Dubliner Carla Kelly launched a creative agency for fashion brands in NYC when she was just 27
Glasnevin-born, Brooklyn-based Carla Kelly is the industry-savvy connector that emerging brands seek when they want to cement their status in New York’s competitive fashion landscape
Now a whole decade into her journey stateside, Kelly told image.ie about how she established her business, Bow and Arrow Studios. The company acts as a creative agency for brands, retailers and small businesses; mining the 31-year-old’s significant experience working alongside fashion’s biggest names.
Did you always know you wanted to work in fashion?
Yes. Growing up, fashion was always a release for me. I expressed my feelings through my clothing; what I wore always had a big impact on how I felt and changed my mood. I spent a lot of time window shopping growing up, walking through town alone, just browsing, finding, buying, trading — this was and still is my happy place. I always loved sharing my clothing with friends. I liked that my taste caught people’s eyes. Friends and family were always curious about where I found my pieces and how I put things together.
What was your ‘dream job’ growing up?
I wanted to be a fashion designer and have my own brand so I applied to NCAD for Fashion Design, and unfortunately, did not get accepted. I then proceeded to complete my BA in Fashion Design at Griffith College Dublin. Upon graduating, I knew I wanted to be on the business side of fashion. This is when I applied to Parsons New School of Design for Fashion Marketing. I got accepted, which led to my move to New York.
In a nutshell, what does Bow and Arrow offer emerging fashion designers?
What I have learned through my Fashion Design BA at Griffith College, is that there is not enough emphasis on the business of fashion, and this is across the board in all fashion design courses. Designers graduate wanting to start their brand, but with zero knowledge on how to run a business. Bow and Arrow’s objective is to scout and assist emerging brands of a certain caliber with a little industry exposure and to actualise their business goals. We come in as a trusted advisor/partner, and implement cost-effective structures and guidelines to move the brand into a structured business model, via DTC [direct to consumer] and/or wholesale.
Describe your most formative work experience
Every client we work with is different, requiring a specific strategy for their brand and story. A recent project, with the DCCoI, has been an amazing project for us at Bow and Arrow, myself specifically. Assisting our country and bringing international awareness to the amazing product Ireland produces makes me feel very proud.
What was your first ‘real job’ in fashion?
During my time at Parsons, I was interning for buyer/consultant Catherine Dietlein. During one of our appointments, I was introduced to London-based designer, Nicholas Kirkwood. Catherine informed me they were opening a New York-based store and office and I pretty much hounded her to introduce and recommend me. Catherine did, and I ended up being their first U.S. employee at that first office in the West Village. I gained a lot of responsibility, as the brand was growing significantly. I became the main contact on the ground in the U.S. for the team based out of London. At the age of 24, I was flown out to Las Vegas for the opening of their second U.S. store in the Wynn. Later, I was sent to Miami for three months to open and run their Bal Harbor location.
What was the most invaluable thing you learned early on in your career?
Patience. I firmly believe that patience is a virtue. You put the hard work in now and you will reap the rewards later.
When did you decide you were ready to go out on your own?
I was part of the growth phase at Nicholas Kirkwood, moving from being a start-up to then being bought by LVMH. When I got transferred from our West Village office to the LVMH tower, I slowly realised that the start-up phase was where I really thrived. Over time, I found that I wanted to support emerging brands. I knew I wanted to launch an agency to support new talent. Two years later aged 27, I did.
Can you name a favourite project you have worked on with Bow and Arrow?
One that has truly benefited Bow and Arrow, was launching and partnering with my first client Melitta Baumeister (@MelittaBaumeister) in 2016. Melitta, who is beyond talented and was already well known in the industry, trusted me and came on as my first client, giving my agency credibility over the course of our partnership. So, for that, I am forever thankful to Melitta.
How stressful would you rate your line of work? What do you do to de-stress after a long work week?
I firmly believe that stress is self-inflicted. I work in an industry that moves at a very fast pace with a lot of deadlines but where there is a will, there is a way. It really all boils down to how you respond to these issues that we face. I need to be able to advise accordingly and manage each obstacle carefully. I avoid stress getting the better of me by working out regularly, eating right, having alone time, and being with the people I love. I try to be the best version of myself on a daily basis so I can help my clients.
Do you have a career mentor or someone you look up to?
I do. I am beyond fortunate to have a very inspiring group of people in my circle of friends that inspire me in so many ways on a daily basis.
For people who want to work in fashion in New York, what’s your parting advice?
Go get it, don’t let fear stand in your way. Always be true to yourself every step of the way; be you, always. Own your voice and your authenticity, it will be what sets you apart from everyone else.
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