Connie Cathcart-Richardson is a Nashville native who married her high school sweetheart, settled in Music City and was in the advertising industry for 25 years, 15 years of which was spent as a partner at Image Design Inc. But, at 46 years of age, with her daughter off at college, she knew she needed to get back to her creative roots she had loved so much before adulthood set in. The art of fashion had always called to her and she wanted to rediscover that passion and do something with it. Unlike many, she actually did it! Read on about how Connie not only created a new career path, she also helped launched Nashville Fashion Week at the same time.
Tell us about leaving the advertising world. That was a big leap!
I needed something creative, but I was settling down with my husband in our early 20s and we were not moving to New York City! I thought advertising would be the way to have a career and be creative. My main accounts were automotive technical services and banking — not the most creative industries! In 2004, I knew I needed to rediscover that creative passion inside of me and I started looking for my next adventure. We closed down our agency in 2006 and I began to immerse myself in the underground fashion movement. There wasn’t much out there in fashion for someone with my experience, but Mike Smith, at SouthComm, gave me a shot in 2009. He said I could be the fashion editor for two big spreads that year. When I asked Mike what this meant, he said I could organize the entire shoot, find photographers, figure out the direction, the models, the clothes … and that he would print it. He believed in the vision and that’s all I needed to get started. I wasn’t paid a dime, but it was my chance. It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for 10 years!
What would you say your job is?
That is a $6 million question! (laughing) I’m called the Team Mama of Nashville Fashion and I can’t imagine doing anything else. I certainly don’t do it for the money, and I never know what I’ll be doing next month, but it always comes. I have a great husband who understands I’m doing what I’m called to do. I never take it for granted. I get to meet all these great young, creative people and do life with them.
How has Nashville fashion changed since you started discovering it 10 years ago?
Today, there’s more awareness. The talent has always been here, but before now, many had to move away to pursue their passion. The community is now more organized and there are more opportunities for our talent to thrive right here. The creativity hasn’t changed at all within our fashion community; it’s just that people didn’t know it existed then!
Nashville Fashion Week starts this week, for its sixth year. Is this still a volunteer-run effort?
Oh yes. Six of us started NFW and with jobs and people moving away, three of us remain, Marcia Masulla, Mike Smith and me. Less than 20 people pull off the front end of the show (the promotions, planning, etc.) and around 50 people volunteer during the actual week of the show. Now, this doesn’t include all the hair stylists, makeup artists, models and photographers who are donating their time. Yes, to put this show on, no one makes a dime — it’s all through volunteers! But we do it because we love these people and because we see the potential that Nashville has in fashion. It’s our gift to Nashville. It’s so much work, but everything we do, and every dollar we raise, is for the Nashville Fashion Forward Fund, through The Community Foundation. This fund supports experiential professional development opportunities and is open to anyone in the fashion industry … models, boutique owners, fashion designers … The money makes it possible to attend trade shows that they otherwise could not attend, travel for inspiration and education … anything that requires an experience that needs to be funded to further your career in fashion, this fund is set up for that.
What do you love most about Nashville?
It’s a big small town. People are friendly, collaborative, interesting and we don’t take ourselves too seriously. That’s definitely what I love the most.
If you could change one thing about Nashville, what would it be?
What bothers me the most, and it’s a real serious issue, is affordable housing. My young friends can’t find anything under $500,000. The mama in me says don’t do it. Don’t be house poor. Don’t have that debt hanging over your head. We all want what we grew up with. The white picket fence … it’s harder than ever to come by. And, don’t get me started on how little creative people are paid and I worry about how they will live. And, with the boom in Nashville, how are these small businesses going to survive the rent increases?
What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I hate to shop for myself. I can shop for someone else. I can dress a tall, thin, young model. But getting excited to shop for me? We have so many great stores now and I love clothes. But I also love a deal. UAL is my go-to place and when I travel to NYC, I like to go to sample sales!
Do you have any piece of advice that you lean on?
Hmmm … I am the queen of quips, but there are several that I say often. “There’s only one you. Just be you.” Another that I like, and it took me until I was much older to figure out is, “You don’t get if you don’t ask.” In business, throw yourself out there and ask. Even if they say no, it’s a compliment to them that you asked! “Love always wins” is another. Just be nice, okay? And another that I’ve been saying lately, “Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should.” I need to learn to take my own advice!
Are you reading any books right now?
QuickBooks? Google docs? Those are my main reads right now! My small group that my husband and I lead is reading Experiencing God. I’m rereading it and it’s so good. It’s basically about seeing where God is at work and jumping in.
Three things you can’t live without?
- Radnor Lake. It’s my happy place.
- Hugs. I’m a hugger.
- Quiet time. Life is noisy enough. No radio in the car for me.
Thank you, Connie!