Kristen Pizzo
Jun 12 · 5 min read

PIVOT is a series of interviews with inspiring individuals who made major career shifts and decided to start LIVING instead of just making a living. We’re talking to engineers who became comedians, lawyers who became entrepreneurs, and everyone in between. These career chameleons are proof that your wildest job aspirations are possible- and that there is never just one path that will take you there. For a weekly dose of inspiration in your inbox, subscribe to our mailing list: https://mailchi.mp/83e53e22830f/vienna


Melis Sawerschel received a BSc. in Metallurgical and Materials Engineering, then a master’s in Management, Technology and Economics and worked in banking before founding a sustainable online clothing brand, She Is Rebel. While her career path may seem random, it was actually surprisingly strategic.

Can you give a quick overview of your career journey before founding She Is Rebel? What kinds of jobs did you have along the way?

My childhood dream was to become a successful businesswoman regardless of the industry. I thought learning production processes through an engineering degree would give me a good bottom-up understanding of most businesses. In order to become a ‘manager’ or run my own business, I had to gain some business knowledge, hence my education path in BSc. Metallurgical and Materials Engineering followed by MSc. Management, Technology and Economics.

To strengthen my business knowledge, I started my career in a marketing start-up. What started as a Marketing Analyst role where I was running campaigns for blue chip clients grew into a Business Development Manager role, which involved me in growing this start-up. The experience of pitching a start-up to C-levels in the first year of my career is why I was able to take bold steps confidently later in my career. After this startup bankrupted, I decided to discover the financial industry while still living in Switzerland. I have always known what I wanted — which was to work at the intersection of business and technology at that time, so I attracted the right opportunities to land in the leading roles of big digital projects over 7 years in two global banks.

When you are good at your job, people respect and support you more, and then you can make any jump between teams, companies or industries thanks to good references and networks. This was my career strategy.

Why did you decide to make the career switch?

I was quite successful as a VP in a global bank at the age of 30. Yet, I questioned if climbing up such a defined career ladder in corporate would really allow me to present my full potential. So, I quit without planning anything. As I am originally a materials engineer, I have always dreamt of creating my own product combining great design, value, and sustainability. I reviewed my skills and concluded my strengths were styling, digital media, and inspiring people. My fashion brand, She Is Rebel, was born to bring all of these together. So my decision was a result of rational evaluation rather than ‘following a passion’. I think this kind of internal review should be done every 2 years to re-route your career.

What was your greatest fear when starting your business?

Retail, eCommerce and fashion are not the top keywords of business community and consumers in Switzerland. My fear was basing my business in Switzerland despite the challenge of high operational costs and attracting consumers to a fashion brand. I have turned this into an advantage by thinking about my business at the global level from the very beginning.

What skills from your college education and/or former career, if any, do you use now when managing your business?

Studying engineering means being not afraid of trial and error until you find a proof of concept. This mindset helps tremendously if you are an entrepreneur. My university degrees helped me build the basis of who I am today both personally and professionally. Our professors were challenging us to break problems into small pieces and to think in analytical and critical ways. Working in top banks added the skillset of self-discipline, competitiveness and performing well under pressure. I am using all of these in my job today.

Do you ever feel like you “wasted” your education?

Never. On the contrary, I feel lucky to have been wise enough to choose such a challenging education path in top technical universities. Education does not limit us like in real-life business requirements, so I discovered my creative, problem-solving boundaries through my studies.

What advice do you have for others looking to make a major career change?

I think the notion of a ‘career change’ is overrated. We must put more weight on skills, what we are good at and our future potential rather than limiting our future choices down to our past experiences. I believe experience makes people lazy and over-confident while equipping them with knowledge. As long as you rely on your intelligence and skills, changing career or job becomes obsolete, finding a match between a job and your skills becomes essential. I suggest going after the latter.

What advice do you have for others interested in creating a clothing brand?

The fashion industry is just like any business that has pros and cons, but it is certainly not as glam as we see on Instagram. It has lots of complexity in supply chain and customer service, creating a great deal of brand responsibility. You have to work with many suppliers from manufacturing to shipping yet represent everything under your brand. So when your shipment doesn’t arrive, you can’t blame it on delivery company when your customer asks. Many fashion enthusiasts focus solely on designing clothes, yet lack business knowledge to market them. I suggest to figure out the real behind-the-scenes work of a fashion brand, including all its business operations and costs.

Do you think your career changes are part of the theme of rebellion that She Is Rebel promotes?

Yes, totally! I have achieved everything in my life by being a rebel; following what I believe and never giving up. I want to inspire women with that.


Our favorite nugget of career wisdom:

I think the notion of a ‘career change’ is overrated. We must put more weight on skills, what we are good at and our future potential rather than limiting our future choices down to our past experiences. I believe experience makes people lazy and over-confident while equipping them with knowledge. As long as you rely on your intelligence and skills, changing career or job becomes obsolete, finding a match between a job and your skills becomes essential. I suggest going after the latter.

Vienna

A lifestyle publication for those who refuse to settle. Meet the side hustlers, full-time hustlers, lawyers-turned-bakers & everyone in between, and get the inspiration you need for even the most unconventional career journey. No college degree necessary. https://mailchi.mp/83e53

Kristen Pizzo

Written by

Multi-passionate iced coffee guzzler & future pig mom. Writing Instagram: @chameleononthepage

Vienna

Vienna

A lifestyle publication for those who refuse to settle. Meet the side hustlers, full-time hustlers, lawyers-turned-bakers & everyone in between, and get the inspiration you need for even the most unconventional career journey. No college degree necessary. https://mailchi.mp/83e53

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