Saks Fifth Avenue’s Fashion Director on Embracing Change in Your Career

Each day in June, FN is highlighting female forces in the industry as part of our Women in Power series.

If there is one thing Roopal Patel has learned throughout her many years in fashion, it’s the importance of going with the flow. The Saks Fifth Avenue fashion director has found that unexpected changes in one’s career trajectory can lead to an even greater adventure. Two years ago, she made a big leap of her own, leaving the consulting firm she founded to join Saks, an opportunity she said has brought exciting new challenges. Here, Patel talks about embracing change, finding her passion and the powerful women who have supported her along the way.

Roopal Patel
CREDIT: Kenneth Ellis

What was the biggest breakthrough moment in your career?
“When I realized I wanted to be a fashion director. This was very early on in my career, when I was working as an assistant in the fashion office at Bergdorf Goodman. It was such a relief to know at that moment what I wanted to do and how I would pursue that goal. There was so much pressure and questioning as far as what direction I wanted to take within the industry. The minute I realized I wanted to be a fashion director, it helped me be very strategic in how I built my career. I could focus more on the work at hand rather than being stressed out about what would come next.”

Is there anything you would have done differently?
“If I had the opportunity to go back in time, maybe 10 or 15 years, I’d try to be more present in the moment and enjoy the ride as opposed to looking toward the final destination. When I was younger, I was always looking ahead at what was next. That’s the spirit of fashion, but I didn’t get to fully enjoy and recognize the magnitude of some of those big moments as they were happening in my career. These days, I’m much more present and mindful of them.”

Do you think women do enough to support other women in the workplace?
“I’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of incredible female mentors and bosses throughout my career. I currently work with Tracy Margolies, our chief merchant at Saks, who is very passionate and supportive of not only my work but me personally. When you find that partnership, where you have this incredibly accomplished person to brainstorm ideas with and get guidance from, it’s a huge asset. I also worked for Linda Fargo at Bergdorf Goodman, and she taught me to be creative and think outside of the box. Both Tracy and Linda worked with me as an equal, unlike some of the hierarchies you see within any industry, and that’s really wonderful. I think women have made a lot of strides over the years. The best way we can get ahead in our professional careers is to support one another rather than being intimidating or competitive. When one of us shines, we all shine.”

What is the biggest challenge you faced in the last year, and how did you overcome it?
“Prior to joining Saks [in 2015], I ran my own consulting business for three years. And then I was presented with this opportunity to head the fashion office at Saks. It was a big adjustment to come back into corporate life and reassimilate into a larger structure. But it has been an incredible learning experience. I’ve gone from working on my own to having this amazing support system, lots of different dialogues and conversations, and new opportunities. In a way, though, Saks has felt like a startup in the last year because we’ve made so many changes, and that has made my transition a little more seamless. There is a real entrepreneurial spirit happening here right now that makes you feel as if you’re working for a small agency, and that keeps it fresh.”

Looking back, what advice would you give to your younger self?
“The idea of change when you’re not expecting change can be very disruptive and uncomfortable. But I’ve found that anytime changes happened in my career that weren’t planned, the outcome was far greater and more interesting. You have to really trust the universe. You can be incredibly strategic and calculated in your career, but when something comes out of left field and throws you off course, it’s often a really good thing because the ending of the story is much better than what you had planned for yourself. You have to just go with it and see where the road takes you.”

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