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Women in Business Q&A: Trisha Sweeney, EVP and CMO of Shoebuy.com

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Patrisha (Trisha) Sweeney is Executive Vice President and Chief Merchandising Officer of Shoebuy.com with over 20 years of extensive experience in merchandising and product development. Joining the company in 2005, currently she manages and develops all merchandising elements and leads all supplier relationships and growth. Trisha also oversees the company's merchandising operations, which includes fulfillment and integrations. During her tenure, Trisha has developed and grown the merchandising team cultivating the company's categories from 250 brands to nearly 1,300 offerings across a complete range of footwear, accessories and apparel categories.

Trisha graduated from Simmons College with a Bachelor of Arts in Business Management. She currently resides in Boston, MA. Trisha enjoys sports, travel, sun and skiing and is an avid shopper!

How did your previous employment experience aid your position at Shoebuy.com?
I have had experience in multiple channels of retail including mass merchant, off-price, product development and importing - all of which have helped me succeed in my current role. I have also managed several areas of product categories including all areas of home décor (crystal, tabletop etc.), giftware (candles, frames, decorative), seasonal decor, pet supplies and even automotive and hardware. Through my experiences, I have been involved with companies riding on tremendous success as well as companies entering (and existing) chapter 11. This has allowed for a macro view of retail and has enabled me to drive, grow and maximize businesses in various stages.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Shoebuy.com?
When I first joined Shoebuy.com, we had about 250 brands and it was 99% footwear. It has been a real highlight to watch the product lines grow to currently 1200 brands and also see a vastly developing segment of bags, clothing and accessories. The challenging aspect was driving that growth with a small team versus what our competition had. I had previously come from larger chains with all of the processes in place, so a company with a small, "startup mentality" was a new environment for me. Additionally, I also had no experience with e-commerce prior to Shoebuy.com, so it was a very new industry for me - yet fast, thrilling and very rewarding. Eight years later, I am still challenged every day and there is never a dull moment.

What advice would you give to women who are looking for a career in the fashion industry?
If you are starting out from college, secure a good internship if you can as many connections and entry-level experience will be developed while you are still in school. After you graduate, you may be one step ahead of your competition with solid experience under your belt. If an internship is not possible, I suggest considering a job at a retail store to immerse yourself with brands first-hand. Working in a store is really the first step and a fundamental part of the growth process. You'll get a sense and understanding of whether or not you want to pursue buying and/or management for a retail company. There are lots of lessons that can be learned by being on the floor with the customers.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I have learned over the years what steps I personally need to take to have the proper balance. I am not always successful at adhering to those, but being aware is the first step, right?

The key for me is to have my weekends work-free aside from a few hours here or there. I also know that when my personal "to-do" list starts getting long, it's time to leave work a few nights at a decent time in order to clear that list. At the end of the day, when a person is over-worked and has no balance, I think you start to lose some creative juice and you become less effective. My last rule of thumb is to always take your annual vacation time!

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think the biggest issue for women in the workplace is juggling all of the other duties you have outside of the office. Especially if you have children and are a single mom or your spouse is also working. Traditionally, women also run the homestead. Picking up the dry cleaning, grocery shopping or cleaning the home - those important tasks are added chores after a long day at the office. It makes creating that "down time" even more important.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship has been very significant for me in various ways. There have been specific mentors that have coached me at different stages of my career and a few of those whom I continue to keep in touch with - they always make me feel enlightened after we speak.

I was lucky to have some great managers along the way and learning through their wisdom was very valuable (I also learned some great lessons from a few bad managers!). I developed different skills from each experience which helped set a great base line for my management style.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire a lot of female leaders and it is difficult to pinpoint a certain person. I tend to admire those not globally well-known, but rather leaders within the same industry and even same company. I'm also lucky enough to have a close group of female friends that have wonderful careers, integrity and drive that I admire and learn from every day. They always inspire me.

What are your hopes for the future of your company?
For Shoebuy.com, I'm focused on continuing to partner with great brands consumer loves, while supporting growth strategies and upholding integrity in how we run and operate our business.

Additionally, I'm looking to create an emotional connection between the Shoebuy.com brand and our consumers. Our goal is to be more than a place where customers can buy shoes or apparel. We are striving to provide a destination where consumers will receive a unique and personal experience that makes finding what their looking for easier than ever.