How Vera Wang’s Biggest Failure Led to Her Fashion Empire

It’s possible to fail in your career and still achieve phenomenal success elsewhere. Vera Wang’s story will empower you to come back stronger amid failures.

Born in 1947 in New York City, Vera Wang is one of the world’s most successful female fashion designers. She’s best known, among many things, for creating stunning wedding collections.

And given the gravity of her success, you’d think her lifelong dream would be a fashion designer for the elite.

Well, guess what?

It wasn’t.

In fact, her initial dream was to become an Olympic-level figure skater.

And just like any dreamer, Vera looked that goal in the eye and worked hard like her life depended on it.

To be honest, she was actually good at it.

But apparently, not good enough. She almost saw herself win an Olympic gold medal and make her country proud.

However, her Olympic journey was cut short when she failed to make it to the 1968 Olympics.

For most people, this is a setback that’s going to make a dreamer stop aiming high.

But Vera Wang isn’t like most people.

This defeat was only just the beginning of her beautiful and massively successful career elsewhere. Her failure in the 1968 Olympics served as fuel to transport her to world-class fame and fortune as a fashion designer. Vera channeled her passion for figure skating into her newfound love for fashion. And she worked her way up like no one’s business.

She hustled hard, from working as a fashion editor at Vogue for 15 years to becoming the design director of the great Ralph Lauren.

The rest, as they say, is history.

Vera Wang became one of the biggest names in the global fashion industry. Better than that, she’s now worth over a billion dollars, dressing big stars like Ariana Grande and Michelle Obama.

Indeed, Vera Wang’s story is an excellent reminder for all women that when life closes one door, another one opens up.

But her countless invaluable lessons don’t stop there. We’ll break down the rest below so YOU can apply them to your own path to success. Let’s start!

The Lessons

#1 – Keep Your Head Down

It’s hard to start a new career at a late age. Many find themselves in awkward situations with younger superiors.

And Vera Wang had to learn this the hard way.

But she didn’t let this truth faze her.

Instead, she pushed through by doing one simple thing:

“Keep your head down,” says Wang. “Don’t get involved in politics, be respectful, be grateful that you have the job, do your job, and most of all, be available.”

By keeping herself down, she was able to withstand all hurdles from her younger superiors. She displayed enough respect and humility, which is warranted from her position. This allowed her bosses to see her as an asset and not a threat to the company.

Wang adds that when your dream is higher than your ego, your dreams come true faster.

#2 – Find Your Passion

You can find your passion at any point in your life.

Vera Wang proved this when she found her new passion for fashion design at the age of 40.

For most people, that may be a challenging time to restart one’s career.

But not for Vera.

Her passion for fashion design was more than enough fuel to get to work to fulfill her dreams even when the going gets tough.

When Vera realized that she wasn’t going to get the editor-in-chief job at Vogue, her passion for fashion design kept her going.

When she came to terms with the reality that her 15 years of fame and fortune as an editor and accessory designer for Ralph Lauren had come to an end… her passion forced her to move forward.

The same passion gave her the courage to start her very own bridal boutique in upscale New York.

As Vera Wang puts it:

“When you have a passion for something, then you tend not only to be better at it, but you work harder at it too.”

Indeed, Vera Wang proves that anyone can come a long way by following one’s passion.

#3 – Age Is Just A Number

Another one of the lessons you can learn from Vera Wang’s life is that age is nothing but a number.

As you already know, Wang started her fashion design career at the age of 40, following her unsuccessful Olympics bid.

And not only did she become a fashion designer, but she became world-famous at that!

Vera Wang partially credits her unprecedented success to her father. Despite already being an adult, Wang highly regarded her father’s advice and wisdom when she was just starting her new venture.

You see, Vera Wang’s father helped her identify a business opportunity when he saw that the bridal industry came with lower risks. It had low inventory, required few fabrics, and a steady stream of customers.

“To think I could start, run, and sustain a business? I knew how hard it was. My father was the reason I did it.“ said Wang.

This proves that just like Vera Wang, your late age can actually work in your favor because it can give you the kind of wisdom that you need to succeed and that only your late years can give.

What you might think is a disadvantage can still be a source of great strength if you know what to do with it.

#4 – Timing Is Everything

Here’s something you probably don’t know about Vera Wang:

When I decided to get married at 40, I couldn’t find a dress with the modernity or sophistication I wanted,” admits Wang. “That’s when I saw the opportunity for a wedding gown business.”

From this statement alone, it is clear that timing played a significant part in Vera Wang’s success. If she weren’t preoccupied with her own wedding, she would never have thought of starting a bridal gown boutique. Vera Wang’s fashion empire would have never existed!

At the same time, if Vera had been successful with her figure skating career, we might have seen her become an Olympian, but again, her stunning creations would never be born!

Truly, Vera’s life reminds women that in life, some things are best unplanned. You should do your best in everything you do.

Don’t force success.

The right timing will get you there anyway.

#5 – Never Stop Learning

“The idea that I could always do better, learn more, learn faster, is something that came from skating,” says Vera Wang. “But I carried that with me for the rest of my life.”

Vera Wang puts heavy emphasis on lifelong learning.

Unlike other people who doubt if they could still learn new things, Wang takes on the challenge of learning no matter where she is in life.

If she stopped learning after failing to become an Olympic figure skater, she would never have discovered her passion and talent for fashion designing.

If she didn’t take the time to learn about the latest fashion trends, Wang would never attract the likes of Ariana Grande, Mariah Carey, or even Victoria Beckham.

If she didn’t go back to studying the classics, Michelle Obama would be her client no more.

The point is women have to decide to always learn new things regardless of where they are in their careers. This gives them more opportunities to succeed, branch out, and grow.

It’s Not Failure If You Learned

Vera Wang is one of the world’s most inspiring industry leaders for women.

In many ways, she has changed the game for young and mature women alike.

She proved that plans, dreams, and interests could change. But success could still be achieved regardless of the situation if one musters enough courage and put in enough effort.

Vera’s courage to start a different path despite her late age may sound like such a daunting task for most women.

But let me tell you now, it’s not impossible to be like Vera Wang.

After all, it was her courage, perseverance, and grit that catapulted her to success.

The same virtues are present in any woman of any age, race, or status.

If you’d like further guidance on applying these valuable lessons, book me to speak at your next event.