Hi Anna, welcome to Madam Ambition. Thank you so much for joining me. Do you want to tell me a little about who you are and where you’re from?
I’m Anna Nahashon, I am from Minneapolis, Minnesota. My mother is a professional musician and a violinist. She toured with various country bands, and Lorie Line was one of the more known Minnesota pianists that she toured with for many years.
A fun fact is that she is also recorded with Prince for Purple Rain. When Prince did the remake of Purple Rain, instead of synthesized string instruments, he did actual string musicians, and she was the violinist that was pulled into that recording. There were also other bands that would come on tour. When they would tour through various cities, a lot of the time, they would use local musicians. Led Zeppelin was one of them, so she was on stage with Led Zeppelin in Minneapolis. My dad was a journalist reporter for most of his life, although he met my mom while he was playing the violin. He worked at newspapers.
Was he at a newspaper in Minnesota?
Yeah, quite a few. His start in journalism was initially as a music major. He majored in music theory and composition but started working at a paper to do reports on music. He started writing about music and I think that was how is journalism got started. Shakopee Valley News was one that he worked at, I’m not sure that I can remember all of them. When my dad isn’t working, he is teaching himself how to use new instruments, the concert piano being one of them. Which is kind of like an accordion but has buttons instead of piano keys. My mom is also very artistic, so it was a very artsy, musical environment at home. I was always trying to make really creative Halloween costumes, I also did music and things like that. So that’s where a lot of the influence in my life came from, that environment.
You were in a creative household, were there any specific things you did?
I learned to sew at a young age, and we had various machines. My mom would also make me our dresses for any dances that we would go to. They were pretty impressive and not super tacky for the time. Often times homemade dresses can look more homely, but they were just pretty cool. People
really liked the work she did, although she just did it for herself. My mom would make dresses for my older sister, so we learned to sew on the machine pretty early.
I remember once I put signs up everywhere, all over the neighborhood saying: “Garage Sale”, and I was in the garage selling scrunchies and purses that I made. Everybody would come expecting your typical garage sale, not just a child with a couple of banana bread tins full of scrunchies.
My mom played for Rupert’s Nightclub which was a well-known nightclub, actually, Prince used to go to the nightclub. So, whenever the light was off, above the top right corner of where people would sit, they would know that Prince was in the house watching them play and partying or whatever. It was a cover band, so she would have to always wear pretty ridiculous outfits. I mean maybe it’s ridiculous nowadays, back then it was probably pretty cool, 80’s style and everything. Then for Halloween, they were obviously on stage, so they tried to make it even more of a big deal about these costumes. So, seeing some of the things that she would do for Halloween made me want to do something similar. She helped me one year when I was in fourth grade. My costume was a girl on a swing. So I rigged a piece of wood with two broomsticks sticking out of it for the swing shape. I had a scarf that tied to the base of it and I wrapped it around my neck and then I had a pair of white tights with little red hearts and I stuck bamboo through the legs and tied my converse high-tops on them and then wrapped that around my waist so it looked like it was dangling over on the seat and then I put an apron on top so you couldn’t see how it all worked, it covered the whole rig. It was a big hit and everyone was pretty amazed. I realized I liked the reaction, the hands-on and being creative with it. It is distinctly in my brain of all the ways it was great. So, I kind of noticed a few patterns throughout my life of little things I was doing.
Every school year I would make my own school bag. I didn’t want to just wear backpacks anymore; it was cooler to have your shoulder bag and so I would find heavy-duty upholstery fabric and then I figured out, after my first week of school, how many books I had for the semester so that all the books could fit in this bag and then I’d learn from it. Needing to make the straps a bit more reinforced in some areas. So, every year I got better at making the bags.
At school were you enthralled with any subjects?
Yes. When I was young, similar to our kids, in kindergarten and first grade, I was at the Spanish immersion school.
Physically exerting myself or using my hands was pretty much all that I wanted to do. When I first went to college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I picked the school that I first went to based on their soccer team. Every school had Spanish, so I wasn’t going to go somewhere specifically for the Spanish program. The soccer team wanted me to play with them so I decided that I am going to go here and play. I had a great time soccer-wise, and a great time Spanish-wise, but I didn’t really like the school and that was when I was realizing that I might be there for the wrong reasons. I kept changing what I thought my major was going to be in, at one point I was thinking about doing sports medicine and becoming a trainer. At another time I was taking voice classes, because we have a musical and creative household it was very encouraged just to try things and do things. So, I told my mom that I wanted to be a sultry jazz singer. I wanted to wear sequins lean against a piano and just sing. It was kind of ridiculous at the time but my mom was just like: “Cool. Go ahead, that sounds great.”
