Mary Roe shares her sense of fashion design with DAAP graduates

The devoted daughter graduated with a BFA from St. Mary’s College, Notre Dame, then immediately entered the fashion design program at the College of Design, Architecture, Art and Planning (DAAP).

“I was a bit older than many of my peers and that helped me grow, especially in my co-ops,” she believes. “I held co-op positions in New York, Los Angeles and then Minneapolis when Wilson’s Leather moved from Los Angeles. These experiences gave me the skills and confidence needed for my first job: Ralph Lauren in New York.

“It was so surreal. I remember my seminal moment. It was when I walked up the steps to Ralph Lauren’s Upper East Side offices for the first time. He was the quintessential designer. The walls of the desk were covered in a black watch wool fabric that I couldn’t help but touch. The designer rooms were all white with light wood. Ralph was talking to you in the elevator or walking around in a meeting to discuss. It made me think, ‘this is why I went to design school and why I wanted to move to New York.’

Two years later, Mary realized that she was not drawing. A decision had to be made. There were two tracks at Ralph Lauren: the “lifers” and those who aspired to be their own person and exercise their personal creativity. She held a position at Banana Republic (part of Gap Inc.) where she helped a famous sweater designer. For eight years, Mary worked her way up the design ladder and became known as a sweater expert. Twice a year, she visited a yarn show in Florence, Italy. Mary realized that she had to be at the forefront of the latest trends.

Then 9/11 happened.

“People were leaving New York in droves. My mother begged me to leave. That’s when a colleague at DAAP told me about Abercrombie & Fitch in Columbus, Ohio. Few people knew that Columbus was such a retail center. I enjoyed my seven years there, then I took a job with Lane Bryant, then with Justice. When another recession hit, I knew I had to be proactive. Chico called.

Based in Fort Myers, Florida, Chico’s has shown how to adapt to change. As department stores as well as stand-alone stores began to falter, so did brands that couldn’t keep up with consumer shifts. “Fast fashion” like Zara and Forever 21 began to deliver faster and cheaper trending designs than more established brands that couldn’t compete with the cheaper and faster supply chains these companies had. Companies like Chico’s are always trying to adapt to changing consumer needs and expectations, especially in a post-Covid world.

Mary explains: “We are no longer in competition with the store across the street. It’s really about where people choose to spend their money.

“During the pandemic, our Soma brand skyrocketed because of pajamas and the desire for comfortable clothing. Chico’s casual tops were what you saw on Zoom calls.

“I have been in this business for 25 years. It’s hard. You have to have tough skin. You need resilience. I have seen many changes and the metamorphosis of many companies, some that no longer exist, others that have had their ups and downs.

Joseph E. Golightly