Having first discovered Catalina Girald’s BigLaw connection on Law Shucks, we recently caught up with Ms. Girald to find out more about the former Big Firm lawyer turned model/fashion entrepreneur.
Founder and Fashionista-in-Chief
Moxsie, the online retail destination for independent designer fashion.
Boston College Law School.
I would have never made law review. I absolutely hated law school, so I enrolled in New England School of Photography concurrently. I spent a lot more time in the dark room and hanging out on the floor of the photo galleries at NESP with the artsy folk than I did in the law school library.
Mergers and Acquisitions.
In my family, there were really only two career options: Doctor or lawyer.
In college, I majored in biology because I wanted to be a surgeon—but the one thing I was terrified of was Calculus. Every time I enrolled in the class (about three times beginning my senior year in high school), I would drop it for fear that it would hurt my GPA. One day my career counselor pulled me aside and told me that if I wanted to pass the MCAT, I would have to overcome my fear of Calculus. There was no way that was happening, so I changed my major to political science and decided to go for career option number two.
Five years later, I was standing in line in Albany to take the New York Bar Exam, and the guy in front of me started asking people why they had gone to law school. When I told him my story, he said, “But there’s no Calculus on the MCAT!”
“How would you know?” I replied.
“Because I paid my way through law school by teaching MCAT for Kaplan—trust me, there is no Calculus on the MCAT.”
So, I stared at him in frustration and exclaimed, “So, what the hell am I doing here?”
And that is the story of why I went to law school. Ironically, I ended up having to learn Calculus to attend business school at Stanford. It wasn’t on the GMAT, but it was a pretty big part of the economics class.
Academically, law school was harder. Especially because of the competition for grades.
I had the good fortune of going to Stanford for business school where there are no grades, so class was a lot more about learning than about making the grade. In business school there were classes, like statistics, that I had to take, but I wasn’t at all interested in. So I would go, but I had the choice of focusing my energy on an engineering class “across the street” (the term for non-business school classes) and a design class at the Stanford Design School that was teaching something I really wanted to learn.
I learned a lot in both schools, but I learned a lot more in business school than I did in law school.
My best and worst moments were actually the same. In Mergers & Acquisitions, we used to take a sick pleasure in working (and bragging about working) really long hours. I once billed 137 hours in one week and by the end of it, I barely knew my name.
But there was always something really exciting about those weeks, closing a deal, feeling the adrenaline flowing in the room, watching the press release appear in the Wall Street Journal after submitting the last change to the PR hours before, and running around like crazy at the printers. It was hellish, but it taught me that I could do anything.
I used to love working 100-hour weeks and bragging about it to colleagues over Thursday’s attorney lunches. But then it got to the point that I couldn’t stand being at Skadden any longer—not even to use the free gym facilities with subsidized personal trainers and gym clothes that they would wash for you. A lot of us felt this way, and people dealt with it differently.
One friend of mine at Skadden took a job across the street at The New York Times writing for Bold Face Names (a now-defunct gossip column). He would hop back and forth from the NYT office and Skadden as needed. It kept him sane.
He eventually convinced me to enroll at FIT (Fashion Institute of Technology). So, I started doing the same—I would hop back and forth from classes on 27th and 7th to meetings on 42nd and Broadway. In between all of that I would take Kaplan GMAT classes online and do practice questions on the subway.
I’ve always been obsessed with fashion and design, and through my travels, I have amassed a collection of pieces that you can’t find locally and aren’t readily available online either. There is no way for online consumers to find cool, new brands online using simple keyword searches, so solving the problem of creating a direct connection between the designer and the end consumer so that the consumer can efficiently discover fashion online became my mission.
I think we’ve made great headway in solving this problem—but it is all still hidden in our private beta.
Moxsie is all about independent fashion designers from around the world. I set out to create a centralized destination where consumers could go to find the coolest brands on the planet as well as brands that are green or socially responsible.
Moxsie is a place to purchase, but it is also a place to come and hang out and learn. We place a lot of emphasis on telling the story of each designer and each particular product so that the consumer can develop an intellectual and emotional connection with the product or brand. I was always a fan of the J. Peterman catalog when I was a child. I loved reading about the exotic places that the pieces came from, the history behind the garment, and the inspiration behind the design. That is the feeling I am trying to recreate at Moxsie.
I want to show the world that beauty is in the everyday person. The iconic, anorexic model shouldn’t be the ideal of beauty—a lot of Photoshop goes into those shots, and they create unreal expectations and low self-esteem in girls and women. I want to move away from that, so Moxsie uses real people as models. I just happen to be one of the real people.
Our current models include an architecture student and a physicist from Hewlett-Packard who one day hopes to win the Nobel Prize in Physics.
This is so cliché, but there’s no such thing as a typical day. That’s why I like it.
Right now, I’m in Las Vegas for the industry shows with designers (who are a crazy bunch), and then I’m flying to New York to meet with more designers. On nights that I travel, I usually end up at a club or bar around 3:00 AM with assorted designers, stylists, celebrities, and backers. I get to meet a lot of interesting people and learn about their experiences.
For example, I got to hang out with Eric Ryan, one of the founders of Method, two nights ago. That was really exciting for me since I’ve always admired his business—even better was his willingness to share his experiences with me as an entrepreneur.
Last week you would have found me ironing clothes, styling photo shoots and taking breaks to talk to our VC investors. We’ve just launched five new designers and orders are flying out the door, so I want to be back in the office to keep an eye, but I have to rely on the staff to keep me updated.
I don’t think I’m a Bitter Lawyer. When people ask me, “Should I go to law school?” my first reply is “No!” But that is just because so many people I know become lawyers, don the golden handcuffs and end up feeling unfulfilled with their work life.
But I owe a lot to the practice of law. For starters, the first partner I ever worked for (at Winston & Strawn) invested $100K in Moxsie and has been a phenomenal mentor throughout this process. I also owe a lot to Skadden, which taught me that I could push myself to work so hard that I could accomplish anything. I know that it is possible to work around the clock and get the impossible done within a very short timeframe because we worked miracles all the time at Skadden—and no one ever died of exhaustion.
Lastly, had I not become a lawyer, I would never have met my best friends.
I think that if you are unhappy with your job you should move somewhere else. Life is too short, and lawyers are too risk averse. Go out there and try to do what you love. If you don’t like it, you can always go back to the practice of law—it is a skill set that will never leave you.
The clothes you wear at work really give you credibility.
For men: Stick to nicely tailored suits, 100% wool (always). When in doubt about ties, play it safe. Funky socks give you a little bit of personality.
For women: This one goes out to a particular partner at Skadden—don’t wear tights with your skirt suits. Ever.
Obviously, with a mission to promote independent designer fashion, Moxsie won’t carry Hermes or Ferragamo, but we do carry stuff lawyers can wear off hours.
I recommend the men’s shoes from 100 Styles and Running, which are a hybrid between dress shoes and street shoes—like the most comfortable Vans you wore in high school, but with better lines and the highest-quality material.
For women, I love the trinkets and baubles that we carry from Potluck Paris, a bold and sometimes delicate line of jewelry from Europe.