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The Girl Who Started It All
December 9, 2023
The Michigan Journal for the Business of Fashion (MASH) officially launched in 2019 and was founded by Willa Sobel. After a year of settling into school, come the fall of her sophomore year, Willa had an itch to get involved on campus but saw a gap in the clubs offered. She was baffled by the competitive nature of the Ross clubs, specifically, and was eager to find a place that supported what she wanted to do professionally and academically. She loved to write and was passionate about fashion, which led her to create a publication that brought together the intersection of business and fashion. With her friends' help, Willa designed a hub where students could have leadership opportunities, creative expression, and outlets to write. And, with that, MASH was born.
What makes MASH different from other clubs in your eyes?
“I think MASH is unique in that it’s really ever-changing. I mean, what it was when I started it from what it was when Sydnee Lubar was editor-in-chief to what it is today, throughout the different variations of leaders and the different talent that comes through, it is really adaptable and open to change. I think every leader comes with their own perspective while still sticking to the core tendencies of what the club is, but they add their own flare to it, which is super special.”
“So, even now, I’ll see that people are doing some new editorial work or they are taking on a new life with the graphics, I really think that it’s unique because it does ebb and flow based on who is working on it and it is not confined to strict design limitations or guard rails on what it can and can not be.”
“We set that up purposefully, just because I think if you trap yourself in a box, especially as a student-run organization, it takes a little bit of the life out of it and I think if I had created very strict branding and content guidelines in the beginning, it would not become anywhere close to what it is today. It has become so big because of people’s ideas that have pivoted it and taken it in a new route that I hadn’t imagined. So, I think with everyone that gets involved, they bring a new set of skills. I just think it’s really open to interpretation, which keeps it young and fun.”
What are some highlights or memorable moments from launching and then running the magazine in the beginning stages?
“The most memorable moment was our first in-person meeting. It was the fall of my sophomore year, we had just launched and we were hosting a meeting. I had somehow convinced someone who ran a Ross club to book me a room in the basement of Ross. It was a snowy night and I had all my friends come out and I was like, ‘Okay you guys, it’s gonna be like four people here for the informational meeting, no one’s gonna come,’ and I remember getting there and there being thirty people already sat down and I got so nervous.”
“We would have writers come find us in little Ross collab rooms and come pitch their article and that was so much fun because it was four of us in a room spit-balling ideas and talking about what was exciting to us and what articles we had read and the recent news in the industry. Those early days were so much fun because there was so much we could do with it and there was so much interest which was really exciting to someone who genuinely really thought this was going to be for her and her five friends to play around with.”
What did you think MASH was going to turn into/how is it different/similar to what you originally imagined?
“I thought that it was going to be an Instagram page with 15 followers, fourteen of my friends and my mom, and just me writing about Off-White, and it has turned into a national presence.”
“Last summer, I was walking in New York and this woman had a MASH hat on, and I stopped them and I was like, ‘Where did you get that?’ and they were like, ‘I’m involved at NYU!’ So, it’s turned into something so much bigger than I could have ever imagined and I cannot take credit for any of that. That’s all Sydnee Lubar, Tate Schmergel, and Kat Barden, and they have helped transform it into something that is so much bigger than anything I could have imagined. I mean, they have a podcast in LA.”
“I was doing it for me, I was doing it for my friends who wanted to find a creative outlet, and people found their creative outlet in MASH, as well, and through that, it has grown into something so much bigger than I could have anticipated.”
What are some of your favorite editions?
“I lovedThe Timeless Edition which I believe was my last edition as editor-in-chief. That was special because I wrote a Letter From The Editor, which is a tradition that I really loved because that was when I could actually write something from me and not just be a ghost editor behind all of the different articles.”
“I also love Comme des Femmes because I wear the hat all the time and I think that was the first edition that really took on a life of its own. They made merch and created a whole ecosystem around MASH that was external to just the publication.”
What are your ideas for the future of MASH?
