Grads Co-Found New Recruiting Firm Cultivated Talent
Raised in Orange County, California, Visual Communications Graduate Emily De Silva (pictured at left) earned a B.A. in Communications from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, where she was a NCAA Division 1 athlete, prior to enrolling at FIDM. After graduating in 2009 from FIDM, Emily worked as a Senior Visual Merchandiser for French Connection and Hudson Jeans, and was a Store and HR Manager for Madewell. She then had a successful career in recruiting at 24Seven and Mazur Group. Along with fellow FIDM Alumna Kelly Kaufman, a 2011 Merchandising & Marketing Graduate, Emily co-founded the new beauty, lifestyle, and fashion recruiting firm Cultivated Talent. We chatted with Emily to learn more about her path to FIDM, lessons learned from the industry, and her exciting new venture.
How did you first hear about FIDM? I had a couple friends that went through various programs and they loved it. I kept coming back to them asking more about the programs and thought it might be a viable option for me after I completed my undergrad.
When did you realize your interest in creativity or visuals? Because I was very involved in athletics growing up, and all the way through college, I was often in some sort of a uniform throughout most days for either games or practices. Between school and sports, I had little time for other hobbies. When I did have downtime, it was usually when traveling for games, and I would pick up magazines for a flight or long drives. I would flip right to the fashion spreads and would instantly feel transformed looking at them. Everything from the hair to makeup and wardrobe styling, I was in awe of all the artistic creativity. It was like peeking into a different world. I started saving them in a binder, and that was the first time I saw a world outside of my own that I wanted to be part of. I still have that little binder full of fashion spread tear sheets.
What was your path to FIDM? I had just completed my Bachelor’s degree in Communications from Cal Poly SLO and felt like I was one of the few of my friends who didn’t have a clear path into what they wanted to do next. I was very clear on all things I didn’t want to do, but needed more direction on what would be next. FIDM was the perfect bridge for me; I did the one-year Professional Designation program, which surfaced a new world of opportunities in the fashion industry.
Which campus did you attend? I started at the Orange County campus and transferred to the Los Angeles campus to complete my program. I remember when I transferred up to the Los Angeles campus, I would just take the Metro train in from Orange County. I loved feeling like I was already in the working world with my “commute” into the city.
Any favorite FIDM memories? The amazing FIDM Library! I would sit in there for hours looking through all the archives of amazing work. That was where I first found Grace Coddington’s styling work and I made it a goal to put that book on my coffee table one day. Years later, it is proudly displayed on the bookshelf in my home office.
Tell us about working in visuals after graduation: It was a dream job for me. I got to travel, meet great people in the industry, and learn how the wholesale business worked across major retailers like Bloomingdale's, Nordstrom, and Neiman Marcus. Learning critical skills like negotiating for space in stores, leading brand education seminars to employees, and being a liaison between corporate and the consumer are still skills I use today. Visual merchandising is the art of balancing sales and creativity by tying it all together in a beautiful product display.
How did you make the transition to HR? Quite by accident! After five years of visual merchandising, I was ready to try something new, although at the time I wasn’t sure what that looked like. I wanted managerial experience, so I took a year off from corporate and worked at Madewell as a store manager. A few months in, they needed someone to take over the HR piece of the business for the store, so I jumped at the opportunity to broaden my skill set. Not long afterwards, a friend of mine who worked in recruiting was shopping in the store and mentioned there was an opening at her company. I transitioned into the recruiting world and haven’t looked back.
You were previously with 24Seven and Mazur Group. What did those experiences teach you? So many things! I am fortunate to have gained both staffing and executive recruiting experiences and wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the influential women leaders I worked for at both companies. 24Seven gave me the foundational tools to be a recruiter. They laid the groundwork early and set me up for success by providing the right tools, mentors, and structure to be a strong recruiter. Mazur Group was where I was given the opportunity to run a full desk and try my hand at the business development side of recruiting. I was empowered to try new things and was pushed outside my comfort zone. This really helped me grow into a more well-rounded recruiter.
What led you to start Cultivated Talent and why was Kelly the right partner? Starting Cultivated Talent was a result of timing and circumstance. Starting a company was not on either of our radars, and we are similar in that we wouldn’t want to be in a solo venture business. There was something about our chemistry in working together that we found not only to be effective, but fun and energizing. We were both getting to a place in our careers where we were comfortable but recognized some untapped opportunities in the market.
Covid hitting provided us the clarity to make the leap and venture out on our own. We wanted to shake things up a bit in the industry and we knew forging our own path was the only way we would be able to have the platform and impact to carry out those initiatives. While Kelly and I have a very similar approach to recruiting, we have different strengths that run complementary to each other. This blend is what makes us the perfect partners in our new venture with Cultivated Talent.
Did you and Kelly meet at FIDM or elsewhere? Kelly and I first met briefly at a CEW Beauty event in Downtown Los Angeles. She was with Mazur Group and I was working with 24Seven at the time. However, our paths didn’t really align until almost a year later when I transitioned over to Mazur Group. We hit it off quickly and became a tag team going on client visits, coming up with creative ways to generate business and bouncing new ideas off each other. She and I were different majors at FIDM, so our paths didn’t cross during our school years, but being a FIDM Alum was one of the first things we connected on at Mazur Group as colleagues.
How did FIDM help prepare you for entrepreneurship? Being taught by the faculty who are experts in their fields gives you an inside track to entrepreneurship firsthand. FIDM maintains a pulse on the industry and designs their curriculums around what is happening in those industries today. With the courses being very project-based, it gave me the opportunity to think entrepreneurially in terms of problem solving, executing business decisions, and getting hands on experience in my designation.
What advice would you offer FIDM students and grads searching in the current job market? Start getting experience in the industry as soon as possible and network, network, network. There are so many tools to utilize now with technology, access to people is easier than it was even just a few years ago. LinkedIn is the strongest free resource available as a job seeker, use it to your advantage. As a recruiter, that’s the first place I look to connect with new talent. Reach out to people on LinkedIn who are working in the field you want to be, or at the company you would love to join. Ask them about their path to get where they are. Being your own advocate and taking the initiative to seek out others will get you further so much faster.
The current job market is competitive, right now there are more candidates on the market than there are open jobs. Identify what makes you unique from someone else who may have a similar background to yours and use that to stand out. The people who appear to just be in the right place at the right time, or have opportunities fall into their laps, are not accidental. They are the ones who put in the extra effort behind the scenes early on to make sure they positioned themselves properly for those opportunities.
Learn more at cultivatedtalent.com and on Instagram @cultivatedtalent.
Emily De Silva will be a panelist on the upcoming webinar, “Making a Career Transition,” hosted by the FIDM Career Center, on February 25, 2021 at 12:00 p.m. FIDM Alumni may attend by emailing Alumni Relations & Career Center Director Kevin Keele at email@example.com.