She will tell you about the challenges of being a musician in the freelance world. The economy was hard. It’s a challenging life, so she would for sure talk about that, but she wasn’t going to tell me not to pursue what I wanted to do. It was nice for her to just give me that, although I ended up nowhere near singing.
I would make my own Halloween costumes or help other people make their costumes. One of my friends in college wanted me to make her one of the bags but it didn’t occur to me until a year into college that what I was doing with the accessories and working with my hands could be a career.
I might have been a really good candidate for taking time off before going to college because I didn’t exactly have plans.
I applied to the only schools where I was being recruited for soccer. I knew I couldn’t major in soccer so up until my first year in college I was still like: “You need to figure out what you want to do” or just major in something to get it done with it was just kind of a gate that I always had that I just needed to do.
I think I was a little bit lost. That’s something that I want to try to avoid with my children. I want to explore early on what their interests are.
It seems like you had an interest; you just didn’t have the direction to apply the interest.
Exactly. I didn’t recognize that was something that I could do. I don’t know why; I think it was because I was focusing too much on soccer and I was pretty upset because I was like: I’ll just do sports medicine because it’s the closest thing to playing soccer professionally, which I knew I couldn’t do that either. I thought that was the closest that I was going to be. But then I didn’t really excel at science so that wasn’t really a great choice either.
So, you’re in college, and you’re just figuring out in your first year that the talent of sewing is useful.
Yeah. So many people in my life sewed, so I figured that it was just a hobby. Finally, I realized that there are clothes that are sold at the stores, so of course, people do this as a profession to some degree!
After that, I started investigating schools. St Benedict, the school that I was going to at the time, didn’t have any program like this. After looking up the University of Minnesota, I decided to transfer there. At the U, I would be able to live back with my parents and do what I wanted to do. The program they have at the U is so tiny that everything is a prerequisite for everything else, and you can only take certain classes in certain semesters. When I was trying to figure out how to get through this, I realized that with a degree from this school, it would have taken me an additional four years because you have to go to university before you can transfer into a specialized school. So I started looking out for other options while I was going to the university of Minnesota, while still focusing on Spanish, just because I knew I could major in that. I randomly did do some jazz singing, not leaning against the table, but in a jazz class with seven women.
I then eventually found a school in Chicago, the Illinois Institute of Art. By the time I was writing my final thesis in Spanish for my Spanish degree, I was moving to Chicago. After finishing that up I then started going to school for another undergrad, not a Master’s Degree. This time for fashion design.
What was it like to take another Undergrad Course?
The Illinois Institute of Chiago could take all of the prerequisites that I did for my first degree, and I could get through that program pretty fast, so I was there for maybe two and a half years. That was where it felt like it was finally clicking. I was at this design school, working with something that I was actually interested in doing. Since I already did my first degree, I was one of the older people in some of these courses. This was where, I might have benefitted in taking a few years off after high school, to figure things out and because I feel like I was probably a better student at this point. Although I had four years practice, but I also had a vision. I had a goal in mind that I wanted to do something fashion, although I don’t know yet what it was.
There would be students that I would meet in my classes and i would ask ‘what made you decide to come to fashion school?’ and a lot of these younger people were saying; because I love to shop. I remember thinking, ‘that’s a funny reason. That for me was like what I would have answered four years ago or six years ago maybe. I realized that this is just what I want to do, I need it. So, at that point I could see that my purpose at that school was different. I was focused. It was a great school; a good intense course, and I learned a lot about the fashion industry. We pretty much learned the whole beginning-to-end process. From building the patterns yourself, cutting the fabric, sewing it, marketing it, selling it. You know, making a line with a lot of different colorways, different assortments. And even doing fashion shows, so we got into a little bit of everything. When I was working with patterns. Patterns, if not everyone is familiar, are kind of like a blueprint of a garment. If you took apart all of the seams of the t-shirt you are wearing and laid it out flat and if you were to trace the shape out on the paper, that would be your pattern you would use to cut out your garment. That is more math geometry. That was probably my favorite math class ever. It all came back to me. Geometry is the kind of math I know and its practical. You’re seeing it on a body, its shaped as they wrap around the body.
