Vera Wang, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lansing. They may not be three things that naturally fit together, but one local fashion lover has a successful career thanks to that exact line up. “I didn’t know what I wanted to do … so I went to LCC (Lansing Community College) for a few years and then it hit me one day that I had forgot what I had loved when I was young — fashion. We had a lot of artistic stuff going on growing up, I just needed to be reminded,” said local fashion guru Rebecca Clark. “It’s funny because I got called into jury duty and ran into an old teacher who asked me if I was in fashion yet and I was like, ‘you know what? This is it.’” From there things moved smoothly and quickly. In her pursuit of a career in fashion Clark did careful research, which led her to Pratt Institute, a distinguished fashion school in New York. While attending school, Clark put in an extraordinary amount of effort to get her foot in the door of the very selective industry. “When I went to Pratt you had to work for free. I had two long internships where I went in a few days a week and worked for free. It’s really the only way. No one wants to hire you right out of college with no experience, but they will definitely let you work free. And that’s what you do. It’s how you get your foot in the door,” Clark said. “There is no special treatment in fashion. It is very demanding and super high stress, but it can be a lot of fun.” Clark’s career blossomed quickly in New York. Her dedication and perseverance set her apart from the rest of the fashion hopefuls and gave her an opportunity to excel quickly in the field. “I lived in New York for 12 years and worked in the fashion industry. My specialty was really in launching lines for famous people, like the line Simply Vera with a team of people. We presented to JCPenney, to Vera herself and then Kohl’s. It took a year and a half after creation until we got it into the store. For three or four years I managed that. I also worked on designs for Daisy Fuentes lines and created a line (at) Saks for Vera. A large part of my job was being Director of Trend,” said Clark. Though Clark had an amazingly successful career established in The Big Apple, she always knew she would return home to the Lansing area. “It’s not like here. In New York you have to work like a machine. It’s not for everyone. For me to go from unpaid intern to being at the top of a multibillion dollar company, it was a decade. And really in this industry it can take 20, 30 years to get there. I was fortunate that I was so crazy driven, which is fine when you’re young, but you get to the point where you want other things,” Clark said. Clark had reached that point and longed to be closer to family and friends. As an established professional, she was ready to take the leap into business for herself. She took the lessons she learned in New York and started applying them right here at home. “I got to a point where I had enough of New York. It is such a grind. It can get crazy. I wanted to come back to Michigan, it is my home, it is where my family is and I didn’t want to raise a child (in) New York,” Clark said. “You can’t let go of your child’s hand in New York. Can you imagine not letting go of your kid’s hand so they could go play? I got to a point where I was successful enough and I knew I could move anywhere and figure it out and work in fashion. I knew I could build a business. So we came back, bought a house, had a baby and started from there. It didn’t take long until I connected with the fashion industry here in Michigan.” That connection drove Clark to start one of her two businesses, Michigan Fashion Proto. The company’s objective is to provide Michigan designers and businesses with a fully-functioning pattern and sample room resource. With a mission to support the state’s budding fashion industry, Michigan Fashion Proto aims to supply all designers with the same resources that have become essential for New York designers. Clark also co-owns Trybe, a clothing line she developed with Molly Kircher. The label was conceived and designed by the pair and is 100 percent made in the USA. Since being back in Michigan, Clark has seen the industry blossom and she is excited to be a driving force and faithful resource to budding designers. “When I got back, there were a lot of individual designers but there was no connection at that time. Now we have groups and we have contact. I saw that there were all these people trying to get it started here but they lacked basic resources that people in L.A. and New York just have. That is why I opened Michigan Fashion Proto. We do a lot of consulting. We do a lot of initial setup for brands. We work to help people get their ideas going, “said Clark. Clark has seen a lot of ups and downs in the industry, but she knows that times of struggle go hand in hand with times of triumph. “The greatest struggles and accomplishments in my career are the same for me. Making it in New York was hard but worth it. Starting a businesses and a new industry here is unbelievably challenging but worth it,” said Clark. “But it’s different now because I have motherhood and businesses at the same time. I am one of those people that is not content unless I’m climbing up a very steep hill. I have to have my eye on a goal.” Clark’s main goals today are being an outstanding mother to her daughter Brooklyn and wife to her husband Peter Clark. “When I am with my daughter I cannot think about anything else, I learned that when she was a month old. I was trying to do both at the same time and it doesn’t work. To me that’s the balance, when I go home I only work after she goes to bed and if that doesn’t work I have confidence in my team here to get it all done. We take care of each other. We are family and it runs really well. It all works out. With my daughter and amazing family and amazing day care and amazing staff it all works as long as all the pieces in your life work,” said Clark. It may seem as if Clark has lived a fairytale life of fashion and has it all figured out, but she admits it took a lot of hard work, dedication and passion to make it in this industry. Clark hopes the next generation to come through the industry remembers the importance of hard work and never giving up on yourself. “Not everyone will make it. You don’t want everyone to make it. There can only be so many stars in the show. Blood, sweat and tears doesn’t do it justice. It’s so dramatic and traumatizing and rewarding and extreme in every way,” Clark said. “If you make it, you are so much better for it. If you don’t, you can’t even let yourself wallow. You lift up your chin and go. You fall down and you get back up. Fashion can build your confidence and tear you down and build it up again. It’s a lifestyle, you have to embrace it. It’s about passion.”
Ami Iceman-Hauter is the Brand Manager at M3 Group in downtown Lansing. Iceman is a graduate of Michigan State University with a bachelors degree in creative advertising.