'I Saw That my Dreams Were Actually Attainable'

Two women stand together near park in New York City.
Cassandra Smith ’23 (left) and Micaela English ’08 reunite to talk about the importance of the Holy Cross fashion and beauty networking group.

Why mentoring is key in the fashion industry.

As a child, Cassandra Smith ’23 was enamored by the glamour of the Met Gala and New York Fashion Week. The designs, colors and displays caught her attention and fueled her dreams of one day being part of the international fashion industry.

"I realized I wanted a career centered on creativity, but I didn’t know how to realistically do that. I was particularly skeptical when I thought about how working in fashion would be attainable while studying at a liberal arts school," said Smith, a psychology major with a self-designed minor in rhetoric and composition.

In 2021, she found Holy Cross’ fashion and beauty networking group. Through it she learned two things: her dreams could become a reality and that her liberal arts education could help her succeed in a fluid, global industry. 

“The students are much more aware now and are getting all this information, yet, they feel so afraid and so much stress. There is a lot of pressure on them to start their lives,” said Carolyn Risoli ’86, of American fashion brand Nic + Zoe and a founding member of the network. “What they need to know is that they will get hired when there are jobs. We can support them during this time and assist them when they need it, before and during their careers.” 

Through the network, Smith made contacts, emailed several alums and eventually met Micaela English ’08, a philosophy major and currently senior director of editorial and creative strategy with J.McLaughlin and freelance writer. Through these connections, Smith discovered that she didn’t have to be a designer or makeup artist to be embedded in the industry.

“As a sophomore, I saw that my dreams were actually attainable. I could combine my interests in marketing and fashion. Everything aligned,” said Smith, who recently began work as a marketing and events assistant with Tod’s, a luxury Italian fashion brand.

English said mentoring Smith and other Holy Cross students happens organically. The opportunity allows her to develop meaningful connections and model what it means to work in an industry that craves curious, intelligent and hardworking professionals.

“I get so much out of our conversations, it’s a real exchange of ideas,” English said, specifically of Smith, from her willingness to share the latest tips and trends on social media to her ability to logically present her career aspirations. “Cassie’s drive, work ethic, and energy is beyond impressive. I look forward to seeing all of her success. I can't wait to continue to watch her fly.” 

Much of English’s approach to mentoring was learned by her own relationship with her mentor, Risoli, whom she connected with after graduation. 

“One of the things that excites me the most is seeing people who started as interns and are now providing those same opportunities to the next generation. It’s paying it forward,” Risoli said. 

“Engagement is powerful. Do not underestimate the power of making connections. They stay with you,” she said.