October 1, 2012

Students @ Work with Suzanne Albrecht

By Britt Gettys

Monday evening, over applesauce and rolls of fabric, freshman Fashion Design Major, Suzanne Albrecht, sat down with me to discuss her job, major, time management skills, and lifestyle.  

While it is the hope of most college students to find employment on campus, Suzanne Albrecht is not of this mindset.  Instead, she takes a train ride from Clinton-Washington to Union Square every Saturday and Sunday morning.  Her destination: the chain clothing boutique, White House Black Market.  Here Suzanne spends ten hours on the shop floor as a customer service representative.  She spends the entirety of her weekends greeting customers, assisting them in finding what they're looking for, and ensuring their satisfaction upon leaving.  When it comes time to close up shop, Suzanne patrols the store floor, ensuring that all the blouses, suit pants, and jeans are folded neatly in their proper place, and that every garment baring hanger is meticulously hung on the appropriate rack.        

Suzanne in the Freshman Studio
"It's very tiring" Suzanne says honestly, in regards to her job.  "It's a very detail oriented space and I have to remain on my feet the entire time."  White House Black Market, Suzanne describes, as a fast paced business, not at all what one usually expects of a boutique clothing store.  There's a lot of chaos behind the neatness of the storefront.  While customers only see the fashionable, monochrome clothes, behind the scenes is a network of employees, all rushing around with one goal in mind: making the customer happy.  "I'm required to wear a headset," Suzanne explains, "and through it I'm constantly connected to the stockroom workers upstairs.  So, when I'm working with a customer and, say, they can't find their jean size on the floor, it's my job to discreetly call the stock room and request the size be brought down.  That way the customer finds what she's looking for.  I also call stock when we run low on a product on the sales floor.  Then, the stock person quietly comes down and restocks so the customers always have a full selection of our inventory.  But this all has to be done without their awareness, it's very James Bond."

When it comes to balancing her job and school though, Suzanne is incredibly relaxed about the subject.  "I don't know how I get everything done," she states with a shrug  "I get up early every morning, a couple hours before my classes start, and thats when I do the majority of my homework.  Then, after classes, I work in the fashion studio, finishing up the work that can't be done in my room."  The most important thing for Suzanne is getting her homework done before the weekend so that she's not worrying about unfinished school work while speaking with a customer.  "Really, I'm not sure how it happens, because at times my workload seems impossible, but it all gets done."   

Despite her nonchalant attitude towards college and work, Suzanne isn't completely unfamiliar to balancing college life.  Although she's a freshman, she's already earned an Associates Degree in Fine Arts from Montgomery College, an accomplishment she feels really prepared her for coming to Pratt.  

"Working at White House Black Market isn't completely unrelated to my major though," Suzanne comments.  "And I think that's why it's not too difficult to balance my school work and my job.  Part of my job is helping women find something that fits them appropriately, I'm learning more about body type, how certain fabrics and cuts hang differently on people, and I'm seeing it all firsthand."

In working with customers Suzanne says she's exposed to a variety of women, all of whom, to her, are potential clients of design work.  As someone who'd like to work as a Fashion Designer, Suzanne says it's helpful to interact, one on one, with the people she'll potentially one day design for.  In doing this she gets a better sense of where trends are going and what the everyday person is looking to wear. 

The best part about working at White House Black Market, Suzanne says, is that she's starting at the bottom of the corporate food chain.  She has a supervisor, someone she's forced to answer to in terms of professional conduct.  Already keenly aware of the Fashion Industry, Suzanne knows she won't be designing her own collection right after graduation.  "I'll take several internships instead," she explains.  "And, hopefully, I can get a job designing for a firm or design house.  I'll be working under people in order to get to where I want to be, and really, that's exactly what I'm doing right now."  

Interviewed on September 24th, 2012 by Britt Gettys

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