Marissa Webb spent a decade at J. Crew, rising to become the head of women’s design, before she left the company in 2011 to form her own collection. The FIT graduate spoke to TIME about the highs and lows of starting her own line.
What was your inspiration for this fall collection?
It’s really an evolution from our launch collection. I think for a while we’ll be pretty consistent on our DNA, which is the mixture of the hard and the soft. I do love heavy fall fabrics, so there’s a lot of menswear tailoring. Actually what triggered the haberdashery feel of this collection was a vintage tie pin that I found at an antique store, and an old history on menswear that my brother gave me.
What’s been your biggest challenge so far?
Do you have a very long time? The challenges are many. I have a very, very small team that is so hardworking and dedicated. But there’s a lot to get done and only five people doing everything. I have not slept, I think, for at least a year. The last thing I focus on is actually the designing. I probably design everything in a day, and then all my other time is spent with admin, legal, logistics, all the ins and outs of running a business.
You were a tomboy growing up. When did you begin to embrace a more feminine aesthetic?
I grew up surrounded by trees, with dirt bike trails in my backyard. My best friend was a guy who lived next door to me, so I grew up playing multiple sports, but at the same time I had this love of fashion magazines and illustrating, so I would rumble in the park and get dirty and go dirt biking and play basketball and then go home and read fashion magazines. It’s always been a part of me. I still love menswear, but at the same time, you could find me in men’s clothing one day and the next day I might be wearing a very sleek dress.
I read that your nickname is Shark. Can you explain that?
I did not give it to myself! I was given that nickname because I’m constantly moving. Sharks by nature never stop moving, even when they’re sleeping. That’s how they get their oxygen. It’s not because I have big, mean teeth [laughs].
What did you take away from your time at J. Crew?
I think the biggest things are time management, multitasking and taking challenges head on. I don’t do anything ever halfway. If I set a goal, I want to make sure I’m doing it 150%, or why bother. I oversaw a large number of people, so I learned that if you expect your team to work hard, you need to set the example by working even harder. That’s something I definitely took away from being at a big corporation like that. And also, just listening to feedback from your customers and from your fans. Whereas we are in our first stages right now, so I’m still learning who our customer is. I think that’s very important.