s funny because like, Yeah, I’m glad you flagged because I feel like I had a similar conversation earlier. And that’s like, it’s okay to look at life more holistically.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: I agree. And I think that’s important, they feed off of one another, better, I’m better at my job at the Bespoke Post, because of some of the things I do. Also, because of a lot of them. Now I meet other people, I hear different things, I learn a lot of things and all of that can benefit, you know, across the board.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: And you also volunteer for organizations where you’re supporting women who need kind of some job security and women who are under so you’re doing a lot of amazing things to support women above and beyond your kind of nine to five, let’s say.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Yeah, I will say one more thing, though, because my nine-to-five is incredibly important to me. And I work at a at a really, really special place. And I think it to answer your original question about like, how did I find in my career, you know, how do they get to a place where like, I feel, you know, fulfilled and excited, and I I’m happy with what I’m doing. It was definitely a journey. And I think it took me being able to say no, sometimes to be able to say yes, and hold on to like what I really wanted to do. So I’ve made it into this into this industry and found some really amazing jobs. But some of those jobs, like were not with maybe the people I want it to be working with or in a culture or environment that I really believed in, you know, in terms of how to manage people how to work with people and how to treat people. And I, I my advice, you know, to other women and anyone really is it’s okay sometimes to say no, like, if you really, if you there might be an amazing job, but if the experience on the ground isn’t really going to be one that you’re going to feel great about and be able to be your best self and your true self. Like, it’s worth saying no. And it’s easier to say that where I am because I’ve had the luxury now to a certain extent of being able to, you know, wait or pick and choose and find something that I really love and work with like, you know, amazing people, but it’s worth holding out for that to the extent that you can. And to me like that’s the ultimate part of the career. It really comes down to like who are you working with?
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: It’s so true. I mean, I feel like we can have the quote unquote dream job or client even but if in reality, the chemistry isn’t there or the kind of day-to-day, stuff isn’t aligning or feeling aligned. What may have seemed a yes may not be actually a yes, it may be a no. So it does take courage to raise your voice for that. No, I think and that’s what we talk a lot about here is really having the courage to say no, or say yes, depending on what’s really feeling true to your path. And it sounds like were there any times when like you had to kind of psych yourself up to say a big no. to something?
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Yes. Yeah, there were. And, you know, the industry that I’m in is can be tumultuous at times, you know, people have called it the retail apocalypse and all of these things. And I’ve gone through like many transitions, in my career, some that were my choice, and some that weren’t my choice just because of what was happening in the industry. And there were times where I wanted to just, you know, grab something that was maybe the first opportunity that I had, or something that sounded that sounded really great on paper that would look good on my resume. And there there were one or two times where I said no, even though I didn’t have another offer lined up. And it was scary, to be honest. My first job out of business school, my heart was set on working in jewelry, I just it’s one of my biggest passions. And I was waiting for an offer from Tiffany’s I hadn’t heard from them, I got an offer from somewhere else to work in a different category. And I said no, before I got my Tiffany offer, and it was one of the scariest, most painful things I’ve ever done in my life. But I knew if I could do it, then I could have the courage to do it again in the future. I needed to—
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: Wow, I just got the goosebumps. That is bad ass. I love that. And just give us a little window about you love to tell us a little about working with Paloma Picasso and what how you collaborated with her?
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Sure. I mean, I feel very honored and lucky that you know, at a very young age was my first job out of business school. My first job in retail, I was assigned to do category management and demand planning, which are some merchandising terms, basically, you know, help build the assortment, launch, develop and launch new products for the Paloma Picasso line. And within the first year of working on that line, you know, she came to New York and spent, you know, several weeks with the team brainstorming, sketching, talking about her passions and what she’s doing in her life, and really planning for the next year of new collections. And she just has an incredible, incredible amount of poise. She really immersed herself in nature and in her environments, and brought a lot of that, you know, inspiration, you know, into the jewelry, which I feel like in some ways was like very ahead of her time. I feel like now there’s such a trend to take a lot of inspiration from the outdoors and nature and she was really doing that, you know, a long time ago. And so it was very, she I was definitely starstruck by her and I’ve always kind of had her in my mind as a role model.
KAREN GROSS / SHE ROCKED IT: What a powerhouse woman to collaborate with early on in your career, that’s so exciting to hear a little window into what that was like. And tell us one tip to Rock It that we can take with us in our careers to rock it as you have.
MICHELLE ZARA EVANS: Reach out to someone and ask for something that you want. Honestly, I think that is one of my biggest tips in life and in in the world is ask for something someone makes a connection for you. Don’t be afraid to ask for what you want. Or if you’re asking someone to make a connection for you. Tell them what it is that you want to come out of that. And don’t be afraid to ask for it.
OUTRO: Thanks so much for tuning in to the She Rocked It podcast. I’m your host Karen Gross. This episode has been produced by Tori Marchiony with audio engineering by Teng Chen. The She Rocked It theme song is by Karen Gross and Tim Motzer. Visit our Instagram page @sherockedit, join the conversation and visit our website sherockedit.com To learn about how you can join our community, support our work and attend our live events. Also, you can apply on our website for our Rock-It Launcher group mentorship program. See you there!