(The Root) — "Everybody here wants to be a designer, so how do you make your clothes popular?" one ambitious student asks of two established women in fashion during a career day of sorts at New York's High School of Fashion Industries.
"If anyone knew that for sure — " starts Patti Y. Carpenter.
"They'd be rich!" adds Harriette Cole, and they both burst into laughter.
It's a sunny fall day, and about 40 freshmen girls have crowded into their school library. Cole and Carpenter are sharing their life lessons, thanks to the Chicago-based organization HistoryMakers, which chronicles both well-known and unsung African Americans on video. Both women have been interviewed by HistoryMakers, thereby contributing to the country's largest collection of black oral narratives, and today they've agreed to speak in person with students. Carpenter forged her creative career in design houses like Ralph Lauren and Adrienne Vittadini, while Cole began as a model before joining the editorial side of magazines like Essence and Ebony.
"One thing I've learned is that you have to find your passion, and that's more than just making money," Cole tells the girls. "If design is your passion, start making clothes now. Wear your own designs and have your friends wear them."
A former creative director for Ebony — she even had the pleasure of pulling a too-tight bomber jacket off Michael Jackson during a cover shoot — Cole is now a talent coach, small-business owner of a scarf company and contributing editor at The Root. She's also released several books, offering advice on topics like wedding vows and meditation, and today she encourages the High School of Fashion Industries pupils to pursue all of their dreams.
"You never know what people will grab onto, but I thought there were several important nuggets in there: patience, dreaming and really tapping into your own heart," Cole says after the session. "There are some people who say they want to do something, but any career is too hard if you're only doing it because it was your mama's idea or you think you're going to make money. Today I saw a few of the students' eyes brighten as I was talking, and that's what I look for."
Cole advises the next generation of fashion creatives to find what drives them as soon as possible. She herself began crocheting as a child growing up in Baltimore, and that skill became the basis for her profit-turning scarf company today.
"My career has taken me to so many different places, and yours can, too," she says with a smile.
Hillary Crosley is The Root's New York City bureau chief. Follow her on Twitter.