My journey to fashion
My connection with the fashion world has been constant throughout my life. Unlike the typical image portrayed in movies, I wasn't spending my time drawing (in fact, my drawing skills leave much to be desired), but rather, I always found joy in organizing collections, sorting garments by color and print, and experimenting with fabric combinations.
Since childhood, my grandmother taught me how to use the sewing machine. At the age of 16, my father gifted me my first machine, which I keep to this day, and it still works perfectly. At that moment, I immersed myself fully in the exciting world of fashion.
During my years of study, I constantly experienced the feeling that I might be on the wrong path. As I advanced through my degree, I realized that my apparent lack of a "drawing gift" did not necessarily mean I was on the wrong path. I recognized that my true interest was in the business, projection, and entrepreneurial aspects of the fashion world.
As a student, I didn't just focus on my studies; I embarked on my own (small) business: designing and making clothes and accessories. These endeavors provided the satisfaction of creation and became an invaluable source to fund my studies and even my well-deserved vacations!
In conclusion, what has always fascinated me about fashion is the planning and resource management that underlies every project. This attraction for organization and efficiency finally led me to work as a Product Manager in the trading textile field for almost 7 years.
During this period, I decided to pursue my MBA to formalize knowledge that I felt was lacking since college. The "business" world that had always attracted me represented a gap in my academic training. Juggling a full-time job, frequent travel to China with extended stays, and completing an MBA was an immense challenge, a roller coaster of sensations deserving its own article.
Life as a Textile Product Manager
What was my job? To serve as the intermediary bridge between factories and customers, ensuring that each order was shipped promptly. How did I achieve this? Through a unique blend of commercial skills, a passion for numbers, negotiation expertise, and a deep understanding of trends, fashion, and user experience in the textile industry.
My role went beyond mere sales and creating new business opportunities; it involved understanding and managing all aspects necessary for success in this dynamic environment. Along the way, I honed skills that remain critical to my performance today:
- Organization: Behind each shipment, numerous teams collaborate and must be aligned.
- Planning: The ability to plan seasons, purchases, sales meetings, travel, shipments, among other aspects, has been crucial in my career.
- Time management: I understand that time is a valuable resource, and knowing how to use it efficiently is essential.
- Adapting to change: The year 2020 and Covid were clear reminders of the importance of adapting to unforeseen circumstances, particularly considering the factories I worked with were located in China.
- Empathy: Acknowledging the significance of empathy in a global environment, where respecting each country's traditions and cultures is crucial when interacting with customers, teams, and suppliers.
- Communication skills: Clear and effective communication is vital at all levels, whether maintaining a good relationship with the team, customers or suppliers. This is especially crucial when working across different countries and languages.
- Teamwork: I prioritize collaborative work, recognizing that the team is the engine that propels the success of any project. As the saying goes, 'Teamwork makes the dream work.'
- Problem-solving: In this dynamic environment, challenges are a common occurrence. From floods in factories to transportation issues, I have confronted unexpected situations and learned to approach them with determination, seeking solutions without letting initial panic paralyze me. Let's face it: sometimes, a few minutes of initial panic are inevitable.
Change and fear knocked on my door
In mid-2021, I experienced a need for change that welled up (or rather exploded) within me. Identifying what was happening to me was challenging, as I was dealing with complex internal issues:
- How could I leave an industry that had given me so much satisfaction and experience?
- How could I change careers at this point in my life?
- How could I start from scratch after 30?
- How could I leave behind everything I studied, learned and worked for almost a decade?
Fear, fear, and more fear. Fear manifested itself in the unknown, in leaving my comfort zone and facing the new. Fortunately, I took the plunge. A determining factor in this decision was the positive influence of the women around me. It became clear to me how crucial it is for women to support each other in our decisions and paths.
One of my MBA classmates shared a phrase that still resonates with me and that I have adopted as a motto in life: "If it scares you, do it with fear, but do it." So, I decided to say, "Ok, now what?". The first thing I set out to do was to explore possibilities and research what other industries captured my interest and what opportunities were out there; doing solid research is essential. I stumbled upon UX/UI Design and the IT Universe during this search. My first thought was, "Well, if it has the word Design, we already have something in common."
It was not change, it was evolution
Immediately, I reached out within my network to find someone who could guide me in this new universe (I recommend that, in any situation, you seek support from your peers; we can learn a lot from each other's experience and it is always better to face challenges together than alone). Fortunately, a great friend of mine had gone through a similar "change": from Architect to UX/UI Designer. After several talks with her and other people, those questions that filled me with fear were transformed into phrases of encouragement:
- How could I leave an industry that had given me so much satisfaction and experience? - I was not abandoning it; my bond with the textile industry is unbreakable and goes beyond the professional.
- How could I change careers at this point in my life? - You can change at any time! With dedication and willpower, anything is possible.
- How could I start from scratch after 30? - After 30, really, Fabiana? To tell you the truth, I didn't even want to answer myself in 2021 on this topic. There is no age to stop growing and starting a business. And if someone tells you otherwise, pass them my contact information.
- How could I leave behind everything I studied, learned and worked for almost a decade? - Luckily, I understood that I wasn't starting from scratch; all my previous knowledge and experience would be a value add in this new stage. I would not be an inexperienced UX/UI Designer, but a UX/UI Designer who knew how to work with international clients, manage teams, handle deadlines, and a series of skills that you can only learn by working.
