IN THE STUDIO with Erica Hanks

IN THE STUDIO with Erica Hanks

Erica Hanks has been a renowned commercial, editorial, and personal stylist for the past decade. She now serves as co-founder and owner of SHOWROOM, an online retailer and styling service.

Interview by Brooke Frischer

Erica Hanks in our long Bugs Life Georgette dress from the "What Dreams May Come Part II" collection.

Erica Hanks in our long Bugs Life Georgette dress from the "What Dreams May Come Part II" collection.

HOW DID YOU FIRST BECOME ACQUAINTED WITH JONATHAN COHEN?

In 2014, Lupita Nyong'o wore a form-fitted lipstick dress for her birthday party. When I researched the look, I found Jonathan Cohen. I had to have that dress for myself, so I emailed them and told Sarah they had to do more of that dress -- the ruching and fit was just so good. When I went to Jonathan's presentation later that year, I met Jonathan and Sarah and the rest is history! Even as a stylist, I was telling specialty stores about the brand and now I am so excited to continuing sharing Jonathan's designs as a store owner.

THE FASHION INDUSTRY IS CHANGING AT SUCH A RAPID PACE. WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE BIGGEST CHALLENGES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION? ADDITIONALLY, WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE MOST EXCITING OPPORTUNITIES FOR THE FUTURE OF FASHION?

A huge challenge we have right now is becoming a more sustainable industry. For me, seeing how Jonathan is very purposeful in using every last bit of fabric to make something beautiful is something I wish more designers would do. We have to really be mindful of how we consume and select clothing that comes from brands that are like-minded.

FOR YOUR PHOTOSHOOT, YOU HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO STYLE YOUR OWN LOOK. WHY DID YOU CHOOSE THE PARTICULAR OUTFIT YOU WERE PHOTOGRAPHED IN?

I wore the long Bugs Life Georgette dress with a detachable tie because it is just ART. The dress is so stunning and really lightweight, which is perfect for our warm southern springs and summers. I also love the tie that comes with it. It creates so many possibilities to make the dress your own style. The colors are so vibrant -- how could you NOT be happy while wearing this dress?

Erica poses in our Koi Pond Jacquard Mini Skirt from our "What Dreams May Come" collection.

Erica poses in our Koi Pond Jacquard Mini Skirt from our "What Dreams May Come" collection.

YOU’VE SAID THAT YOU HAVE ALWAYS LOVED FASHION AND STARTED YOUR CAREER AS A FASHION WRITER, BUT ONLY BEGAN STYLING AS THE RESULT OF AN EDITORIAL IN NEED. WHAT WAS THE TRANSITION FROM WRITING TO STYLING LIKE?

My transition from writing about fashion to working as a stylist was pretty seamless as I have been working in and out of fashion since I was 15. I have done everything from working the retail floor to inventory, merchandising, and visual styling. Writing about details of a product translated into how to make those details jump out in an editorial or for a client's personal style.

HOW DID HAVING THE KNOWLEDGE NEEDED TO BE A FASHION WRITER INFLUENCE YOUR STYLING STRATEGY?

In both writing and styling, I always start with the big picture and work my way down to the last minuscule detail. There's so much to write about and appreciate about the craft that goes into fashion.

WHEN YOU FIRST BEGAN DOING PERSONAL STYLING, YOU WORKED A LOT WITH ATHLETES. THE INTERSECTION OF FASHION AND SPORTS HAS EVOLVED IN SO MANY WAYS. HOW DO YOU FEEL THE TWO WORLDS INFLUENCE ONE ANOTHER?

I have always said that athletes were, and still are, menswear fashion influencers. I would have so many men say they would love to dress like a certain athlete. Athletes make fashion approachable for these men.

Athletes are all different sizes, so if they step out and try something new, it shows other men that it's not as scary to step out of your comfort zone. Game-day style has become the new men's runway. It's a win-win for athletes and designers.

HOW DO YOU ENCOURAGE YOUR ATHLETE CLIENTS TO STEP OUT OF THEIR FASHION COMFORT ZONE?

