Unleashing My Potential: From Fashion to Business Consulting

Inspiring others to challenge social beliefs and pursue their dreams

“People are going to label you. It’s how you overcome those labels, that’s what counts.” — One Tree Hill

If anyone asked me to summarize my life experience, this quote from the popular television series, “One Tree Hill” fits perfectly.

As a fashion professional for over a decade, I was branded as an expert on aesthetic matters such as trends, design, styling and visual communication.

However, my knowledge of KPIs and sales data was overlooked, despite my bachelor’s in fashion merchandising and years of experience in operations.

The norm of the fashion industry is Functional Structure or Divisional Structure—people are assigned responsibilities based on specific roles and assumptions about their expertise are based on title and function. 

Knowing that a STEM degree is outside of my comfort zone, I was a bit nervous about the quantitative courses when I signed the offer letter to join the UC Davis MBA program.

Stepping Out of My Comfort Zone

A common belief is that people are either left-brained or right-brained; those with aesthetic creative abilities are right-brained while the analytical types are left-brained.

From a young age, I loved drawing human figures with pretty clothes. I was viewed as a right-brained person, and I eventually pursued fashion design—the social norm labels artists with little mathematics and logical talent. Under the influence of looking-glass self theory, I was convinced that I was not keen on mathematics, and I lacked people skills because of the “artist nature” of being emotional.

I carried these social labels for several years as I navigated through international fashion markets. I focused on the creative side of the industry, including design, styling and visual display.

While esthetic is often said to be “personal” and “subjective,” I realized that my colleagues were getting promotion opportunities or taking on more significant projects despite the quality of their work. It was often due to their self-presentation techniques and communication skills.

I thought to myself, “Could that be me someday?” I decided to take on managerial roles with leadership opportunities and business performance accountability. Of course, it took a lot of growth and overcoming many obstacles to make this step.

Giving My Passion A Skillset

A master’s degree was always part of my personal goals, but an MBA was an unexpected choice. I applied for a few programs to have a wider option.

Faye Wu at a networking event
Faye Wu MBA 23 (center) meets with Dean H. Rao Unnava, faculty and students at a residential networking event at Gallagher Hall, home of the UC Davis Graduate School of Management.

The majority of these academic options were focused on qualitative curriculum where I thought I would be more capable. The priority offer to join the UC Davis community came as a surprise. Although I had worked my way to management roles before I joined the MBA program, my anxiety and insecurity were at an all-time high.

I knew I would meet diverse professionals from different industries and with different expertise. This conjured up thoughts of self-doubt like, “I am not ready for the quantitative courses” and “I don’t even know what my management style is” because I was “an artist who doesn’t know much about the business world”.

But my experience in the Online MBA program has been so positive and powerful. The Financial Accounting and Financial Theory & Policy courses have filled the blank pages in my finance knowledge.

The Managing the Operational Excellence course unveiled how optimal quantities are calculated for fashion retailers, and the Organizational Strategy and Structure experience led me to think about how to restructure the fashion workplace to be more collaborative.

My high-overview vision was not imaginable when I was keeping up with new textile trends, drawing pretty clothes, and dressing mannequins with trendy outfits.

All the skillsets that I unconsciously refused to acknowledge due to my “right-brained person” label, are surging and thriving.   

The MBA program teaches new skillsets and helps me understand what I already know.

Through my interactions with peers, all the theories, case studies, and projects I have encountered, I have identified my strengths in project managing, people management, business development, and my actual ability to engage with data.

The Individual and Group Dynamic class confirmed my collaborative leadership style and enhanced my management skills. The younger me would never imagine doing regression analysis for business trend forecasting, but I achieved it in the Intermediate Statistics for Managers class. Upon completing the Overview of Corporate Social Responsibility & Sustainability, I am drawn to a career in business consulting where I can help fashion-based businesses become more sustainable.

Faye Wu at a networking event in San Diego
Faye Wu MBA 23 (second from left) and Amy Russell, senior assistant dean for student affairs, making new connections at a recent Graduate School of Management networking event in San Diego, California.

With my long-held passion combined with my new skillsets, I was able to participate in the 2023 Hult Prize Competition, the world's largest student social entrepreneurship competition. I teamed up with two of my UC Davis MBA peers on our idea, EcoEvolve, an eco-friendly fashion marketplace. We advanced to the semi-finals among the top 500 startups of the 20,000+ teams of participating international student entrepreneurs.

Unlock Your Potential

Pivoting to a new career is challenging and exciting. But I am no longer limited by the “artist” label, and I have the confidence to expand the scope of my profession.

Most importantly, I want to inspire others to challenge the status quo, especially those who are labeled by the “either/or” social belief. Don’t let any labels limit your dreams, imagination and actions. Go for it!