How to Break into the Fashion Industry While You're Still in School
Smart advice from one girl who did it.
After spending nearly all of her life on the beaches in California, salty sea water and sunshine are firmly embedded in Aza Ziegler’s ID—and her closet. The 23-year-old is the creative mastermind behind Calle del Mar, a new womenswear label that draws heavily from Aza’s own seaside upbringing. It’s a cheery mashup of tomboy-meets-schoolgirl, with some West Coast skater influence tossed in for good measure. Think flouncy skirts juxtaposed with terry cloth sweatshirts, shiny windbreakers, pleated blouses, and graphic tees, all topped off with (what else?) sneakers.
Aza recently graduated from Pratt University in Brooklyn—after which she showcased her debut Calle del Mar collection—but her professional design career began when she was still in middle school. “I’ve been making clothes since I was just a little kid,” she explained over the phone. “I started out with outfits for my dolls, and then that moved into making clothes for myself and my friends.” When she was 11, Aza started selling her one-of-a-kind skirts in a local boutique. It was a move that caught the eye of fashion news authority Women’s Wear Daily, and from that point on, the tween was determined to break into the industry (even though she lacked fancy connections).
“Once we were able to get that press, it gave me more confidence,” she said. “If you’re able to put something out there and have people respond to it, it’s a valuable tool.” Fast-forward just a few years, and Aza’s moved far beyond single-style skirts. She’s gained a cult following for her breezy aesthetic—and not to mention, nailing hard-to-define middle ground of looking effortless, yet still put-together. “Growing up I’d wear party dresses with my brother’s hand me down skate shoes, and I think the Calle del Mar aesthetic really branched from my personal style,” she said. “My friends like to say I make California clothes for New York girls!”
It’s a fitting description, considering she’s spent the past few years hopscotching between New York and LA. Aza’s just as committed to her brand’s easygoing vibe as she is to the ways in which the clothes are made. “Whenever I can use environmentally-friendly materials I will, but I’m much more focused on fair wages and proper working conditions in my factories,” she said. “I want to have a relationship with the people making my clothing.” But even with several collections to her name and an established brand identity, Aza admits that she still gets intimidated by the flashy, competitive nature of the fashion biz. “I had to learn not to be afraid to ask a lot of questions and soak up things from people around me. So many opportunities have come to me by not being afraid to ask for them,” she said.
But most importantly, you just gotta do you. “The way that I approach my business is that I do what I want to do; if I don't feel like putting out a season, then I won’t.” With its neck-breaking fast pace, many designers suffer from stress and burnout. By taking things slow and steady—as slowly as you can when you’re a buzzy young designer on the rise, at least—Aza's in it for the long haul. “The most important thing I’ve learned is to be open to change and creating my own path. You have to let things organically happen, because pushing yourself over the limit isn’t the way to be happy.”