And so I understood that what I perceived as "change" was not just that. It was an evolution, a growth both professionally and personally.
Time to study!
The decision was made: I was going to start studying UX/UI. This was the beginning of my immersion in the IT universe. However, before embarking on this new stage, I had to quit my job. I had to leave my team, who to this day are my friends. Say goodbye to the suppliers with whom I shared so many experiences during those years. Cease my travels to China and distance myself from fabrics and the textile world. I recognize that it was not an easy decision; in fact, it was a choice that brought tears to my eyes.
I began to study: courses, tutorials, mentorships (emphasizing the importance of mentors!), books, videos, internships, etc. Any information and knowledge I could acquire was welcome. Did I like it? Yes. Was I fascinated? No. Deep down, I knew this was not the right direction (always listen to your inner self!).
Opportunities come when you least expect them
In that roller coaster of sensations, I met Alejandro, CTO & Co Founder of SoftEdge Technologies, who noticed something in me that I had not yet discovered. Initially, he asked me to assist in managing some of the company's teams. In that limbo I was in, and knowing how many people had supported me, I felt the need to give back some of that "help," and I accepted to work with them, even though my rational self (who didn't listen to my inner self) thought: "I'm studying UX/UI; I have to work on that." Then, I started to collaborate on the commercial side, seeking new business opportunities, dealing with clients, and working hand-in-hand with human resources. It was a synergy that emerged without pursuing it.
During this process, I had to learn a lot. I was working with the sales team on a product of which I had no previous knowledge; I had to sell and manage something I didn't even understand. My specialty was fabrics, factories, patterns, and suddenly, they were talking to me about Front End, Back End, Technologies, Languages, Frameworks... Stop – I want to get off!
How did I survive? Thanks to the team, to every company member who took the time to explain, teach, and guide me. Once again, it’s proof that "Teamwork makes the dream work."
After a while, Alejandro, once again, saw in me something I had not yet recognized: my ability to lead the company and be the CEO. It was an imperative need for the company. This role needed to be filled, and he found in me what they were looking for: a person who would strategically lead the company, be responsible for guiding and connecting with the teams, drive growth, and establish key partnerships.
However, once again, who stepped up to the plate? Fear. How would I, a woman, be the CEO of a technology company? In a male-dominated industry? I remember a CEO meeting in Austin, Texas, where I was asked how I had convinced (emphasizing that I was a woman) the company's co-founders that I should be the CEO. It was a question I had no trouble answering: I had not convinced anyone, it was they who convinced me.
Do men dominate the technology industry? Yes, that's a fact. But little by little, it is changing. We need more female role models to inspire us and serve as examples. We must work together, among us women, to achieve this change. The insertion in the IT universe does not have to be from a technical point of view; there are a variety of roles linked to this industry that are not specifically "developers". It is a matter of doing that research and finding where we feel comfortable and where we want to grow.
And so, almost without looking for it, I stumbled upon what I thought was "my path". Sometimes, we strive to solve everything without realizing that many things must be left to flow. While you have to work hard to get good results, I recognize that we can't always plan for those results (and how hard that is for us planning fanatics!). Life often presents us with unexpected opportunities when we allow things to flow.
Listening to my inner self
Today, as I reflect on my trajectory, I see each challenge as an opportunity for growth and learning. As I write these lines and review the last few years of my life, the need to evolve (because I understood that we don't change, we evolve) arises in me once again. Although I greatly enjoy my current position and the incredible team with which I collaborate, there is a part of me that yearns to come to light: my entrepreneurial spirit is awakening again.
Thanks to this opportunity that Elpha is giving me to capture my work experience, I'm taking, almost without realizing it, the decision (once again) to take another risk: to return to the world of textile entrepreneurship. Is this crazy? Yes, it is. Do I have everything 100% clear? No. But no risk, no gain, right?
What is clear is that I want to continue being part of the incredible family we have built at SoftEdge and the technological universe. But today, in my role as CEO of SoftEdge, I am making the (bold) decision to step aside.
So, in an exciting twist, I decided to split my professional life in two. I will continue to lead as a Project Manager at SoftEdge, but I am also jumping with both legs - and hopefully landing well! - into the entrepreneurial adventure. I'm making this decision as I'm writing these lines, my keyboard is about to break from the excitement of typing! This step fills me with excitement and nerves, but here I go, ready to embrace this new chapter with all the intensity I have inside me!
Once again, fear arises. However, this time it is a "good" fear, a motivating force that pushes me (once again) to leave my comfort zone. The importance of performing a self-assessment, listening to our inner selves, and taking risks resonates strongly. Facing this new chapter is like diving into the unknown with a thrilling mix of fear and anticipation. But, as I have learned along my journey, fear is not an obstacle; it is a reminder that we are about to do something valuable and meaningful.
This is not just a change in my career; it is an evolution, an ongoing growth. I invite you to join this journey, to share experiences, to challenge expectations, and to build together a future where women lead, inspire, and thrive in any industry. Let this story be not just a personal story but a call to action, to collaboration, and to building a path where our passions and skills guide us to success.
And always remember: "If it scares you, do it with fear, but do it."