September 11, 2017
With a background in trend forecasting, marketing, and retail operations, Britt Bivens is the expert at the helm of Ace of Swords, a consulting company offering trend forecasting and brand strategy to businesses. With over 20 years of experience working in the fashion and jewelry industries, Bivens sought to broaden her skillset with Parsons' Fashion Design Certificate—giving her a much greater understanding of the industry she works in, and allowing her to not only predict trends but to understand the fundamentals of design, and create garments herself. Bivens gives us a peek into her not-so-typical days, her experience in the program, and the invaluable advice she has for aspiring entrepreneurs.
Which program at Parsons did you complete, and what drew you to that one in particular?
I did the Certificate in Fashion Design. I was attracted to it for two different reasons. One, because I was interested in developing basic skills I had so that I could make things for myself to wear. Secondly, because I sometimes consult with designers who are getting started, so I felt it would help me understand their process better. I also thought that it would complement the various things I’ve already done in my many years in the fashion industry: I’ve done concept work for pre-designing and also the sales and styling end with finished garments, but never the part in between. Unusual, as I’ve consulted with designers and merchandisers for many years in my trend analyst role.
What were you looking to take away from the program?
Better skills for making pieces as well as a deeper knowledge of what an emerging designer goes through. I also love taking classes to meet new people! When you work in trends, and for a long time like I have, nothing feels new because you’re seeing it for the second - or maybe the third time, so wanting to make things that weren’t based on what brands were dictating became really important to me. Now I feel that I can do that.
I had fantastic professors so they were really impactful—they had amazing skills to share. Also, I think that when they are still working in the industry, as well as teaching, they’re able to share real experience so that students can get that shared knowledge as added value to the curriculum.
What was your favorite class or project in the program?
Construction was probably my favourite class. Construction 1 was an amazing introduction into learning how to put a garment together while Construction 2 built on those skills and incorporated more creativity into the kind of garment we made. I loved finishing the class with pieces I could then wear! I also really liked design sketching because I’d always told myself that I couldn’t draw, and yet I wasn’t completely terrible. It’s something that if I had time to spare, I’d want to improve on just to see how good I could get.
Do you keep in touch with anyone from your classes?
Yes, several people! Taking a class together already means that you have a shared interest and it also means that you then have a support network to share experiences with, if you chose to do something with your new knowledge going forward.
How has your professional life changed after doing the program?
I think that my new deeper knowledge and understanding have made me a better consultant. Sometimes I do color consulting and having taken color theory means that I’m able to more clearly communicate information to clients. I don’t know that you should only take design classes if you want to be a designer as I think they help give you a better understanding of garments or the industry in general. And, of course, you can also take classes just for yourself, for fun.
What are 1-3 bits of advice you would give to someone looking to make a career change or become an entrepreneur?
I found that most people in my fashion design classes had hopes of starting their own collection. So to them, I’d say: Be realistic about what it will involve, particularly financially. I think one of the biggest shocks when entertaining the idea of a fashion collection is how expensive it is. Even if you think you can do it all yourself, there’s still fabric etc. to be bought and that’s just to get the samples done. Production brings a whole new set of money challenges.
Secondly, think about who your target customer REALLY is. The more clear you are on that, the better off you are in terms of staying on track for why you’re doing this in the first place. You have to sell your product or service in order to stay in business, so you’re relying on having your product talk to that customer in a way that will want to make her (or him) buy it.
Maybe most importantly, accept criticism. It is much more helpful than everyone telling you how great everything is. Our supportive friends and family are usually wonderfully complimentary, but are they going to buy everything? If there are problems and you can modify and improve before it hits the broader market, that is better than discovering problems later down the line. You’ll have plenty to deal with then anyway…
What does a typical day look like for you now?
I don’t have typical days. I do a lot of different things so I could be working on a trend report that I’ll be selling or putting together for a client or I could be doing store research and running around trying to keep up with all the new stuff happening in NY. I also attend exhibits and other creative events to keep the juices flowing and learn about things that will further my knowledge in fields I need to know about, such as sustainability, tech, and marketing.
How has networking played a part in your success?
I find it humorous when people say that they don’t network, especially in NY where we start conversations with people in line with us. Call it what you want, but telling people what you’re up to and learning to ask for help when you’re given that opportunity can really have an impact. Not to mention that it’s usually how you get jobs—or at least find out about them.
When people discover that I’m a trend analyst/forecaster they’re quite intrigued, but then want me to tell them “what’s happening next.” I then have to explain that it’s more complex than just picking a winner, and probably closer to the financial market where you’ll take a bunch of factors under consideration before making a conclusion. In reality, though, I’m educating people that this is a part of the process and I think it adds value to the products they buy—so that’s another way of networking.
Cosme. I’m gluten intolerant and their menu is 99% GF, so I can have anything I want, which is rare for when I eat out. And Mexican is my favorite. And it’s AMAZING.
Going for a ride with my SO on the motorbike. We’ll take daytrips and go exploring. So much better than driving in a car with the windows up and AC on!
Website/blog/social account that sparks your creativity:
Previously, I would have said Instagram but I’m not finding it as inspirational as I used to because it’s starting to look so artificial and staged, so now I explore the Internet looking for things that are more unedited and raw. I usually find out about things because I’m on the newsletter list of a million different brands, organizations, and museums etc.
Overall though, I think that travelling and meeting people is the most inspirational and leads to creative ideas. More than one project I’ve done is inspired by scenery or something from a trip.
Not sure that I have only one. I’m a bit all over the place musically, and depending on my mood it could be classical or hip hop. I will listen to new artists but am constantly surprised that when you go to places, they’re often playing old music. That’s telling to me….
Where can people find you online?
My consulting company is called Ace of Swords (it represents the card of the tarot that offers clarity)... and on the web: www.theswordsays.com.
Written by Leora Zauderer.