Meet Elliot Carlyle, the New York-based creative consultant and DEI expert. Elliot's story is proof that progress isn't linear, and you'll always end up where you need to be. Read on to hear about his impactful roles with CFDA and NYC Jewelry Week, plus plenty of wisdom on following your heart and leading with purpose.
What attracted you to this industry and how did you get your start?
To be honest, I think it was just curiosity. I didn’t have a connection to fashion at all. Music was my background – I've been playing piano since I was four. I grew up in show choir and all through grade school I was extremely involved in every music program. So, I went to Northwest Florida State College on a full music scholarship, and during my second year, I just decided I didn't want to do it anymore. My parents said, you can take the summer to figure out what you want to do, but if you don't by the end of summer, you're going back to school and finishing this music.
These were the MySpace days. I had connected with all these people that were making plans to go to Fashion Week, and I decided to go check it out. I didn't know that you couldn't just go to a show. I thought it was like Broadway, where you buy a ticket and you just show up. After realizing that there's a different approach to this, I was informed that the best way to get in is to volunteer. So I applied and was accepted as a volunteer the next season, and they ended up having to fire the production captain during that time. We're working on set that day and I had event planning experience and I was really engaged and really learning, and so they offered me the opportunity. At first I said no because it was my first time, but it returned out to be my entry working as a volunteer at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Lincoln Center.
It was really amazing because what people don't know from the outside, when you think of fashion, you usually just think of designers and models. To see all of these other moving parts that go into was incredible, things that I just never would consider just looking at a show from the outside. I felt really connected to the PR teams – it's like they would come in and just make everything make sense. On the production side, we would have time to prep, but we really wouldn't know what to do until the PR people came. Interestingly, I believe that it connected for me because at the event planning company I worked with back home, we didn't have a PR department. Whatever the event, you did the PR and the marketing. I've always been a good writer, and when I learned about writing press releases, I'm like, oh, I can do that. And I love people. So it all just made sense.
I went back home and I just rebranded my Myspace page (I didn't know this was branding at the time). I told people that I was doing fashion PR and events and entertainment, and that's what I did. I built a company with my business partner at the time and it just grew, and I started attracting clients from all over the US. I've worked with entertainment artists, singers, emerging designers – I mean, it was a really great run.
In 2012, I decided to go back to school because of course at this time I'm doing all this as a college dropout. In 2012, I moved to Charleston, South Carolina, and decided to get my BFA in fashion marketing and retail management. After graduating in 2015, I worked as Gladys Knight's creative director for a while. In 2017, I finally moved to New York, to work as Fern Mallis’ assistant.
You’re a true multi-hyphenate; what is at the core of the various roles you fill?
So, it's like this: I believe that everything that you've been through in your life, it prepares you for the moment of now. I look at my career, because I really did have to build my own platform, I think that starting out as a college dropout, for me, there were a lot of barriers there also just not being very knowledgeable about the industry. I could only come from the place that I come from, even as it pertains to my knowledge and experience, but I was able to always solve problems. I really have navigated my career as a problem solver.
Why do I say that? Once I decided that PR would be my starting point, I had no clue I would be doing any of what I'm doing today. I never even planned to move to New York because I started my career traveling, working remote and understanding how I could use social media, so I never felt that I had to be here. None of this was even a goal or a vision for me. All I knew was at this point in time was this is what I have to help. This is what I have to give. And that's what I was focused on.
My relationships with my PR client were very personal, but as I’ve said, I've always been a people person. I also have a background in ministry. When you’re close to people in this personal way, you have this connectivity that oftentimes you miss when you're with a big agency. For example, when I went off to school, I had to reduce my business, but one thing that clients always wanted to hold on to was our communication. I realized that I have this thing, that people want to talk to me. Out of that, just helping people and giving advice and wisdom and just being an ear for them. I've always been a speaker, that's nothing new, that comes from grade school on up. And I believe that I was just able to pull on all of those experiences and strengths in order to serve people as a good publicist.
For me, when I look at my career, everything has connected. I mean, even coming down to becoming a life coach, that was something that my actual master coach (a former PR client of mine) told me I needed to do. So because of her, I became a certified life and executive coach. She said, you're already doing it, and you don't have to talk to people for free anyway. At the end of the day, I never looked at it as a business. This is just my gift.
What has the past year looked like for you?
I wrapped up working with Fern in 2020 during the pandemic, and I just decided to take advantage of something that I do for other people for myself. I always say that we give to others what we need most. When I look at what 2020 was for many people – that upset, the disruption, for those who even defined it as a crisis – it was not that for me. Only because I did not label that for myself, because I believe that you label a thing is what it will be to you.
