“It’s not always about the destination, but more about the journey.” These words are hard to live by when we live in a age where life seems like a competition that everyone is trying to win first place in. Not for 26-year-old Marissa McDowell! The Cleveland native knew after graduating with a BA in Fashion Merchandising from the competitive fashion school at Kent State University that life in the fashion world was going to have it’s hurdles, and she’s ready. Although she feels like she’s late in the fashion game, her impressive résumé says otherwise. They do say the Midwest do it best!
What is it that you do currently?
Currently, a lot of things [laughs]. The main gig right now is I’m a merchandise buyer for a Midwestern chain of resale stores. So I’m buying at the store level–I’m basically the person who determines what’s going to be carried into the store. It ranges from day-to-day: vintage, high-end, street wear, all of that. As a side hustle I do have an LLC, currently it’s under the name Black Market Styling but I’m gonna be converting that over to Moda Ultra, which is the name of my style blog. It highlights and focuses on street style. So anybody that’s in the Cleveland area or outside if I happen to be in another city, but mainly Cleveland, that has dope style I’ll do a brief interview, take a photo, and ask them to talk about what is the inspiration behind their personal style. I also do in-depth interviews with taste makers mostly in Cleveland. That’s the premise of the blog, but I’m going to be expanding on that and kind of converting my original LLC into that. The LLC focuses some on styling but with a bunch of different facets: styling, event planning, and a lot of different things in the creative realm because I don’t want to just be boxed into one area of fashion.
What does your day usually look like?
Typically I do work from 10:45 in the morning until about 8 p.m. Sometimes I do get off a little bit earlier, but getting off early means I then have to go to some meeting or function that has to do with Fashion Week Cleveland. I forgot to mention earlier that I’m the design coordinator for that. I also started this internship with Mr. Michael Hurley. He’s a big force in the Midwest as far as fashion goes. So I started working with him, going to meetings or do stuff with him and his team. Then when I have free time I’m working on my blog.
Where did the name Moda Ultra come from?
I was growing a little bored the name I originally had. It just didn’t seem to fit with where I was at in this point of my career and with what I’m trying to do. So I actually just sat down one day and tried to come up with a name. I knew I wanted something short and something that was kinda…sexy I guess [laughs]. Actually there’s a stylist who went to school in the Cleveland area and she’s doing really well in New York. The name she uses is Neon Complex and I really loved it. I thought it was cool. So I was like, Man if I could think of something like that, that would be dope. That was kinda one of the inspirations behind the name. One day I was flipping through music on my iTunes and came across Frank Ocean’s Nostalgia Ultra mixtape and was like, Wow I really like the word ‘ultra,’ and wanted that incorporated somewhere. Then I started writing a bunch of words down that related to fashion, then started to play around with languages. Moda just sounded right with it. It was short, sweet, and straight to the point.
What inspired you to work in the fashion industry?
Well, ever since I was a little kid I’ve always been more of a creative minded person. I started drawing and painting at a really young age and wanted to be an artist as a kid. As I grew older it kind of manifested into fashion. I knew I wanted to do something in the creative field but didn’t necessarily want to become a fine artist, like a painter or anything like that. I’ve always been very style conscious since I was little too, so over time the two just kind of married together. Finally I decided to go to fashion school–or at least applied, because the fashion school I wanted to go to at Kent [University] was super competitive to get into. And you know, I was still very contingent on that because I knew I wanted to do fashion but was saying to myself, “I can come up with a backup plan if I don’t get in the first time.” So I applied, and out of the several 100 that applied only 60 got chosen my freshman year, and I was one of the 60. I felt like it was meant to be.
What do you think are the challenges of rising up in a fashion career?
Obviously it’s super competitive. One of the struggles I’m facing now is that it’s not a super clear cut path to where you wanna go. So it’s always gonna be winding. Nine times out of ten it’s not going to be the type of career where you go online and see a position and apply for it and that’s it. It’s usually a lot of networking, meeting people, interning. So I think trying to cut through that path is the main challenge. It’s always finding your way through some level of fog to figure out exactly where you’re supposed to be going in this line of work.
Where would you like to see the future of Moda Ultra?
I would like to work with a bunch of like-minded people that are also doing things that they are passionate about and want to succeed. I think that’s really the only way it’s going to flourish, by teaming up with good people.
Where would you like to see yourself in the next 5 years?
As far as my career goes, I would love to see it flourishing… I don’t know, I just want to be happy! I would love to be successful in my career and have a balance in my relationship (of 8 years!) too because that’s always tricky, especially for someone that’s in the creative field and with someone who isn’t. I would just like to have the best of both worlds.
Is this what you imagined yourself doing at this age?
You know, I’m not exactly sure. When I graduated from college, I was thinking I was going to take the more traditional route. I was thinking I was going to come out of a school, complete an internship, then walk right into a job at some corporate level position. You learn pretty quickly that it doesn’t really play out like that for most people, and for the people that it does happen like that, they’re usually not very happy. I don’t think I saw this path of going into business for myself. It started out differently but it all happened for a reason.
What advice would you give to women who are trying to break into the fashion industry?
Don’t go into it with really rigid expectations because you will probably be disappointed. It’s not always about the destination but more about the journey. Don’t be afraid to try a lot of new things. Don’t be afraid to put yourself out there, and you know, sometimes you will get shot down and it’s okay!
What advice would you give to your 20-year-old self?
I probably would say to be more involved. At that point in college I was just really getting into doing things outside of academics that I felt like I was a little late in the game. I started doing a lot fashion shows and stuff my senior year and I should have started earlier. Maybe should have started making connections at an earlier stage rather than waiting.
Obviously you’ve been to Chicago plenty of times (her longtime bae is from here), what is your favorite thing about the city?
Ooo… that’s a good question! Honestly it’s not anything silly or touristy. Since I’m from Cleveland, I love the fact that when I go to Chicago it feels like home. I don’t feel like I’m going to a foreign place. It’s never like, Oh my God I’m going to Chicago! like it’s some big exotic place. It feels like the Midwest, it feels like home, it doesn’t feel any different than coming home to Cleveland. The people are the same and just have homey vibes. I love it.
Be sure to check out the blog Modaultra.tumblr.com and follow on IG: moda_ultra for fashion inspiration! For inquires and further information hit Marissa up at firstname.lastname@example.org.