Vanesa Cueto works within the Fashion Industry as a Fabric Agent. She runs the company Vermont Louise Fabrics, which provides textiles from Italy, India, and Spain to established and emerging designers. Born in Brooklyn, New York, Vanesa lived throughout the East Coast before attending Barry University in Miami, Florida. Driven by her goals, Vanesa took a risk and started her own company at 24. I visited her office located in the Garment District to talk with her, and was introduced to a rarely seen side of the fashion world.
How did you start Vermont Louise Fabrics?
I was an assistant to a Fabric Agent here in Midtown, and I didn’t know anything about the fabric world—I didn’t know anything about fashion. I needed a job and I accepted it. My former boss never really trained me, I learned on the job. I fell in love with the lifestyle and enjoyed how excited the Design teams were when I showed them our fabrics. I figured okay, I can do this. I began working with my boss in March of 2015 and by February 2016 I had started my company.
I always knew that I wanted to work for myself, so when I saw the possibility of me doing so, I focused on that thought. I want to be the first millionaire in my family so I know I can’t work for anyone else, I have to climb my own ladder. When I was an assistant I noticed, as I would visit different headquarters, I would never see Spanish women. At first I was ignorant and I thought, “Damn the fashion industry is racist,” but I realized that our communities were not exposed to creative jobs. I didn’t know there was a Fabric Assistant position, I didn’t know any of that, and I’m sure a lot of younger girls don’t know that either, so that has been another drive.
Everything in this industry is done through word of mouth. My previous boss started her own collection and her Italian mill, the factory that produces the fabrics, weren’t getting the attention they felt they deserved. I pitched the idea to them that I was going to start my own agency, saying I’m young, I’m ambitious, I’m motivated, and they were interested. I had so much anxiety when I made the decision. I was 24 and I didn’t know how I was going to explain it to my boss, because it kinda looked sketchy, taking a client. But the way I saw it, it was an opportunity. I knew they weren’t happy, I knew they were going to find another agent. Eventually I FaceTimed the head of the company in Italy and I did it. At the time I had a boyfriend who said, “You can quit, I’ll take care of us financially,”—bullshit. So I hustled. I would work at night bartending and then during the day I worked from home, I didn’t have my office yet. I would go to meetings during the day or work at a coffee shop and work at night so I could pay the bills.
What goes into being a Fabric Agent?
Each fabric mill will send me a collection—I’ll get a header with a code and a swatch of the fabric. I receive two collections per year, Spring/Summer and Fall/Winter. Right now we’re working on Spring/Summer 2019. I’ll find customers who are suitable for my collections—I’ll do research online. Once I find a brand I’m interested in, I’ll get in contact with the Fabric Resource and Development team, and let them know what I offer. If they’re interested I book a fabric appointment, and from there we go into production and once we're in production I mediate the conversation between my mill and the Design team. I have seven to eight consistent clients I’m growing with. The Alexander Wang team just connected me to a mill they’re working with that needs representation.
What are some of the challenges you've faced?
The fabric world is run by a predominantly older generation. It’s a very old industry. The agents right now are over 40-years-old and their agency was run by their father and their grandfather, so I don’t fit that stereotype. This business is built through trust and I’ve only been in it for two years, so it feels like I have a lot to prove. Obviously money—I only have me to depend on. That has been something I’ve had to overcome.
How do you see VL Fabrics growing?
I see myself growing with my customers—that’s my goal. I want to be the main supplier for the designers I work with, I want to build with them. People switch careers and brands and I want to be the agent they can rely on no matter where they jump.
I hope that one day I can inspire other women. I know how it is to be broke as hell and to have a meeting but not have enough money to get there. I listen to a lot of podcasts featuring women who are entrepreneurs. There’s a few who are self-made like Sophia Amoruso. In one interview, Tory Burch said, “I started from my kitchen,” and I thought “yeah, but you had a kitchen in a penthouse.”
What does a day in your life look like?
By 9 a.m. I’m already on my way to my office. When I’m in I check emails—I work with a lot of factories overseas so I have to respond to them early in the morning because we have a six to eleven hour difference. I usually have a fabric appointment around noon or two. When I come back to the office there’s always something to do. I might think about a customer I want to connect with who hasn’t responded to me, and I’ll follow up with them. I might walk to 39th and Broadway, buy some cute, fancy cupcakes and then go to that brand’s headquarters and knock on the door. If I already have a contact and they’re not responding to me, I’ll get some Starbucks and send it to the person I want to meet. There’s always something to do. I knock on someone’s door at least three times a week.
You mentioned the lack of diversity in the Fashion Industry, could you talk about that more?
It has been a little disappointing not to see other Spanish women at designer’s headquarters, and if so it was the cleaning lady—not that that’s a terrible job, I know we all work hard. I feel like there are so many job opportunities in this industry and I don't think that’s being communicated—these opportunities aren’t being exposed in our communities. I thought about it, when I went to college fairs in high school, I didn't see FIT or Parsons. Those types of schools didn’t have a booth. People need to be exposed to these jobs, we need to figure out a way to get this information out there.
How do you unwind/practice self-care?
I’m not the best at self-care right now but I run once or twice a week to release some energy. I journal a lot, and I listen to affirmations in the morning. Right now my favorite one is “My vibration matches my desire.”
What's some advice you were given or wish someone had given you?
I’m still getting advice from my mentor Pauline—I don’t sign a contract or negotiate without getting advice from her. I think when you’re young you have all of this ambition and you’re aggressive with it. You sometimes don’t know how to communicate what you’re trying to say because you have all of this enthusiasm and energy— a “this is my moment, don’t take it away from me” type of approach, and that’s not good. I read a lot of books by Osho, The Law of Attraction, and The Secret, and I think that’s where I got my advice. When I was thinking about starting on my own I thought back to what I had read and the message was: trust your gut; whatever makes your heart jump go for that; speak out loud—if you have something to say, say it. Ask for what you want, no one is going to give it to you. Be persistent, and knock on the door, that’s the biggest thing. I haven’t met a lot of people my age who do that.
What's up next for VL Fabrics?
I’m working with Alice and Olivia again this season and it’s been the most productive season I’ve had with them, so I’m excited to see what and how much we develop. I teamed up with a woman who paints murals, and she recently painted denim jackets for Victoria Secret and they did really well, so I’m going to help push that service into the industry. I have a factory in Egypt that produces full-service shirting, their targets are Club Monaco and Brooks Brothers, and that’s a new world to explore. I’m also looking to give an inside-look at the lifestyle of a Fabric Agent and I’m trying to do that on social media. This summer I plan on hiring someone to record a video of me going to meetings and working as a way of showing other women what’s out there!
What's your sign & how do you feel about it?
I’m a Taurus—I don’t like what’s said about Taurus but it is really true. We’re aggressive, crazy. But then I’m an Aries Moon which I don’t know too much about.
What are you listening to?
Sales techniques—I’ve been Youtubing videos and watching those. Who have I been listening to? Cardi B, she just put a new album out—the song with Kehlani is really good. Also Spanish music—Becky G and Ozuna.
What's the last book you read & what are your currently reading?
A book that I flip through and get insight from is Ask And You Shall Receive—it was my mom’s book and it has all of her notes written in the margins.