Fortune’s Entry/Level column is dedicated to people looking for and working in entry-level positions—read the full series here. We interview entry-levelers about their jobs, how they got them, what they want to do next, and more. The subject’s answers are edited for clarity.
Marissa Abbonizio is a 23-year-old assistant merchant at Madewell, a women’s clothing retailer owned by J.Crew. She relocated to New York City from the suburbs of Philadelphia in 2014 to attend Fordham University in the Bronx. She now lives on the Upper West Side with two friends from college and commutes to Long Island City, Queens for work. She graduated in May 2018 and started at Madewell the following July.
Here’s what Marissa has to say about…
Getting her foot in the door:
This whole thing was just luck. When I was in college, I started working in Madewell stores to save money to study abroad. And while I was doing that, my store director was like, “Corporate has a internship program, you should try it.” I tried it out after my junior year, and then got hired from the internship. They said come back after graduation. It just all fell in place.
Getting hired out of her internship:
The whole summer felt like a job interview. In July, I had my end of term review and that’s where I got the offer. Then in my first semester of senior year, I got a phone call with the details like this is when we need you to start, this is what department you’ll be working in, this is who your manager will be.
Where she thought she’d be post-grad:
I studied business. I thought I was going to be doing accounting or consulting. And thank God I’m not. My job is actually the perfect combination of playing with handbags and product, and then being in Excel for hours and hours, plugging in numbers and doing analytics.
Her work environment:
Our teams are very small. That comes with a lot of responsibility. [Teams are] usually a merchant and an assistant merchant for every category. And I do 2 categories. My manager and I do all the bags and accessories. I’m with the product from inception to it being out in the stores.
The pace of her job:
I’ve never, ever been bored at work. Ever. And I’ve never been at work and not had something to do. There’s always stuff to do.
What her days look like:
I am a crazy routine person. A couple days a week, I’ll wake up at 5:30 and go to a 6 a.m. barre class. From there, I’ll run home and shower. I get to the office between 8 a.m. and 8:30 a.m. every day. And I pull reports first thing, so that when my manager gets in around 9 a.m., they’re all ready. Then my work wife and I make our breakfast of oatmeal in the kitchen and get our coffee.
Then the to-do list varies day to day. I can have a day where I’m at my desk a lot, or I can have a day where I am not at my desk for a second. I could be meeting with designers, meeting with our production team, looking at product, assorting it, or sitting with our planners and working out how we want things to sell. It keeps things super interesting.
On a normal week, I work 8:30 a.m. to 6 p.m. I’ll eat dinner with my roommates and relax [after work] and I’m usually in bed at like 9 p.m.
Getting involved in design:
Ninety percent of our assortment has been designed by our Madewell designers. [My manager and I] work with them to make the product what we want. And this all comes off of data: what is currently trending, what historically has performed well. It’s such a cool combination of a lot of different things.
Keeping an eye out:
Part of the job is you have to know what’s going on in the fashion world. We keep tabs on bloggers and influencers, even street style. We’re always looking. I like looking at other brands. We comp-shop to see what’s out in the field. We really have to understand the Madewell girl, as well, because sometimes the Madewell girl is a little bit slow to catch onto trends. So if this cool thing comes out right now, we might not jump on it because our customer won’t respond to it yet.
Failing at work:
Part of the job is if something doesn’t do well, it’s learning for next time. We know now that this print doesn’t work, whatever, there’s nothing we can do. Some things don’t go right, and you’re not punished for it.
What she’s working toward:
There’s associate merchant, then merchant, and then senior merchant. It is really cool to have my manager, who is a few years older than me and is a senior merchant. I’m working toward that. I would love to get there some day. That’s like two promotions away.
Mentorship on her team:
I’m really lucky that my manager’s amazing. I can really go to anyone on my team for advice and help, which is definitely a luxury.
Rent in New York:
Each of [the three people in my apartment] pays $1,100 a month. And that to me is like a steal for New York.
You have your base salary, but then if you work outside the office, you can log your hours and make overtime. It’s just nice to know that they recognize that we work so much, especially in an industry that’s so flexed by the season, and flexed by the point in the season. That’s important, and I think that’s a huge draw for people.
We get 40% off everything, unlimited, including things that are on sale. And then on six items a month, we get 60% off. Another perk is there’s no real dress code at work. I wear jeans, a T‑shirt, and sneakers 90% of the time. No one’s dressing corporate. It’s a very not-corporate corporate environment.
It’s very industrial and it’s literally called The Factory because it used to be an old factory. We have free coffee. We have a pantry of snacks and stuff, but it’s not free. We also have a gym that’s free for everyone. And they have Peloton bikes, row classes, and barre classes in the building. There’s also a shuttle that drives from the building to the subway at all hours of the day, which is another perk.
Her work wife:
She sits next to me. She’s the assistant merchant for footwear. I met her on my first day. We have the same Meyers-Briggs profile. We basically eat all our meals together because we eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at work. We’ve been doing many long nights together, unpacking boxes into the wee hours of the night. She’s become one of my closest friends.
How she manages stress:
The best thing about her job:
My favorite thing is the people. And how heard my voice is, how I’m so valued as a person.
The worst thing about her job:
My least favorite thing is overlapping deadlines. Some weeks we’re working on a site launch, placing purchase orders for a product, and doing receipt passes, which is a really big project. Sometimes there’s a lot of stuff due at once, but there’s nothing you can really do about it.
I really love my job and I don’t want to leave. But before I’m ready to like lock it down and be married and have a family and kids, I want to definitely move somewhere else. Preferably in Europe. I have a lot of family that lives in Italy, so I’d love to move out to the countryside where they live, and just live a very different lifestyle than here. Maybe in like the next 5 years. That would be something I would do on my own, offline, and just volunteer and live very simply for a little while because New York is not like that.
Advice for her younger self:
Don’t be so worried. Don’t stress yourself out so much because everyone was there once. Especially in fashion, I thought everyone was going to be so bitchy and so rude, and judge me. But literally no one could care less. Everyone will be nice to you and it will all be fine.
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