While still in her 20s, Jill Sherman, Sloan Fellow ’12, moved to Asia on her own, with no job, friends or support system. Twice.
This followed a successful career as a fashion assistant for both American and Italian Vogue, where she helped discover new designers for the iconic magazines’ pages. While at Vogue, Sherman headed the accessories closet, managed editorial photo shoots, and worked closely as a stylist for renowned photographers such as Richard Avedon.
The fashion world’s frantic pace and grueling hours caught up with Sherman in 2005, so she took a year off to backpack around Asia by herself. “I learned a lot about myself. It was a great year of change and Asia was rising. I met so many people along the way. When you are on your own, you really reach out to others. Everyone has their own story and that’s the greatest lesson,” she said.
Sherman returned to the United States in 2006, only to pack her bags again and move to Shanghai. As she remembered, “The United States just wasn’t as exciting as China!” Sherman eventually became a buyer for upscale department store Harvey Nichols and a visual merchandiser for both Prada and Miu Miu, the younger avant-garde brand of Prada.
Today, Sherman is taking another leap. She and Alain Miguel, MBA ’13, are creating a fashion startup, Modalyst, a catalyst for emerging fashion designers to help them gain accessibility, visibility, and funding. Sherman loosely based it on the concept of crowd funding, which is a form of raising money through concerted efforts in an online community.
“We have found that traditional crowd funding is not working well for designers,” Sherman continued. “With Modalyst, we are creating a new form of crowd funding that caters to the fashion industry.”
The Modalyst website will offer a way for designers to network and create their own online personas, which will enable them to reach into their community and establish a presence to define their market. “It’s not only a place for them to gain funding, but it’s about collecting a network of people by sharing each individual’s unique story.” Modalyst will also assist new brands in creating market analytics. “We want to help independent designers understand their customers through information gathered on our site, before making misaligned decisions with their limited resources,” she noted.
Sherman was inspired to attend management school after seeing the difficulties that fashion brands face within the industry. “Once I learned about the MIT Sloan Fellows Program, I knew that it was the right choice for me. The diversity of the cohort and range of knowledge really adds to the overall experience.”
Sherman was inspired to start her business while at MIT due to the breadth of entrepreneurial classes and excellent professors. “One really feels entrepreneurship in the air at MIT. I’m sure that I had the entrepreneur bug in me before I arrived, but I didn’t expect to follow this path until I came here,” she said.
“I am excited by this new challenge of starting a company. It feels great to mix all of my experiences together—from working abroad to being an MIT Sloan Fellow—and start something new. MIT, the Sloan Fellows, and the deep relationships created within the community have really broadened my personal perspective and increased the scope of opportunities available to me,” she said.
Sherman and Miguel have entered Modalyst in the MIT IDEAS Global Challenge (http://globalchallenge.mit.edu/) and are finalists. They have also entered MassChallenge 2012 (http://masschallenge.org/), a startup accelerator and competition for early-stage entrepreneurs.