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How She Got There: Zoe Cleary, Co-Founder & Designer of Nisolo

Name: Zoe Cleary
Age: 34
Job Title and Description: Co-Founder & Designer
College Name/Major: Willamette University: Double major in Economics and Spanish, Minor in Mathematics, LIM College: MBA in Fashion Management
Website: nisolo.com
Instagram Handle: @zoecleary @nisoloshoes

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

ZC: My primary job entails overseeing the design of our product at Nisolo, from conception to release. This includes working with our primary factory that we own and operate in Peru, and working with our partner factories in Mexico and Kenya. We’ve found that working hands on, on the ground with our makers turned out to be the most productive, so I spend a lot of time traveling! As Nisolo grows and evolves, my job also grows and evolves, and this kind of problem solving, learning and pivoting always keeps me on my toes!

What is the best part of your job?

ZC:  I love my work. What sticks out right now is the opportunity to work with and learn from people who come from so many different walks of life. From background to ethnicity, religion and education—we all have so much to learn from each other. And of course, it’s a dream come true to create products that I’ve spent so much time thinking were missing in the marketplace.

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

ZC: I worked for a jewelry designer in Chinatown in NYC. I helped with many different aspects of the business, from writing descriptions of new products on the website, to going to the jewelry district to review samples, to organizing inventory. It was not glamorous, but it was a great first look at the inner workings of a boutique brand.

What words of wisdom do you find most valuable?

ZC: We are here to learn and grow. Take every opportunity to do just that. If you are in a mundane job that feels stagnant then do something to change that. Ask questions, research topics, and seek advice—there is so much out there to learn!

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

ZC: Burn out. Working 14 to 16 hour days for the first few years was not sustainable and took a toll on me physically, mentally and emotionally. I don’t regret this experience but it has been a work in progress to find balance in my life.

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

ZC: I would say that my most exciting moment in the past six months was becoming B Corp Certified at Nisolo!

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

ZC: Humble, hungry, and smart—in that order. Humility is important because the willingness to be flexible and take on any task, big or small, is essential in our business. Hungry because we encourage our employees to take initiative and be actively thinking of ways to improve processes and the business overall. And intelligence as we navigate through new territory and need sharp minds to keep things new and relevant.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

ZC: Experience, experience, experience. I moved to NYC when I was 23 after already having several years of an established, well-salaried job in a different industry. In NYC, I took various non-paying and paying jobs in the fashion industry, ranging from three-person start-up brands to designers in the meatpacking district to a luxury department store and then finally working for a worldwide brand with annual sales of over $2 billion. From these varying experiences, I was able to piece together and figure out what direction I wanted to head in and what I was passionate about. It was a journey that was not easy at times and took a few years, but it helped me to understand myself better and led me to a place professionally that I’m proud of and passionate about.

What’s the one thing that’s stood out to you the most in a resume?

ZC: I appreciate seeing movement within a company. If someone is working at a company and is promoted, then that tells a good story of that person’s work ethic and the company’s desire to hold on to that employee.

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Amanda graduated from Carthage College with a Bachelor's degree in both Communications and Public Relations. She also proudly served as the Editor in Chief of her college's Her Campus chapter, and as a Her Campus Editorial Intern. She is from Chicago, Illinois, which she can confirm is indeed a windy city. Today she can still be found furiously tapping away at her laptop keys and producing content for the internet. In her spare time she enjoys reading books (before watching their Netflix or movie adaptions), running for fun (yes, it can be fun) and spending time with her friends and family.
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