Member Spotlight: Tara Tsui
Like many industries, the Fashion Industry has changed drastically in the last 20 years due to the rise and ease of new technologies. From information, to communication the world is in the palm of our hands. As Tara was on the cusp of diving into her career in the fashion industry, little did she know she would be at the forefront of developing new processes and new ways to create efficiencies in the industry.
While in school, she always enjoyed math and science. Her parents encouraged her, and her two sisters to pursue a career in engineering. During the summer of her sophomore year in high school, her Dad sent her to a computer science program at Columbia University. She immediately fell in love with the school and with the city, and knew that was where she would study and live.
When it came time to submit college applications she only applied for early admission to Columbia. Her family anxiously awaited the response; and near her birthday they received the great news that she was accepted!
She had a wonderful experience at Columbia, and even met her future husband there.
During her senior year when everyone was deciding their futures, she had a pivotal moment. It seemed clear to her friends and family that a job in consulting would be her path. Her Mom, Dad and almost everyone in her inner circle were also consultants; it only seemed fitting.
Deep down something didn’t feel right. She imagined her life as a consultant and felt uninspired. After many interviews in her field she decided to flip the switch and pursue a career in fashion, which was her true passion.
LANDING ON PLANNING
As she got her feet wet, her first role was in allocation with Dana Buchman (a division of Liz Claiborne). This role was straightforward, consisting primarily of math which was a breeze to Tara. Searching for more of a challenge, she moved on to roles in sales operations, financial planning, and business planning. While working at Ellen Tracy (after it was spun off from the Liz Claiborne umbrella) she saw an opportunity to create a planning division where one did not exist. She hired a small team to help execute the newly created processes. At the time inventory planning was a new concept in terms of minimizing waste, knowing exactly what to order and exactly where to place it.
With this experience under her belt she went on to work for Juicy Couture, which was expanding out of track suits and growing into a billion dollar business. She had the opportunity to assess the business and also create a planning system where there was none. With no planning software, she created a model tracking thousands of skews using excel. It was a tremendous, and challenging experience where she had the ability to flex her analytical muscles.
ELEVATING HER EXPERIENCE
Many of her colleagues in “bridge”, a niche space in the fashion industry between contemporary and designer, had joined a company called Lafayette 148. A brand known for sophisticated, clean-lined designs, and impeccable quality. When she had an opportunity to interview there she jumped at the chance. Being a smaller company, her interviews were with the President and VP of Marketing, and although it was unnerving - she wowed them. They hired her to start the planning initiative for the launch of the Direct to Consumer business, and even tailored the role to her strengths.
She jumped in and began work on production, buying, and inventory planning. She took on Wholesale and Specialty Stores. She grew her team and Lafayette 148 also expanded their retail business in China. As she went from planning finished goods to planning raw materials she witnessed firsthand the advantages of working for a vertically integrated company that owns its own factory. Having that direct oversight allowed the company to really control their Social Responsibility in their Supply Chain. If a style and color didn’t sell they could dye it black, or if a sweater was in bad shape they could make it into something new. This flexibility was key to minimizing waste.
Tara’s boss ensured nothing was wasted. Every year around Christmas she would find inspiration from designers and use up leftover materials: pieces of shearling turned into patchwork tote bags, leather wallets, Christmas ornaments and so much more.
After an eye opening presentation from a colleague that had studied sustainability, she realized just how damaging the fashion industry had really become for the planet. And although Lafayette 148 was built on the core values of efficiency, limiting waste, and responsibility there was still so much that could be done to take it to the next level.
Tara completed the Sustainable Design Certificate at FIT. She learned how to apply the “triple bottom line” model to the business. The triple bottom line maintains that companies should commit to focusing as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on profits. TBL theory states that instead of one bottom line, there should be three: profit, people, and the planet. She became a founding member of the company’s social responsibility team Social 148. She implemented a corporate recycling program which reduced the company’s paper usage by 20%. She developed goals that aligned with corporate objectives, ranging from improving efficiency to increasing volunteer hours.
She also had the opportunity to visit the state of the art workshop and production facility in Shantou, China. The company’s co-founder’s hometown is Shantou, China and they have committed to the children in the community by building the “School of Dreams”. A school that gives the children in the community a wonderful learning environment.
Tara has taken her vast experience in demand planning and sustainability and created her own business: measure x IMPACT. She helps companies define efficiency and profitability while creating partnerships with a purpose. She combines a deep understanding of the business aspect to ensure the company is profitable, and has the vision to see areas of opportunity to incorporate social responsibility and cost savings through efficient processes.
Recently, she’s taken up a new role with Purl Soho. While talking with the founders she became intrigued with their business. They’re a small knitting company that sells yarn, tools, and you can even visit their shop and get free instruction and help with your projects. They are committed to luxury, quality, natural fibers, small production, and responsible sourcing. Community is another core value, which has led them to develop free live zoom help so customers can call in from the comfort of their home. During the pandemic as crafting and various hobbies took off with everyone being home, and supply chains disrupted, their business needs have shifted. Tara has now stepped in to launch and develop their planning team!
Tara’s journey is proof that you can and should listen to your inner voice and forge your own path. Pursuing your passion gives you joy, and your life meaning. And no matter what, you should never stop following your dreams.