In our new career series, How I Got My Job, we talk to real people, working real jobs in the fashion and retail industry. These people are pushing boundaries and have made their mark. They’ve found success on their own terms, and now we’re extracting their advice on how to carve your own career path.
When Toni Holley first started in the industry, she wasn’t really sure what her career would look like. Having never worked in the fashion industry before, taking on the role of marketing director of Square One Shopping Centre seemed like a big feat. But with hard work, dedication and continual learning, Holley has provided a unique perspective to the shopping centre as both a style and a retail expert.
Holley uses her experience to keep bringing unexpected and first-of-its-kind events to shoppers that keeps them coming back while solidifying SQ1 as a leader in fashion luxury. We had the chance to sit down with Holley to learn more about how she got her job in fashion.
First thing’s first, what was the first job you ever had? The job after that? How did they lead you to where you are today?
The first job I ever had I was a cashier at a grocery store – that was my high school job! That job taught me discipline and how to talk to customers. I’ve had so many jobs in my career from working at Toronto General Hospital as a research assistant to Queen’s Park in the Lieutenant Governor’s Suite to the Toronto Board of Education in the HR department.
The job that led me to where I am today was actually Starbucks. When I was there the company was growing so quickly and I eventually found myself in a marketing role; I started as the media coffee specialist because I had strong product knowledge. Working with Starbucks I really got to delve into the world of marketing and I realized I had a passion for it. I really loved the opportunity to create ideas, events and initiatives from scratch and that’s why I remained in the field.
What’s a typical day at work for you?
I love to start everyday reading industry news and catching up on what’s going on in shopping centres, the retail industry and the fashion industry. I always make sure I carve out some time for this because it grounds me in the morning before I start my day. From there I launch into my day, which is almost always different. There can be many meetings because we’re always thinking and planning at least six to twelve months in advance. I could be attending meetings with either my marketing team, the creative team or our retailers to discuss our next digital campaign, a grand opening event, planning a new project or photoshoot.
How did you first get involved in the fashion industry?
It was working in the Square One Shopping Centre and retail industry that I really started working with fashion brands and the fashion industry. I’ve always had an interest in fashion on different levels but never really worked in the industry until then.
Some of the first things I did in fashion was working with fashion magazines and stylists on events and runway shows. Ten years ago, fashion shows were still very popular in the shopping centre world [so] I would work with our various fashion brands to create experiences for the customers.
Square One was in the early construction phase for its Luxury Wing development when I joined the team. We were bringing major high-end brands such as Holt Renfrew and Salvatore Ferragamo to the shopping centre. I had a key role in its launch and the pop-up SQ1CONCEPT where we introduced some great Canadian fashion brands to Square One, like Greta Constantine and Christopher Bates, along with other one-of-a-kind experiences.
Did you always want to work in the fashion industry?
I stumbled into it, I’d never really thought about it! I always had an interest in fashion but didn’t think I would make a career of it; when I started my career I actually wanted to work in the food industry. Now one of my favourite parts of my job is getting to work with really talented names in the fashion industry! I find working with stylists really fun, especially the celebrity stylists, like Juliana Schiavinatto, Liz Cabral and Leslie Fremar. I’ve also had the chance to work with some industry notables like Hilary Rhoda, Sophie Elgort and Winnie Harlow.
What has been the most fulfilling project you’ve worked on so far?
That’s a tough question, there’s so many! I’ve been at Square One just under four years and I have already been part of opening two large back-to-back developments. Now we’re on our third! First, we had the North Expansion, which was really rewarding, and included the province’s largest Forever 21 store and the market’s first Brandy Melville, among others. Also launching the Luxury Wing following the North Expansion, because that was a very important development for Square One and put us on the map with luxury brands. Everyone was paying attention to see what would happen and we launched it very successfully, so that was both very rewarding and so much fun.
What’s your advice to someone looking to get a job like yours?
I think what’s really important when getting into this type of role is to make sure that marketing is a passion for you; I personally feel like it’s a calling. What I love most about my job is that I get to create spaces and experiences for people, and then witnessing them enjoying it brings me so much joy. I also work with multiple brands every day so being able to navigate many different practices and personalities is important. Always maintaining a sense of humour is also key! If you like working in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment like marketing, then it will take a lot of hard work and sometimes long hours to get here – and that’s why it’s important for those in this industry to love what they do.
In your time working, what do you think has been the most important thing that you’ve learned?
Definitely hard work! I think you need to work really hard to get what you want and where you want to be in your career. Also, to be open to new experiences. My career has not always been a straight line. Sometimes you need to take a step sideways, or even backwards, and go with the flow because your career may take you along a path you never expected. I’ve learned that things don’t always go as planned but eventually you’ll find yourself right where you were meant to be. Lastly, I think it’s important to work with people who make you better at what you do. I know it’s cliche, but you need a team that will elevate you and the work you produce.
Is this – or was it at one point – your dream job? How did you turn your dream job into a reality and get paid to do it?
That’s funny that you ask me that because I recently had an ‘aha’ moment where I realized that this truly is my dream job. What I’m doing today is exactly what I’ve always wanted to do and it’s the work I love. As I’ve said, being willing to work hard has been really important to get me here. I’ve also not been afraid to step outside my comfort zone. The main theme in my career has been being open to where my path takes me… I’ve learned that making sure that I love what I’m doing along the way is the most important part. I’ve also sought out people in my career who were in different roles and industries that I was interested in and networked that way. In my earlier days, going out and talking to people really got me to where I am now.
Creative industries are notorious for unpaid internships or pay via “exposure.” How do you feel about this? Are you for or against unpaid internships?
Honestly, I’m for them because it’s a foot in the door and a step in the direction of where you want to go. If you really love what you do, you’re willing to do an internship for a temporary period of time, paid or not, because of the opportunities and where it can lead you. At the same time, when you’re in an intern role, you need to make the most of the situation. Make sure you speak to others in your industry, network, put your feelings out there and get noticed. It will pay you back in dividends.
To keep up with Toni Holley and her work, follow @shopsquareone on Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat.
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