Local LA Native is judge on NBC Reality TV Show to find the next top fashion designer.
"I realize how big a deal it is that ‘America's Department Store', which is what Macy's is, has me, Caprice from LA County/Gardena, representing them on national television every week."
These are the words from Caprice Willard, the Vice President/Regional Planning Manager for Macy's Women's Apparel and featured buyer for Macy's on NBC's "Fashion Star".
"Fashion Star" is a reality show that airs on NBC where aspiring fashion designers compete to have their designs sold in major retail stores. Buyers from H&M, Macy's and Sak's Fifth Avenue have the decision of purchasing designs from the contestants during the week and their designs are sold the next day in that particular store. It is the first show of its kind. Out of the three buyers, two are women and both of those women are Black. Not only is Willard a part of a nationally televised show, but she has her own responsibilities in her career.
Caprice oversees one hundred stores around the U.S. and works to make sure that those stores get clothes that match the style of the customers in that area based on demographics. Her life wasn't always in fashion, though. She trained to be a dancer while attending Narbonne in Harbor City studying in their magnet program from elementary school through high school. She says she "wanted to be the next Debbie Allen". Her parents always focused on getting her and her siblings the best education they could get. For her, this meant one-hour bus rides to and from school every weekday.
After graduating high school, Willard deferred for a year in hopes of becoming a famous dancer. She then attended UCLA and was very involved with activities such as being president of her AKA sorority, while balancing working in retail and being a manager for University Housing. She got her Bachelor's in English and had plans to follow in her mother's footsteps and become a teacher. Her path began to transform as she attended the career center and spoke to a representative of Robinson's May. They were one of very few companies looking for a certain set of skills instead of what you actually majored in. This captured Willard's interest and her mother was the one who urged her to take a leap of faith.
"She said, you know what Caprice, I would love to see you be a teacher, but you happen to have this unique set of skills that you've been using part-time all this time. You really have a business head. You need to go and see if you could do anything with that," Willard said.
From then on, she was hired by Robinson's May and educated within the Executive Training program. This 10-week program taught her everything she needed to know to be a successful buyer. After completing the program, she started off as an Assistant Buyer in the sleepwear outfits department. From then on, she worked her way up as a buyer in various departments like dresses and cosmetics. She became a Vice President Divisional Manager of intimate apparel, which was her first major managerial position over a group of buyers. This promotion was somewhat controversial for Willard.
"At that time in the industry there really weren't a lot of people of color and there definitely weren't a lot of African Americans. So it was a big, big deal that I got promoted because I was the only one and I was young so those two things really caused people who I thought were in my corner to show their true colors. I think that was really the first time in my work situation, that I really understood that sometimes people can't separate their own personal feelings from what is really right and true," she said.
Her position now is overseeing stores for women's apparel in Macy's. She says that at Macy's they have understood relationships of respect and admiration for each other. To get her to the point she is now, Willard says holding positions over several different departments was the key to success.
"Early on I decided that every move I make, would be definitively different form the move I made before. The more people who knew who I was and the more people who thought I was good at what I did, that when the time came, there would be that many more people who thought I could do the job," she said.
She was in for a surprise as her wisdom on setting good impressions had plans for her. It was a Sunday morning when she had received an e-mail asking her if she would be interested in being apart of a new show known as "Fashion Star". A man who was formerly President over Macy's West had moved to New York to run a store. A representative in the marketing department had told him about the show they were starting and asked if he had known anyone who was a great buyer. That's when Willard's name was mentioned.
Besides the huge accomplishment of being one of two African American buyers on the show, Willard has some immediate exciting upcoming events. She will be giving fashion tips and trends at an event called "Girls Night Out Fashion Fest" held at Macy's Baldwin Hills. The event will be held Thursday, November 8that 6 p.m. Willard was very enthusiastic speaking about the event, especially since she currently lives in Baldwin Hills.
"Really, all I want is for my neighbors and my community to go down there and check it out. I think everyone will be pleasantly surprised," she said.
Willard says one of the main reasons she joined the fashion industry is the fact that shopping can be a very family-oriented and social type of event. She strives to make sure that Macy's upholds styles that all age groups can enjoy. She also hopes that this fashion show can be an annual event.
Willard attributes her success to living by standards her parents instilled in her, along with her uncle, the late Winston C. Doby. Doby was the former Vice Chancellor for student affairs at UCLA. He was responsible for helping recruit more African Americans to attend the university. He passed away November 2011 of cancer. He got to see Willard be a part of "Fashion Star" and she says he would give her words of encouragement that her grandmother would always say.
"His life creed was, when you need someone, you really want to make sure you leave a lasting impression because you're only going to pass that way once," she said.
Willard has proven that the impact she has made so far on those around her is the same impact her uncle made on students he mentored during his career and lifetime.