Fashion merchandising professor MaryAnn Lorenz has been teaching at NIU for three years but said she has dreamt of a career within the fashion industry ever since her childhood. She is the organizer for NIU’s Fashion Industries Organization, which recently held its 10th annual “Work Day to Runway” fashion show on April 7.
While growing up, Lorenz said she attended predominantly white schools in the suburbs of Chicago. She said she did not blend in with the other students because of her dark hair and short height, all stemming from her Italian roots.
“I remember I always stood out a lot,” Lorenz said. “I loved to dress up, but I was short and got made fun of for my height. I began wearing heels in high school. I was always dressed up because it gave me confidence.”
After finding her passion for fashion through her childhood struggles, Lorenz said she began exploring careers within the fashion industry. She said she remembers facing even more adversity in the ’80s.
She said one of her first major struggles was the unknown reputation behind the growing fashion scene. During the ’80s, many viewed fashion as a path only accessible to designers, and, therefore, fashion was frowned upon as a career path, Lorenz said. This stigma followed her and clouded others from seeing her vision.
Lorenz said another struggle was gaining the acceptance of her parents and overcoming the fact that women at the time were just starting to go to college.
“I remember early on wanting to go to college but everyone pushing me to get a degree in business management like all the other girls,” Lorenz said. “I remember I told my counselor that I wanted to go to school for fashion, and her immediate response was asking me if I could sew. I told her that I didn’t want to design but to become a buyer. I remember being shut down by everyone, including my teachers and family.”
Following complete rejection, Lorenz said she complied and went to school for business management, working at a bank and an insurance company. While working, Lorenz said she constantly got in trouble for her flashy outfits and many attempts to be fashionable.
Lorenz said she then realized she had to pursue what she ultimately loved: fashion.
“I always went after what I wanted, and I didn’t wait for anyone to help me,” Lorenz said. “I researched all the buying jobs in the country and where they were while in school. My first buying internship was at Claire’s, and I remember that’s when they didn’t have any [internships], so I called constantly and asked them to create a buying internship or allow me to shadow someone.”
Her persistence paid off and after her internship at Claire’s, she landed a job working for 15 months as a buyer at Macy’s.
Following her work at Macy’s, Lorenz became a shoe buyer, working with growing brands like Carlos Santana. Lorenz said her job with Carlos Santana lacked the creative element she desired.
“I became a senior buyer and constantly ended up in the office analyzing spreadsheets,” Lorenz said. “I wanted to be the one going to the vendors and designers. I am a very creative person, as well as an analytical person. I like a variety because I get bored very quick.”
To fill the creative void, Lorenz landed a job working as a visual merchandiser for the American lifestyle brand Ralph Lauren. While enduring the fast-paced lifestyle and grueling hours of the fashion industry, Lorenz became a mother, placing her in the middle of two dreams. “It was very difficult early on as a buyer because I didn’t really have a choice since everything was more cutthroat,” Lorenz said.
Lorenz said she ultimately left Ralph Lauren because of the high demand and pressure, moving to the American undergarment brand Jockey.
She said she made this choice in an effort to create a healthy balance between her work life and home life as a mother.
After experiencing the hurried lifestyle of the fashion world and building a long resume, Lorenz left to become a teacher. She began her teaching career at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, teaching fashion merchandising for 10 years.
Today, Lorenz works as a professor in the fashion department at NIU and as an advisor for the Fashion Industries Organization. She said she hopes to instill her advice in her students and has been doing so since 2015.
“She’s always the best dressed in the room,” said Dominique Sella, a freshman fashion merchandising student. “She taught me that not everyone is going to believe in your success, sometimes not even your family. But when you have goals you should pursue them. MaryAnn is a professor that embodies characteristics such as professional, kind, and tough. Characteristics that I want to amount to.”