Paula Schneider on Running American Apparel and Fighting Cancer

Here is David Gelles’ profile of Paula Schneider for The New York Times. To read the complete article and check out other resources, please click here.

Credit: Mike Cohen for The New York Times

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A breast cancer survivor who ran one of the most notorious brands in fashion is now C.E.O. of Susan G. Komen, working to raise money for a cure.

Paula Schneider has run two organizations that could hardly be more different. She was chief executive of American Apparel, and is now C.E.O. of Susan G. Komen, the breast cancer foundation.

Ms. Schneider grew up in California and spent most of her career in the fashion business, working in executive roles at BCBG Max Azria and Warnaco Swimwear before taking over American Apparel in 2015.

American Apparel was a mess when she arrived. Dov Charney, the company’s founder, had recently been ousted by the board after tawdry allegations of misconduct, and the business was hemorrhaging money. During her nearly two-year tenure, Ms. Schneider filed for bankruptcy protection and took the company private.

She left American Apparel in late 2016 and began consulting, helping Kanye West with his fashion line. Then, last year, Ms. Schneider, a breast cancer survivor, took a deeply personal job as chief executive of Susan G. Komen, which is best known for its fund-raising walks.

This interview, which was condensed and edited for clarity, was conducted in New York City.

What was your childhood like?

We grew up outside San Francisco. My dad was a fireman and my mom was a housewife. My brothers were like the No. 1 and 2 best Frisbee players in the world. So I practiced playing Frisbee every day, and we did Golden State Warriors halftime shows. We could throw it over the head, behind the back, we could catch it through our legs, the whole nine yards. And we had Noodle the Wonder Dog, who caught the Frisbees.

What was your first job?

I went to college at Chico State and got a degree in costume design and theater. Then I went back to grad school and got my teaching credentials so that I would have something to fall back on. I was a teacher for a year, and my salary was $735 a month. And I thought, “I’m never going to have a swimming pool if I do this. And I really want a swimming pool.”

While I was teaching, I started working at a clothing store so I could supplement my income, and then I started going down to L.A. and thought, “Wow, this is an interesting world.”

What has been the most difficult moment of your career?

In 2007, I was at Warnaco when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was self-discovered. I felt a lump. I had had a mammogram 11 months before, but it was really superaggressive. It was triple-negative breast cancer, which is one of the most deadly forms.

At work, I was in the middle of a massive restructuring. We were going from our own factory base to an outsourced factory base, and we had layoffs. I said to my doctor, “I’m right in the middle of this massive thing; if I wait three weeks, will I die?” And he said, “No, but you probably shouldn’t wait more than that.”

So on a Tuesday I finished up the layoffs, which were hideous. On Wednesday, I told my team that I had cancer. And on Thursday, I went to chemo. Probably the worst week ever.

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Here is a direct link to the complete article.

David Gelles writes the Corner Office column and other features for The New York Times’s Sunday Business section, and works with the Well team to expand The Times‘s coverage of meditation.

To learn more about him and his work, please click here.

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