"Places people. Places!" I would boom as everyone scurried into their planned positions. "Shhh." The lights would blacken. Everyone would quiet down as we heard only the footsteps as our announcer headed out to the stage to entice the crowd for the performance they were about to see. All of us backstage would look at each other and smile with utter excitement. We knew were ready to perform, to dazzle, to entertain. 


When I was young, I loved playing dress up. I would make dresses out of tied bed sheets and use Christmas lights to make a runway. During family events, I would put on a show and showcase all of my designs accompanied by dance routines from my little cousins. My mother, who was a professional seamstress, was very proud to see our makeshift performances. She was always there in the front row with her coffee. 

My first official job was at a restaurant when I was 13 years old. The dishwasher at the time cut their hand on a knife during the dinner rush. The owner was great friends with my mom and called to see if one of her kids could come help immediately and just like that, I had a job! I worked at that restaurant until I was 21 and did everything from dishwashing, serving, bartending, prep, you name it. I loved it. I loved the challenge, the multitasking, the staff and the regulars. 

Every shift right before the rush, I would be doodling designs on napkins. I would watch as the customers poured in and looked at what they were wearing. As I was running around, I would think to myself, why they chose to wear that outfit and what made them decide on those colors? How is it made?


"Mom! Can I borrow some money?" I would scream as I was running into the alteration room at the bridal shop. She would look up from what she was working on with her glasses still focused on a dress.  As I was leaving, I would make sure to thumb through the new arrivals of all the luxurious dresses. I would always say, if I could wear a gown everyday, I would. 

Later that night when my mom would get home, she would head to the basement where she had her at home sewing shop. She would continue to work on alterations that she had at home. I would go down to help pin, serge and iron. We would drink coffee and listen to the ancient brown and black radio that she had. I bet that radio is still there. They don't make them like they use to. 

High school was rough for me. I wanted to be creating. I wanted to be in a trade school. I would spend most of my classes unfocused and doodling designs in my notebooks. High school graduation was coming and it was time to figure out the next step. 

I wasn't exactly sure if college was right for me. I wanted to study design, but practicality was telling me to go into Psychology. My best friend from first grade rolled into my house one day and slapped her acceptance letter into the Nutrition and Food Science Program down on the table and demanded for me to apply. So I did. That summer went fast and the next thing I knew, I was starting my first day of college in Fashion at Kirkwood.

I was late for my first class. When I got in an took my seat, the profession looked up at me and ask who I was.

"My name is Erica Becker. Ma'am."

"Erica Becker. I don't allow tardiness in my class."

"I'm sorry. It won't happen again."

It happened a lot. Always fashionably late, of course.

Kirkwood was the best entrance into the academic fashion world. I met a lot of great people there who influenced my life. I was very involved with extra curricular activities. One specifically was called, "Fashion Club." 

First rule about Fashion Club is don't talk about Fashion Club. Kidding. Fashion Club was a great resource on campus to network. Guest speakers would come in to talk about the industry and help prepare us for a career. One day specifically, Nordstrom came in. I hadn't fully heard of Nordstrom at that point. We didn't have a full line Nordstrom in Iowa, but it sure sounded cool. After the presentation, I went up to talk with the recruiter. She was very nice. So I applied and got a job working at their largest midwest hub!

Kirkwood was my first exposure to the fashion industry and producing fashion shows. I was involved with shows on campus, with Nordstrom and around town. I held leadership positions and worked extra long hours to make sure our performances went smooth. Ha! Let's just say that I learned very quick to think on my feet. 

My adventure was coming to an end at Kirkwood, but I wasn't done. I wanted more. I started to consider applying to Iowa State for Apparel Merchandising and Design. That program had been highly talked about by my professors and was ranked of the top 3 schools in the nation. I wanted to give it a shot. 

I didn't come from a family of money. It was actually the complete opposite. We were extremely poor and we struggled a lot. I learned at a very young age what work ethic was because I didn't have another choice. When I was getting ready to move to Iowa State, I was extremely nervous because I was already struggling with money and literally eating pbj's and ramen every day. That was all I could afford. It was horrible and I knew continuing on with school would be another few years of this, but I was willing to stay disciplined for my dream. 

Iowa State was extremely rough. I'm talking I often only had like $.75 in my bank account at all times. My senior year was during the recession and my dad lost his job. It was a huge impact on my family and I could not call home for assistance. My entire family struggled hard. Thats was when I got an email back from an internship I applied for at OBEY Clothing in California. I only had a limited opening to accept the internship, I needed it to graduate and it had to be that coming summer. It was a very nerve racking moment. 

I didn't want to tell my family about the internship because I knew it would put pressure on them to come up with the money. I started selling everything I owned on Craigslist, I printed tee shirts and sold them for extra cash, I worked two jobs and I applied for a credit card. Finally, when I had enough money saved up, I told my family the news. They were thrilled!

When I said goodbye, my oldest sister cried really hard. I laughed and told her I would be back. She wiped the tears from her eyes and told me she knew me better than that. I smiled at her and got into my little Toyota Camry. She was right.


Stay tuned for Part II.

Author: Erica Becker, Creative Director. 



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