In each individual’s career path, there are many twists and turns. You may enter college dreaming of law school and your first day in court, but ultimately discover that your passion is working as an art director for an advertising agency.
Susie Crippen, co-founder of J Brand Jeans and the founder of Crippen, moved to New York City for acting school after one year of college. She performed in cabaret shows through her 20s and into her 30s before moving to California, unsure of what her next career move would be. After working as a waitress for several years, she decided to become a wardrobe stylist and worked in the fashion industry until she turned 40 years old.
At this point in her career, Crippen was making $80,000 a year, had $68,000 in credit card debt, no insurance, and no savings—but had a really great dog. “I was on the verge of becoming someone that I didn’t want to be,” she said.
As luck would have it, she then met her former business partner, Jeff Rudes. He mentioned to her that he wanted to create his own brand. Crippen recommended that he create a high quality, clean dark jean because she felt that there wasn’t one on the market that didn’t lose its shape by 3 p.m. Rudes was inspired by her idea and Crippen began working with him on samples, despite the fact that she had no design experience.
“I jumped into that experience. I had an aesthetic, I had an understanding, and I just started learning,” she said. She shared four key aspects that she believes helped her on her path to success during Levo League’s latest episode of Office Hours.
Opportunity in naïvety
She believes that one of the reasons J Brand Jeans was so successful was because she came from outside of the design industry. As with any other industry, there are paradigms, as well as rules and regulations inside those paradigms that are unspoken. “It was a constant opportunity to do things differently based on really coming in with the mind of a beginner,” she said.
Roll up your sleeves
Crippen also attributes her unconventional career for teaching her the direct correlation between the amount of effort and passion she put behind her work and the payoff she would receive. “I come from a very strong work ethic where you just do whatever needs to be done,” she explained. “Whether it’s in your job description or it’s on your employment contract, if something needs to be done, you get it done—no matter what.”
As J Brand Jeans grew and expanded, Crippen made a conscious effort to become her own type of leader and manager. In acting school, she learned that she needed to match her physical appearance, specifically her shoes, to the persona that she wanted to portray. “I don’t care if you’re working at home,” Crippen said. “You need to put on your leadership high heels every day and go to work.”
A risk worth taking
When faced with a risky decision in her career, Susie Crippen has a method she follows to determine the best course of action. She examines her gut instinct, reaches out to one or two trusted people for their advice, then allows herself 24 hours to consider her options. The most important aspect of the process is ensuring that her decision is one hundred percent her own. “[Otherwise] if it succeeds, you can’t really rejoice in it. If it fails, you can’t take responsibility for it,” she explained.