Practical Entrepreneurship: An Interview with Jessica Ciarla

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background.

My name is Jessica Ciarla and I am an Assistant Professor in the Division of Textiles and Apparel at UT Austin. I am currently working on my dissertation with a focus on sustainable textile materials and product design. I worked in New York City as a fashion designer, stylist and publicist where I launched my first collection of high-end eveningwear under the brand name of Ciarla Designs. In 2009, I moved to Austin after completing a master’s program in Fashion Design in Florence, Italy at the Polimoda Institute of Design and Marketing. I launched my second business, Ciarla Bride, in Austin where I sold little white dresses and cocktail attire to specialty boutiques across the country while completing a second masters in Mass Communications. Recently, I spearheaded the 2019–2021 President’s Award for Global Learning winning team with collaborations in Denmark and Sweden where we researched and produced sustainable trimmings for the fashion industry.

At UT, I teach a variety of fashion design and entrepreneurial focused courses including Draping, Product Development, Computer-Aided Technology for Apparel Design, Flat Pattern, Senior Collections and a course I designed called TXA 365 Accessory Design, Development and Merchandising sponsored by the Kendra Scott Women’s Entrepreneurial Leadership Institute.

What does the word “entrepreneurship” mean to you?

The word entrepreneurship to me means innovation, taking risks and problem-solving. It’s more than just starting or developing your own business. To have an entrepreneurial mindset means that you are coming up with new ideas and figuring out a way to execute them. It’s seeing opportunities and finding solutions that may not be obvious. As a faculty member, I feel that I am able to work as an entrepreneur within the UT system by creating research opportunities, building partnerships with industry and academic leaders abroad, and designing and implementing new classes. It’s about being inspired to take risks knowing that you could possibly fail and pushing knowledge further through discovery.

When did you discover entrepreneurship and know that it was an interest for you?

I started businesses all of the time when I was a child and even started my first company when I was 23. During my first company venture, I learned a lot about what I didn’t know which helped me seek out mentors and further pursue my academic knowledge to help me expand my business and work more vertically integrated. I’ve never been afraid to try something new. In fact, my biggest fear is regretting not going for an opportunity. I’ve failed at many things throughout my life, but I have never regretted trying. The experience is worth more than the win sometimes. It’s how you grow and become a problem-solver.

Are you currently working on a project or venture? What is it?

Yes! I am always pitching ideas or working on projects that focus on fashion and sustainability with the intent of having a positive global impact. Currently, I am working on an international internship for students that was funded by the Global Career Award that takes place in Copenhagen. I am also planning a study abroad in Scandinavia that will focus on the circular economy specifically for the fashion industry. I am planning to pitch an idea to the WEL Institute that will sponsor women focused research grants for faculty and student groups working with international partners. I recently formed an LLC with a former student of mine called Eco Trimmings which will provide sustainable sequins and trimmings to the market.

Is there anything else you’d like to share with HKEC’s community?

If you are interested in the fashion industry check out our Instagram account at @UTAustinFashion to get a sneak peek of the types of classes I teach and the work the students produce.

About the Series

Practical Entrepreneurship features faculty at UT that both teach and have real-world experience with entrepreneurship. By providing insight into each individual’s journey and passions, we are illustrating the many opportunities in academics and throughout life there are to reach fulfillment and success through the pursuit of entrepreneurship.

Lightly edited by Lydia Ward

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