Fashion editors like to declare the emergence of a particular mood each season on the ready-to-wear runways. No matter what the consensus on Spring 2011′s collections, the fashion industry as a whole is looking decidedly sunny with Meira Elituv calling the shots. This summer, one of the U.S.’s leading fashion conglomerates plucked the 24-year-old Toronto native and FIDM graduate from a pool of almost 1000 candidates to become a merchandiser for one of its brands. But Meira has always stood out from the pack: as an Orthodox Jew, she maintains her beloved traditions – most notably the Sabbath – in ways seemingly contradictory to fashion’s 24-7 schedule. If Meira can reconcile these two disparate worlds, then black can certainly go with blue, no matter what anyone says.
You have one of the most coveted jobs in the fashion industry. What excites you most about your position?
Hands down, the product. Nothing gets me more excited than spending time among the racks of chiffon babydolls, slips, bras. I get to work as a merchandiser for the sexiest lingerie company in the world – it’s the dream! My biggest responsibility is to find out what the customer wants next for the season and give it to her. What kind of technology does she want in her fabric? What kind of engineering does she want in her clothes? I work with the product from the design stage until it’s left the stores. It’s all about giving the customer what they want before they even realize it. It’s an amazing thing to see something go from conception to someone’s favorite new piece of clothing. That is where my passion lies.
Breaking into the fashion industry is notoriously difficult. How did you land this position?
It’s about networking and meeting people. The one thing that everyone told me going into FIDM was, “network, network, network.” When I would pick up samples from designers at my first internship, I would say to them, “Do you need an intern? I’m here. I’m free. Use me! I want to learn!” When I was looking for a job a couple months ago, one of my contacts said, “I don’t have anything for you at our brand, but I’ll send your resume to my human resources department.” I was contacted soon after for a phone interview. Before I knew it I was invited to come to this company’s headquarters with 30 other girls from around the country. The first thing they told us was, “You girls should all be honored, because you’ve been chosen out of 950 people.” I was like, “Woah, maybe I should have prepared!”
When, exactly, did this interest in fashion and design develop?
When I was 11, my aunt was about to get married. She wanted me to be her maid of honor, and asked me to design my own dress. I started looking through fashion magazines for inspiration – crushed velvet and capped sleeves were in at that time… that’s a little scary to think about. But I remember rifling through those magazines for hours, and that’s when my passion began.
You’ve stuck with your childhood passion, which is so rare nowadays. When did you know, “Yes, I’m on the right track. This is for me.”?
I don’t think I ever had a doubt. There was never a question of wanting to do something else, and everything I did just solidified it. My first internship was so exciting even though all I was doing was categorizing bags and dresses for Fashion Group International’s yearly auction. I was literally handling three-thousand dollar handbags, and I was like, “I get to touch them!” It wasn’t glamorous work at all, but everything about it excited me.
Fashion is not for the faint of heart, and some have said that the industry is not for nice people. How do you acquire that necessary thick skin?
My father gave me really good advice. He said, “Always wear a teflon suit.” Nothing sticks to teflon. Whenever someone says something to you that’s not constructive, let it bounce back. It’s easier said than done. But ultimately, you can dwell on it and waste time worrying, or you can say, “If they’re going to fire me, so be it. Regardless, I’m going to put 110% into everything, do my job and be the best that I can be.” That’s all anyone can ask for.
How do you keep your sanity?
A lot of my teachers said that you don’t have a life in the fashion industry. I don’t believe that. You need to make time for yourself and for your life. It’s just such an easy concept and it’s so obvious, but a lot of people ignore it. The other thing that helps is that I have Shabbos (Sabbath). I’m an Orthodox Jew, and even though sometimes it’s so hard to sit there in an interview and say, “I can’t work for you Friday nights or Saturdays,” in the end, it keeps me sane. I’m not Devil Wears Prada Anne Hathaway. I’m working my way into the industry in a different way.
You’ve always been true to your Jewish practice. How do you maintain that?
It’s not easy, that’s for sure. If you prove to a potential employer that this is not a hindrance, that it’s never been a hindrance, that this is who you are and that you’re fantastic at everything you do, then they’ll have no choice but to hire you. They always ask the question, “Who are you?” at Jewish seminars. Are you Meira Elituv, a Canadian girl? A Jewish girl? Who I am is someone who grew up in Canada, who is Jewish, who loves traveling, who loves people. And all those things make up me. It was never like, “My career comes first, and my Judaism comes second.” Myself comes first, and my career and Judaism fit into that self.
What is it about Shabbos that is so beloved to you? Is it the memories? The religious significance?
It is a day of family, traditions, and sanity. It’s a day where I remember my dad would go to synagogue with the boys, my mom and I would sleep in, drink coffee, read magazines… which made my passion for everything grow. It’s the wonderfulness of the fact that we have a day set aside for us to be with ourselves, to be with our families, to put everything else on hold.
We’ve talked a lot about past and present. Let’s shift to the future. When you grow up, what do you want to be?
On the top of fashion’s Fortune 500 list. Running a great company, working with great people, and creating an amazing product. I also have a business plan that I’m working on. There’s an open niche in the market that no one’s filling. The reason why no one’s filling it is because it’s not an attractive part of the market to go into. But just because it’s not as sexy as the other retailers does not mean it’s not as interesting, fascinating, new or innovative. It doesn’t mean people don’t need it, want it or won’t buy it.
What do you need?
I spend a lot of time talking to people who want to be in fashion or are looking for careers in general, and I would love to network with others. A big part of my job is to talk to customers within the age group of 24-28. I do roundtables all the time, and ask them all kinds of questions, such as “What don’t you leave your home without?” I’m always looking for participants!
Why are you proud to be in fashion? What keeps you fueled?
The fact that it’s all about the people. I love people – I can listen to new stories all day. Fashion is an extension of who you are. Clothes bring out emotions in you, and the people who created them did that for you. I’m proud to be one of those people.