For as long as she can remember, Carly Cushnie, 35, wanted to be a fashion designer. Her path was clear: She received a degree from Parsons School of Design in New York City and launched Cushnie et Ochs, a luxury women’s line, almost immediately after with her friend Michelle Ochs. Ten years later, in 2018, the two parted ways and Cushnie became the majority owner, creative director and CEO of her eponymous outfit. Her career is an anomaly—there are so few Black women at the helm of a luxury fashion business. Here the London-born, New York City-based entrepreneur opens up about her road to success.
ESSENCE: What was the most challenging aspect of launching your own company?
CARLY CUSHNIE: Everything. There are numerous aspects of the business to juggle all at once, but I’d say that cash flow was definitely one of the most challenging. When starting a fashion label, you have to pay for everything upfront, as no one knows who you are yet. Then once your brand begins to make money, you have to manage funds appropriately to keep production moving and meet your delivery deadlines.
ESSENCE: Tell us about your path in fashion before Cushnie et Ochs.
CUSHNIE: At Parsons, I gained invaluable experience through internships with Donna Karan, Proenza Schouler, and Oscar de la Renta. I saw the inner workings of three very different brands.
ESSENCE: What triumphs have you had since becoming the majority owner of what is now Cushnie?
CUSHNIE: Rebranding the company marked the beginning of an incredible new chapter for me. I’ve been overwhelmed by the positive responses to the evolution of the collection since going out on my own.
ESSENCE: What does it take to be a Black woman running a major fashion label?
CUSHNIE: Although there are many women working in the field, it’s still very much a boys’ club at the executive level of top design houses. Women designers are often labeled as being “practical” in their aesthetic compared with their male counterparts, who offer the “fantasy.” As a woman in fashion, you have to have a strong point of view that stands out and doesn’t waver under critique. And as a Black designer, it’s very easy to be pigeonholed based on what the industry assumes you will do. It took a lot of work for me to break those preconceptions, especially when there are very few examples to aspire to.
To listen to my full interview with Carly Cushnie, check out UnBossed Podcast above!