There was a moment for all of us to take advantage of this pause, right? And to reconnect with myself. When you’re so busy, sometimes you find you’re working ahead of yourself. You are experiencing success, but at the same time, you're not really involved. And I'm talking about your authentic self. You're really not there. I realized that there were a lot of places and spaces in my life where myself was left out. At a time where everybody's pivoting, everybody's shifting, everybody's refreshing, reimaging, and I decided to do this for myself as well.
It’s a hard thing to do in the middle of a pandemic when you just don't have any certainties, but that's a great opportunity when you're holding onto something that you're not sure of anyway. Why not stand totally in faith and be present in the moment and allow the universe to deliver?
The thing that I did know that I could do, and was being asked to do, was a lot of coaching and consulting, especially when the racial unrest happened after the murder of George Floyd. I had been in a lot of spaces where I am or was the only Black person, so I was the person that people would call. Just finding the opportunity to really have uncomfortable conversations with people, I think as a coach, that's something that goes hand in hand with what we do anyway. I tell people that it is my job to even be confrontational, but I don't look at confrontation as a negative thing. Confrontation has to happen any time you are growing; I embrace it in a healthy way.
I've been very happy about some of the projects that I've been able to aid in or add my voice to in this time and hopefully be on the right side of lasting change, and not just momentary out of the emotion.
On that note, can you tell us about your work with New York Jewelry Week?
I am Director of Cultural Diversity and Inclusion for New York Jewelry Week – which was never something I thought I could do and prior to this experience, I had no connectivity to the jewelry industry except for wearing it! But this role happened because I posted something on Instagram and it just goes to show you, people are watching. I always have this thing that I say that there's an unseen and unrehearsed audience who is watching you.
I went to Atlanta to speak at the Atlanta Fashion Showcase, and went for brunch with a group afterwards. I just took a picture of the table because it was just such a beautiful moment, such a diverse table and we were sharing life stories. I mean, just people there from all walks of life. I took a picture because we are having, when I tell you, the time of our lives, and I took a picture and I remember the caption saying something about diversity. This is diversity for me; my life has always looked like this. I grew up in a diverse community. I went to a school that was very much integrated, with people from all walks of life. So this was nothing new for me, but I know for a lot of people, this is not the picture that they have.
A couple of weeks later I got a message from the NYCJW team, reaching out because they had been seeing disconnects and problems in the jewelry industry as it pertained to diversity, and it was something that was not being addressed the right way. And that's what they said. They said, this is a problem, and it's not right. We know we're not the ones to lead it, but we feel that you can do this.
It was all because of that post that I did, that inspired them, in that way. They asked me to do it at first, I said, I was very reserved and very hesitant because I just felt I'm not equipped or knowledgeable enough to do this. They said, you may not know jewelry, but we can teach you that. But you know people. And this is about people, not about products. So, I worked with them to build the HERE WE ARE program. I mean, when you talk to these designers, you learn they truly are artists, and I'm so happy to see them have this exposure and this platform.
Please share a few career highlights with us.
Building the HERE WE ARE program with NYC Jewelry Week! When I think of myself as a people builder at heart, I'm very proud of this work because it is about people. I love the fashion industry and I do love jewelry the more that I learn about it, but what really keeps me in this industry is the people. It’s not about the clothes or the products (which we love), but the people behind those things. Just connecting and helping them actualize their dreams, their visions and their goals to become realities. To be on that side of the business is very touching to me.
The reward is not always monetary. I mean, I believe in varying types of currencies in your life. There is relational currency, there's heart currency. I know there's the emotional currency, so to be refueled is payment in a way, too.
I really lead with purpose first. Of course, I'm not perfect, I have my own flaws and insecurities and I make mistakes like the next person, but just trying to always be intentional about leading with purpose and my purpose has navigated me. And sometimes that has meant I have gone without, and I did sacrifice – it's not been an easy journey for me. I talk about it in this light and this energy because I am blessed and I'm grateful to be where I am. I've learned a lot along the way, but out of that, it inspired me to teach and equip and help others so that their journey doesn’t have to be mine.
Are there any current or future projects that you're really excited about?
Of course I'm excited about the HERE WE ARE program, and I’m really excited to just even be able to assist with The PR Net on launching the BIPOC Mentorship Program. With my schedule I wasn't able to be a mentor, but I really am so proud of that, and the team has been phenomenal. Just the ideation and to see that go from conversation to reality is beautiful.
Also, the launch of the CFDA impact program. I want this to be something that all of the industry gets on board with. I know there are so many initiatives and programs launching right now, and sometimes your head can spin trying to stay on top of all of them. But I do feel like when change is happening, it has to go so deep that this type of acceleration and intensity is needed. I really am in support of this kind of change, for the industry going forward because the world is different.
We are not living in the same world that we were pre-COVID, and however much we try to reject or be hesitant with it, we just have to embrace it. So, that's what I'm looking forward to being on the side of change for the betterment of the industry, and definitely one that is more inclusive and equitable in the future.
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