‘Say Yes to Everything’

The director of Kent State New York City Fashion shares her experiences as a woman in the fashion industry and offers powerful advice for the next generation

“Say yes to everything,” said Ann Mariko Walter. “I always tell students and recent grads that you never know where your next relationship, connection or opportunity is going to come from.”

Ann Walter

Ann Mariko Walter is the director of Kent State University New York City Fashion, an immersive study away destination for students in Kent State’s School of Fashion in the College of the Arts. In her role as director, Walter oversees the administrative, instructional, operational and technical aspects as well as the academic programs of this study away campus located in New York City’s Garment District. 

Ann Walter teaching

Walter is a two-time alumna of Kent State, receiving both her undergraduate and master’s degrees at Kent State.

Her work history prior to her joining Kent State New York City Fashion as a director brings invaluable knowledge and experience from the fashion industry students at Kent State. Walter designed products and led creative teams for fashion retailers including Gap, Old Navy, Liz Claiborne, Justice, Sears Holdings, Dots, Bonobos and Walmart. She has expertise in all areas of product management lifestyle systems and developed curriculum for an executive education course, which she also taught in Shanghai to executives and leaders from one of China’s largest retailers.

While working in fashion, Walter also taught as an adjunct instructor at Kent State NYC Fashion, which led to her transition from the fashion industry into education. 

Ann Walter with Rob Smith and Conor Ryan


‘An exciting, sometimes glamorous industry’

Walter describes fashion as “an exciting industry, maybe sometimes a glamorous industry.” She started working in the fashion industry in the '90s, which she describes as “a really great time to start working in this field, especially as a woman.” She says it was a time of pioneering fashion designers, like Liz Claiborne. In her leadership position in fashion, Claiborne was a woman in what was at the time, a male-dominated industry. Claiborne was designing clothing for women who were entering the workforce in the '70s and '80s. “Working at Liz Claiborne was really important to me in working for a company where the values were about equality and women in leadership roles as designers,” Walter said.

The challenges that remain

“There are some major issues that exist for women in the fashion industry,” said Walter. She acknowledged that continued progress is needed in the gender pay gap that exists for women on parental leave, and points to a need for better childcare with more affordable options for working parents. “Which, of course, affects parents of all genders,” she said. “But definitely, the weight of the load of that often falls onto women.” She is hopeful for continued progress.

Ann Walter Woman Power


Advice on breaking into fashion

Seizing every opportunity, according to Walter, and making it a mission to turn your dream into reality is key to getting a start in the fashion industry. She emphasizes focus, figuring out your resources and planning how you are going to reach your goals. “That job is not going to be handed to you,” said Walter. “So, whatever your plan is, talk to people, ask for advice, network. If you can go to that panel, go to that alumni reception, go to that free talk on fashion – maybe even if it’s not exactly related to what you’re interested in – the chance to network, volunteer, (and) meet people through showing up in person at real-life events is enormous.”

Ann Walter and Victor DiSouza
Ann Walter with New York designer Victor dE Souza.


Why saying ‘yes’ is important

Walter shared that she gives her students a pop quiz, asking them “What percentage of jobs in the fashion industry are not advertised? What percentage of jobs are received through word of mouth or networking?” The answer is 75 percent. The other answer is to the question “If 75 percent of jobs are not online how do you get them?” Walters tells students that they will get those jobs because they’ve met people, they’ve built relationships, they’ve volunteered for someone or interned for someone. “I think sometimes young people are intimidated by the concept of networking,” she said. “But networking is the simple act of building relationships so that the next time someone is looking for an intern or an assistant designer, they remember ‘Wow, I met that great young person from Kent State University. I’m going to call them and see if they are interested in this opportunity.’ And you’ve built that network for yourself.”

That is how people find you, said Walter. “In my own career, I have had three different jobs where a former boss or colleague reached out to me and said ‘Hey, I used to work with you at Gap, or at Old Navy, and there’s this opportunity. Do you want to come work here? Do you want to come work for me?’ And that’s why it really matters. The relationships you build in your current job – and your job search – continue to build on each other.

Ann Walter at Art Basel
Ann Walter (right) at the Art Basel Festival.

'Everyone is watching you all the time'

Another piece of advice Walter offers her students is that as they are entering the workforce, or even in an internship or a job as an assistant, everyone is watching them, every day. “And I mean that in the best way,” she said. “Not in a scary pressure way, but you’re building your future career path.” 

Walter tells students that from the first day they begin a job as an intern or an assistant, that in working with people they’re making important connections, building foundational relationships, and letting people know who they are as professionals.

Ann Walter supporting Lavender Graduation
Ann Walter supporting Lavender Graduation. 

Hope for the future

In looking at the younger generations as they enter the world of fashion, Walter is hopeful. "I think the fashion industry has been incredibly forward thinking in terms of equality and diversity, especially for women," she said. She sees those who have established themselves in the industry paving the way for those who follow and those generations continuing to promote these kinds of values in the workplace. 

POSTED: Thursday, March 21, 2024 02:56 PM
Updated: Monday, April 8, 2024 08:34 PM
Phil B. Soencksen
Photos provided by Kent State NYC Fashion. Video by Kent State Division of Philanthropy and Alumni Engagement