Next Life: Jay Godfrey, from Stockbroker to Dressmaker

Trading stock tickers for hem lines, a former broker has made a modest fortune in dresses

Jay Godfrey went to Wall Street wanting to be Gordon Gekko, but left when he realized he’d rather dress him—or better yet design a gown for Gekko’s date. “[I was] more interested that florals were big for spring than [in] analyzing the stock market,” says Godfrey, 31. He left Salomon Smith Barney in 2001 and has since built a 12-person design studio in New York’s Garment District that recently topped $5 million in annual revenue.

Born in Toronto, Godfrey graduated in 2000 from McGill University with a degree in finance. He moved to New York after applying to Salomon at a campus recruiting fair. “Basically I went there and they threw money at me,” he says. He liked business but not banking, and enrolled at Parsons The New School for Design. His most critical decision after graduating was to avoid existing fashion houses: In 2005 he used $40,000 of his savings and family funds to launch his own line. Godfrey first worked out of his apartment, contracting out samples for stores and relying on part-time help. Then he caught a break when his then-fiancée, now wife, Dara, wore one of his originals to an industry event and Chief Executive Officer Khajak Keledjian of fashion boutique Intermix asked who made her dress. Keledjian later commissioned Godfrey for a handful of exclusive dresses. Then, in 2006, actress Eva Mendes wore one on the red carpet. By midyear, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom, and Bloomingdale’s placed orders, too. Godfrey hit a sweet spot: “There were a lot of great dresses out there that were a fortune, but nothing in a $300 to $400 price point,” he says. Now he’s adding menswear, worthy perhaps of Gekko.

Jay Godfrey’s Best Advice

1. Stick to what you do best
If it’s muffins that you make best, focus 100 percent of your time making those muffins perfect before you branch out and tackle donuts. Trying to be everything to everyone is the surefire way to fail.

2. Never get too high (or low)
Don’t get too high on your highs or too low on your lows. Chances are, the highs aren’t nearly as good as you think and the lows aren’t as horrible as you think.

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