So, I was making these patterns in my class, and I noticed that there were a lot of students who were more focused on the design aspect of things. They like drawing outfits and ideas. I didn’t enjoy the drawing side of it so much, I liked the creating. That’s when I realized that a lot of people were challenged in the area of pattern making because it is very much more technical. That’s when I realized that there’s an opportunity here if I actually like this, this could be what I follow and continue doing.’ So, that’s where my focus went – what I do now is pattern related.
What year did you graduate from this school?
I graduated from the university of Minnesota in 2004 and the Illinois institute of art in 2006. I moved to San Francisco at the end of February 2007. I started applying for jobs when I got there. I had a spot where I could live in someone’s garage for a while, so at least I had saved up for a couple of months beforehand for the rent, paying for what you would pay for living in a garage. About $400 a month.
I got a job within a couple of months. I started off as a specification writer, it was more of a technical process. “Here’s a garment; we need to know all the things – what fabric we were using, what trims we were using. Trims are like buttons, zippers, elastic, and anything you might add to it. Then we need to have measurements when the garment is finished and if there are any style differences.” This is so that when they are manufacturing the garment, they can make sure that everything is quality controlled along the way.
How did you get this job?
I really just hustled. I didn’t know anybody and I didn’t have the network. Later on, my network is what helped to move me to other roles, but initially, it was just kind of throwing everything at once and seeing what sticks.
I was able to quickly move up from being a specifications writer to what they call a “first pattern maker”. What they call you when your junior, you’re making those first samples. Later on, a production pattern maker will make it production ready.
I worked for Byer California. We had a big junior department and the junior sales have markets every month where all the department stores go to some conference center and they would show their lines. So, every month we needed a different selection of things to show. Some of them are our best sellers, but a different pattern or different color combination depending on what the trends were. The first pattern maker would make all of these new styles. If they were sold or purchased then they would go under full production. So that was my first experience learning the industry beyond just learning about it at school. We had our own sewing room in the building, as well as fabric cutting. So, it was really like a miniature factory. Everything that happens within the industry happens there, as far as samples go. We would send them elsewhere for full production.
Learning to make a pattern was a great experience for me. If it doesn’t fit quite right, I can see it, put it on a dress form, and make those adjustments the same day. As I’m making a pattern and my sample maker is sewing this garment, they would come back to me if there were any issues. As I was junior I might have some notches or markings that indicate where you sew which part to which part. Like the sleeve to the arm hole. And if I had any of those marking inaccurate, they would come to me and show me, because it has to be perfectly accurate for production. Otherwise, a factory is going to sew it up exactly as you told them to sew it up, so if you made a mistake, it’s not going to look how you intended. It was a really great relationship of talking to these people that were the ones sewing it, and then they’re coming to me with; ‘Hey, this is really too hard to do” or ‘You should change it like this.’ It was a really good way to get a lot of feedback, learn and excel in the pattern-making space that I was in. I am a technical person, it’s hard for me to shut it off sometimes.
When you wanted to move on from that role, how did you make that decision to move on?
I kind of hit a ceiling in that company. It’s definitely an old school company as far as where the people that are there, are there for life. Nowadays people are at jobs, a few years here, a few years there. But this is still one of those companies that was around where people have been there for over thirty years.
So, I hit a point where the only way I could move up was if someone retired, and some of them were younger, or still had ten years and it was just at that point where I couldn’t grow anymore. At that time someone reached out on LinkedIn with an opportunity at Lululemon in Vancouver, Canada. I thought that sounded awesome; although Canada is far away and I couldn’t afford the move, it was just what I was looking for. Then they made it clear that they did relocation and all those things. This opportunity kind of reached out to me, just from my technical experience.
I then started working at Lululemon. My first week on the job was when the sheer pants scandal went public. Since I joined this team as a pattern maker or fit specialist, they put me on the team to help figure out why these pants were sheer and what we can do to fix them. It was a really interesting time to get thrown into a new role; definitely one of those sink-or-swim situations. That situation took me back to my childhood enjoyment of problem-solving. So just okay, it’s a mystery, let’s figure this out.
