There are few sectors of the economy that offer as wide and interesting a range of career opportunities as fashion. Role Call highlights some of the industry’s most interesting jobs and the talented people who do them. For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.
NEW YORK, United States — Kristine Keller is senior manager of strategic partnerships at the Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA), a not-for-profit trade association, where she cultivates and oversees partnerships between American designers and outside businesses and corporations. Keller is a graduate of New York University, where her master's in psychology piqued her interest in methods of enhancing productivity in work settings. She worked for several years at Vanity Fair in publishing, before joining the CFDA in 2013.
BoF: Please describe your current role.
I manage strategic partnerships at the Council of Fashion Designers of America. The CFDA is comprised of more than 500 of America’s most eminent womenswear, menswear, jewellery and accessory designers. In my role, we work with B2B businesses and corporate affiliates like Intel, Google, American Express, eBay, P&G and Starbucks, in order to create business opportunities for CFDA designers, as well as open the door for companies who might not otherwise have direct access to the fashion industry. The other part of my job is managing the CFDA Foundation, a separate not-for-profit that fundraises for breast cancer patient care, HIV/AIDS and disaster relief.
BoF: What attracted you to the organisation?
The CFDA is a place like no other. It’s a very small team working on juggernaut initiatives with large scale impact. Teams here do everything from develop merit-based design scholarships, oversee the fashion manufacturing initiative to preserve manufacturing within New York City, to executing the CFDA Fashion Awards each June. I was excited to work in an industry that supported brands and designers that I admired, while simultaneously gaining not-for-profit experience.
BoF: What is the most exciting project or initiative you have worked on?
On the CFDA Foundation side, it was incredible to work on the 20th Anniversary of Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, which was started in 1994 by Ralph Lauren. Through partnerships with brands like Nine West and Porsche, we raised $1 million, all of which is directly allocated to breast cancer patient care, specifically patient navigator programmes. Our team recently visited two of the patient care centres where we allocate funding and it was ineffable to see the direct impact this programme creates. On the CFDA side, it was exciting to be part of the inaugural launch of New York Fashion Week: Men’s. It was one of the most collaborative efforts we’ve executed, where everyone was able to have a hand in shaping the domestic showcase for American men’s fashion.
BoF: How is your role changing? What are the forces driving this change?
Roles are changing by virtue of the fact that the industry is constantly changing. The addition of New York Fashion Week: Men’s is now a huge pillar of the CFDA. Additionally, working on partnerships, the role is evolving as new partners are added and new programmes are created. Our partnership with Google started with “Shop the Hangout,” an interactive shopping experience where consumers could shop Google+ Hangouts. Now, we’re working with Google Android Wear on watch faces designed by CFDA members.
With the CFDA Foundation side, there will always be changes as we brainstorm new ways to creatively fundraise for the charitable initiatives we support. We were able to allocate funding to three new grant centres in Southern Los Angeles this past year.
BoF: What is the most important thing you have learnt during your career?
It’s important to be a giver, a term coined by Adam Grant, one of my favorite writers. Givers help others without expecting anything in return and, in a small office, it’s important to have a team player, “everything is my job” mentality. It’s important to interact with empathy and positivity and cultivate relationships with colleagues and partners. The most successful partnerships I’ve worked on have been with people and organisations with whom I’ve fostered trust. I also try to remind myself daily of Tina Fey’s advice: “Whatever the problem, be part of the solution.” Problems will inevitably occur but finding solutions is part of being challenged and can not only be rewarding, but fun!
BoF: What advice do you have for people who are interested in doing what you do?
My path is certainly not traditionally linear. I graduated with a master’s degree in Psychology and worked in publishing at Vanity Fair before coming to the CFDA. My advice is to never think you are pigeonholed into one industry – each experience adds value and informs the next in ways you probably aren’t aware of yet. Stay curious, read everything from high culture to low culture to generate ideas about partnerships, and network. Don’t be afraid to be bold and seek advice and mentorship from those that you respect or want to work for. If you’re interested in working for a certain brand, read everything about that brand and try to meet with people who can connect you. I’ve learned that one introduction can be life-changing.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
For more information about fashion industry roles like this and others, visit BoF Careers.