In this series, we talk to 13 industry leaders who have made the jump from Australia to NYC and are kicking it in their fields, from food to media and international advocacy. Here, fashion designer Sylvia Lee reveals what it takes to make it in the city of dreams.
Company: Sylvia Lee Designs was founded by this engineer-turned-designer in 2010 and has built a name for creating ethereal, sensual pieces.
Originally from: Sydney
Why did you decide to move to New York? I had received an amazing opportunity to be mentored at Diane von Furstenburg (DVF) in 2012, which I won through the Fashion Future organisation’s program for international mentorship. I had dreamt of moving to Paris but after my first few initial days in New York, I fell in love with its incredible energy and people. I returned to Australia after four months at DVF as I had private bridal clients whose wedding dresses I had committed to.
How did you find work? I connected with recruitment agencies while I was in Australia, and furiously sent résumés and emails to anyone I could find on LinkedIn! It was like a full- time job, looking for a job. I’d meet people at bars and networking events who would help me connect with people. I’d even bring samples of my dress designs, including my famous Miss Universe evening dress [Sylvia designed the gown for Miss Universe Australia in 2011], to interviews.
Did you encounter any difficulties with getting a visa? Everyone told me you needed a visa to get a job. But you really need a job to get a visa! And there are plenty of talented and qualified people in New York who don’t need visas.
What’s a typical day at the office? My current job is as an evening dress designer. I do a lot of hand sketching of designs and beading/embroidery layouts. The majority of the time is spent on sourcing fabrics, trims, directing pattern makers, drapers and design room organisation in general.
How does the US differ to home? Everything is so much slicker. The US market is sustainable with its own market. There is also a garment district where most of the design companies, trim shops, fabric shops and anything fashion-related is based. Everything I need is in the vicinity of a few blocks.
What do you do in your spare time? There are so many arts and culture-based events in New York that no given week is ever the same. The other week I went to a ’70s-themed rollerskating dance party. Completely random!
Aussies in New York, Part I | Restaurateur Rupert Noffs of The Lucky Bee
Aussies in New York, Part II | Associate Director Jason Maggs of Mindshare
Aussies in New York, Part III | Co-founder Billie Whitehouse of Wearable X
Aussies in New York, Part IV | Glen Coates, CEO of Handshake