When you came into this were you like; ‘Well I didn’t cause this but I’m excited about fixing this’ or were you worried for the company, that it would impact you? Were you worried about your own job – that if you didn’t succeed in fixing it you would be reprimanded?
I wasn’t worried about the company not being successful. There probably was that feeling, when you are in the middle of a scandal, or sheer pant gate, of not knowing how long it’s going to last. There was a whole bunch of product recall. Luckily, we were able to get stock back on the shelves within ninety days. So, in the end we were able to figure out a solution.
One of the interesting things was that it ended up changing how people were wearing their clothes. There used to be flared leg, then everyone wanted compression, everything went tighter and then using a fabric that wasn’t specifically designed for that is probably what caused the pants to go sheer.
So, you’re at Lululemon and based on dates, did you also start thinking about having a family?
There was a lot of things I was trying to do to prevent or get in front of future issues. So, as I’m doing all of that, I ended up almost burning out. I think the timing was perfect for myself, to have a baby. About a year after we got to Canada was when my first girl was born. That gave me a little bit of time, maternity leave, to reset and by the time I got back I was really excited to see where else I could grow in my industry.
As you’ve probably heard from what I’ve talked about, I’m a technical person and I wanted to focus more on the technical stuff. I started to work a little bit more with swimwear and bras. The fit has a different requirement, it needs to support you in a different way. There is a function that is required for this garment to be successful. It also requires some different skills, learning about those little things was really exciting.
About that time, we also started working with 3D. We had an opportunity to bring on 3D software. For the apparel industry that means that we can also make our samples in 3D. If you weren’t fortunate enough to have a sewing room and a cutting room in your building, then you would have had to outsource it. So, when I was at Lululemon we would send it to a local factory to get some samples made, but it might take a couple of weeks turnaround time, and then you get it and it doesn’t look right so you have to send it back and make adjustments to the pattern and then have it sewn up again. This process can take a long time and it can also create some additional waste. So, with 3D you can minimize the waste and sew the garments in a matter of minutes or hours, depending on how complicated it is.
We then needed to learn some 3D software for building our garments in 3D’s. With that, we can see how our garments look even before we get a physical sample. That was really awesome, and I thought it was the coolest thing I’d done so far in my career. I really wanted to do 3D and not anything else, I didn’t want to go back to what I was doing before. It was 2015 when I had my first exposure to 3D in apparel.
Did you know like; “Okay I’m just going to pursue this work in Lululemon” or were you thinking more broadly than that?
I didn’t jump right into it, but I knew for sure that I wanted to do this. There were some challenges at Lululemon with them allowing me to do that, and also with having to pick up my kid from daycare at a certain time. This was before working from home days, so the problem was actually trying to get that extra time to be exposed to the 3D software. I could have just had tons of time at home and just done it but that wasn’t how we were working at that time.
Did you like living in Canada and having that experience?
Yeah, Canada was awesome. We ended up being there a total of four years. We had a kid really early on in that time and so the group of people that we met were mostly other parents who had kids. So, we really started building our community and growing a few baby roots. It really was a great experience. Healthcare wise as well. It was really amazing that health care was just provided for you and you were pretty much taken care of. That was a very different experience. And also, maternity leave, and other things like that. That wasn’t my initial plan but I’m glad that is what actually happened, that I had both my kids in Canada, where they believe in parental health.
So why did you leave?
When we moved to Canada, we originally moved for my work opportunity at Lululemon. My husband, Jeff, is in the video game industry and one of the reasons why we also decided to do it is that there are some video game companies in the Vancouver area. However, it was a lot harder for him to find work, as the community is a bit more tightknit, like small town almost, although it’s not a small town but in the video game industry it was. So, it was really hard to get in, unless someone actually knows you from something else. Just having a resume isn’t going to cut it, you needed to have somebody else. So, it took him over a year to actually get a job. Once he did, it was great but they didn’t pay as well as in the Bay area, so it was a huge pay cut. He also got a lower-level job than what he had previously.
So, while we were there all the great things were happening for my career, I was getting the new experience I needed and Jeff wasn’t. In the end he had a great opportunity to move back to the Bay Area and we took that. It was right at the time when our second child was born, we moved when she was three months old, in 2017. I ended up leaving my role at Arc’teryx. So, Jeff’s working and I’m home with the kids, still technically on maternity leave. I was able to stay at home with them for a little bit while I found daycares and started looking for work.