“I think it would be cool to do some kind of alumni network. As it grows, I think there are so many people that come out of MASH that have similar mindsets and strengths, so I think it would be cool to do some kind of alumni panel.”
“Other than that, I’ve been loving the direction it’s been going with more presence on campus. I love the creative direction and it would be cool to see more original content, I know that’s the direction they’re heading in. And on more campuses, I would love to see MASH pop up all over the country. Let’s take it abroad!”
Your advice for someone who wants to dip their toes into any industry and does not know where to start?
“A lot of people assume that I wanted to work in fashion, but that really wasn’t the case. It was just something that interested me, that I loved to write about, and that I felt like I could be a leader within. At the end of the day, it had really nothing to do with the fact that it was a fashion publication, but with the core tenets.”
“So, my advice from there is to find a career in an industry that has all of your core tenets. So, if you want to work in a collaborative environment, with really smart people that have expertise in the specific subject, those can be your three underlying core tenets and you can kind of plug that into whatever industry is of your interest. I just think that instead of pigeonholing yourself by what kindof job, it is important to look for something that speaks to who you are.”
“I think it's so stressful in college to be like, ‘I’m an econ major, I have to work in x industry, I have to do this kind of job,’ or whatever it is, and really there are so many jobs that you can do that speak to the strengths you learn in your major and your clubs.”
How did Michigan play a role in the development of MASH?
“I think Michigan as a school helped MASH evolve because we were able to pull students from every kind of major. Because it wasn’t originally, and still isn’t a Ross club, we had kids coming from every single major across campus which just allowed MASH to take a new life and brought people in with different skill sets and perspectives and that was very special and definitely was a product of the vast Michigan campus and the variety of majors.”
“There have been a lot of partnerships since me that have involved the community more, such as the MASH clothing drive and MASHquerade at local businesses, and just watching them take an interest in involving the community was very special, but I can’t take any credit for that.”
Where is Willa now?
“I am working at WME. I am the assistant to the VP of Business Operations, which means I am a liaison between sixteen different functional teams, so I work a little bit in film, a little bit in TV, and a little bit in fashion and music, so I am kind of across all these different departments, and I love it so far.”
What is your creative outlet now?
“I kind of feel like I’m going through a similar thing in New York as I felt my first year in college, where I have been here for a year, I’ve kind of established myself in the city, and then this fall I was kind of itching for something more creative, something to have an outlet, especially with writing, and I created a little blog where I can interview people that I meet or that I’ve known to bring me to their favorite places in the city. It’s literally just an excuse for me to talk to new people, take new pictures, and write, which is really what I like to do most.”
“That’s been a great outlet just to have something to keep me writing which is a very important thing for me, and I get bad about it when I get too busy. So, having something that sets aside time is good.”
How has your sense of style evolved?
“I think I’ve just gotten to know what looks good on me and what I feel comfortable in. I think for a while, there is a lot of discovery in your style and who you are as an individual, and since I have graduated it has kind of just solidified what silhouettes I like, what material looks best, what I feel my best in, and what is complementary to my body type. I think that has evolved as I have gotten to know myself as a person and who I want to present as, whether it’s in the office or going out or walking on the street on a Sunday.”
“I tried out so many different things for a long time that I felt good in at the moment, I’m sure, but looking back I’m like ‘What was I thinking?’ So now I’m trying to just stick to basics, wear what looks good, wear what I’m comfortable in, and it’s working out so far.”
Writing for MASH has been one of my best decisions during my four years at Michigan. Willa designed MASH to be a place where people could find their creative outlet, which is what MASH has meant to me. MASH allows me to step away from my usual academic writing routine for classes and gives me a place to channel my creativity and generate new ideas. MASH prioritizes creative freedom and fresh perspectives, and I am eager to see how the club continues to expand. I know there will be many amazing things still to come. I am so thankful to have had this community in Ann Arbor throughout my four years at Michigan, and I hope to be a part of Willa’s MASH alum panel in the future.