Designer Jason Wu's Unusual Career Arc

From doll dress designer to dress designer for Michelle Obama.

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Jason Wu, the 26-year-old designer of Michelle Obama's ivory inaugural gown, has not traveled the typical career path for fashion designers.

Wu started his career designing dresses (and hair and makeup) for dolls at toymaker Integrity Toys. Wu was in high school when he first submitted a design to Integrity through a company-sponsored contest and he continued with the doll-maker through design school and beyond. It's an unusual way to launch a fashion career, but Wu seems not at all fazed by the circumstances of his early years (so often we tend to apologize for departing from the standard career path).

He told WWD three years ago, "I didn't know doing dolls was going to become a career. ... If I hadn't done it then, I probably would have started in fashion earlier, but I don't think the collection would have been as mature."

His early years actually helped him by forcing him to be precise and pay close attention to small details, he said.

It's a good story to hear if you're a new grad--it's easy to be anxious about facing an ugly job market, and it's easy to be discouraged when you land a first job that seems inauspicious or atypical, but you never know how you'll benefit and you never know what skills you'll learn.

Even a doll costumer developed skills that helped build him into the kind of designer who could dress a First Lady.


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