About seven months after being here I was interviewing with other apparel brands in the area, there were tons of apparel brands, and as I was talking to them about the 3D, since this keeps coming up for me. Some of them either hadn’t started their 3D journey yet, others had just started. What realized after both Lululemon and Arc’teryx is that I was interested in both of them for different reasons, they had the 3D aspect but I realize that I don’t want to go through and start a new company with 3D being just teased. Like ‘oh yeah we’re going to do that someday soon’. I wanted to be with a company that had 3D implemented or were committed to implementing it, but I wasn’t finding any company that was that far along yet in the bay area. So, then I reached out to the company that I currently work for, BrowzWare, which is the software that we used at Lululemon and I had a good relationship with them. This was one of the times where my network ended up helping me. I just reached out to them like ‘Hey, do you need anyone who can build 3D assets for you?”. That way I could get better at the software and at least enjoy doing something that I wanted to do. It turned out that they had a new job opening. They were expanding their Westcoast team, so it worked out that I could work remotely and only go onsite for trainings when other apparel brands were ready to start their 3D journey. I would go onsite and train pattern makers and designers how to use the software and help create more of a digital end to end process.
And you’ve been there since you moved back to the Bay area or soon after?
Yeah, since 2018. I just hit my four-year mark with this company. I was trainer and support specialist for three years and also during the pandemic. We converted our trainings, since we weren’t doing onsite anymore, we did it all virtually. With the online trainings we also built university content and we called it Browzwear university. And kind of a funny thing I ended up doing as well is narrating. They needed narrators and they wanted a female voice with an American accent. So, we had four of us on the team that fit that and we would narrate and then after a while they started asking me to do more and more, and then it just ended up being that I was the voice of Browzwear for a little bit, so was sort of completely unexpected. They will use my voice here or there in some of their commercial ads as well. That’s just kind of a side thing, but who knows, maybe I’ll do more of that sometime in my life because it’s fun.
So, in your career with them, but also in general, do you see room to grow? Do you see a path forward for yourself? Because you’re still young in terms of your working life.
Yeah, for the last year I’ve been working as a partnerships and solutions manager. So, this is where I took the opportunity to grow in my company and we’ll see where it takes me. Our company partners with other technical companies that have different tool sets that they can integrate with our software. For me that opens up a whole new path. I started in apparel solely and then I kind of moved into more of the software side, but it’s still software apparel. Working with all these other technical companies I’ve definitely seen more of the software side of things and I can potentially see a future outside of apparel. I still really like it, since I know it so well, I’m in a comfort zone, but if I can decide where my next big risk would be, it would be potentially somewhere else within the software realm of, partnerships from a different perspective or a different type of solutions. It could be more games, or it could be assets. I don’t just have to stay within apparel.
Do you see yourself still connected to your younger self and fashion? Can you see a clear thread of how that’s developed?
Yes and no. Yes, as in, I am a busy working mom. So, I realize in the last ten years that I care much less about my appearance. There’s not always the time, although I definitely do enjoy following fashion trends. I don’t necessarily participate the way I used to in certain things but it’s definitely something that I think I still there. But I think it’s also working with a company where I am creating the software that is making it possible to have a slightly more sustainable workflow. I’ve been focusing a bit more on that and I’m also interested in zero waste or reducing waste and buying for quality verses just a cute trend that won’t last for very long. So, I guess that’s sort of where I have evolved slightly from how I used to consume and where my focus is in apparel and trends. Shopping is quite different for me now.
If you were to give young Anna advice about the future, what would you want to tell her? In terms of your career or how to approach your life or anything really.
I don’t remember having any sort of career days at school and what I’ve told people now is that I would love to go and share my experiences with pattern making in math classes on geometry. In school you doubt whether you are ever going to be able to use certain things again. Well, hey, I’ve got a great example for you of when you’re going to need this – if you’re going to make clothes! I think it was those sorts of practical examples that are really powerful and as soon as it clicked for me, I realized that if I had known this earlier, I could have started this journey much earlier, and who knows where I would be by now, maybe I would be doing my own thing. It would be great to tell your future self what things you actually like and what it means.