It's like what we say to kids on trying new foods: just try a bite! I used to always bring some wild card fashion piece to all my fittings and work it into a look. By starting small, it's not so intimidating and it gets them comfortable in trying new things.

Erica Hanks in our long Bugs Life Georgette dress from the "What Dreams May Come Part II" collection.

Erica Hanks in our long Bugs Life Georgette dress from the "What Dreams May Come Part II" collection.

HOW HAVE YOUR ROOTS IN CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA INSPIRED YOUR PERSONAL STYLE?

When I first moved to Charlotte 16 years ago, the city was a very pink and pearl-clutching Southern-type town. My style is definitely edgier and it's been nice to see how Charlotte has progressed into a really cool fashion town. There's a little it of every kind of style, and anything goes.

YOUR DIGITAL SHOPPING PLATFORM “SHOWROOM” HAS THE MISSION OF SIMPLIFYING FASHION-FORWARD WORKWEAR FOR THE MODERN WOMAN. WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION TO START THIS COMPANY COME FROM?

I started working with women executives within the sports industries my athletes were also in, and many of them voiced concerns about having difficulty finding cool and edgy workwear at a contemporary print point. As I started to pivot from personal styling, I realized there was a big void in the fashion space for these women of all shapes and sizes, and sites to help them put the pieces together. As a result, I decided to create SHOWROOM. We focus on brands that speak to our sustainable ethos and carry sizes from 0 to 16 at the moment. Our style is definitely more tailored-driven, but it also has pieces women want to wear on the weekend and to their after-hours events. We now have our first retail store on Kiawah Island, South Carolina that is more weekend-focused and it is doing very well. As someone with over 10 years of a professional styling background, each product is really scrutinized for every shape and size in my buy for our woman in mind.

Shop SHOWROOM campaign featuring our Koi Pond Jacquard Mini Skirt and Red Everyday Floral pieces.

Shop SHOWROOM campaign featuring our Koi Pond Jacquard Mini Skirt and Red Everyday Floral pieces.

SHOWROOM WAS FOUNDED IN 2019, THE YEAR WE ALL NOW KNOW AS THE ONE BEFORE COVID. HOW HAS THE PLATFORM EVOLVED SINCE THEN?

My first year of the business, 2019 to 2020 was right during the pandemic. The United States closed the week after I came back from the Paris market, so I made sure my buys were modest as I knew we were going into distressing times for everyone. I styled athletes and worked as the key stylist for Fox Sports East Coast to help start up the business. We kept a very skeleton crew of 2 other employees in order to sustain what we started and ride out the pandemic. Now I have 10 employees and have grown in sales by 450%. We are still a super small company but now I no longer work two extra jobs, thankfully!

AT SHOWROOM, YOU PRIORITIZE CHAMPIONING BRANDS WITH FAIR LABOR RIGHTS AND “MINDFUL MANUFACTURING.” WHY IS THIS SO IMPORTANT TO YOU AND WHY DO YOU THINK THESE IDEALS ARE SO RARE AMONGST OTHER RETAILERS?

Fashion is such a wasteful industry. There is always a push or pressure for newness as fast as possible. We have got to come together as a collective and change this 'fast-fashion' mentality. That is not sustainable for this planet or for us. More of our brands, like Jonathan Cohen, are going to create fewer collections, which causes people to really appreciate and think about what they are putting their money towards.

A lot of the major retailers of course have to make money which causes the need for excessive quantities and overstock of sales at the end of each season. While selling as much as possible is important in this business, you can easily turn a blind eye to what is being sacrificed in the process. I would rather have partnerships with brands that know who's making their garments, upcycle, and have a slower and artisanal method to collections rather than a fast-fashion approach.

WHAT IS YOUR ADVICE TO YOUNG PEOPLE WHO WANT TO WORK IN THE FASHION INDUSTRY BUT AREN'T SURE WHERE TO START?

Jump in anywhere, and be a team player. Ask as many questions as you can! Do every job, learn everything you can possibly learn, and really listen to mentors. It's not a marathon. For many of us, it has taken years of experience to gain the knowledge and wisdom to navigate the industry.

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