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Behind the Brand: Curate Chicago's Christina Oropeza

Behind the Brand: Curate Chicago's Christina Oropeza

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Meet Christina Oropeza of Curate Chicago, a modern retail, and gifting company. After years in the retail industry, Christina took her impeccable taste and a keen eye for artists and artisans and created her own industry venture with her husband, Marco. Through Curate, the duo has elevated the gifting experience for all of their customers. From the darling name of each curated box (Lola is a perfect gift for the little princess in your life, and the Jenni & Oliver is sure to make any Newlywed's day!) to the carefully selected contents, each Curate Chicago package is put together with creativity and care! Learn more about how Curate came to be and some words of wisdom from someone who is sure to be a household name soon!

1. What's the worst job you've ever had?

"I feel really lucky for each job I've had in the past. Through each experience, I developed new skills (personally and professionally), was pushed out of my comfort zone, cultivated friendships, and grew one step closer to launching Curate."

2. What's the best job you've ever had?

"My current role as founder of Curate. Each day brings its own challenges, requires endless creativity, and requires me to never stop learning. I love that it keeps me on my toes with the variety of tasks required in a week from discovering new products, furthering brand development, ramping up our social media, and much more."

3. How did you land your first job in the industry?

"Through lots of preparation and research. My first job out of college (and in the retail world) was as an Assistant Buyer at Bloomingdale's in their Executive Development Program in NYC. I had interned on the vendor side, working for Tracey Reese, and loved the idea of moving into buying. My boyfriend at the time, now husband, helped me prep for weeks on end for all the interviews. He would ask me interview questions for hours, all to help me feel more comfortable and confident with each round."

4. How did you land your current job?

"My background in retail helped prepare me to take the leap with Curate. From past experiences at Bloomingdale's, one in their buying program and then another in their store management program (here in Chicago), I developed the groundwork for the buying, planning, logistics, and customer service that goes into retail.  My love for paper and unique gifts grew during a different role, this time working as a Merchandising Assistant at Paper Source. This experience solidified my plan as a gifting and lifestyle retailer.

Lastly, I learned a lot about leadership and running a small business through my Dad. He has a car dealership in Michigan, which is now going on four generations in the family. I'm so grateful I was able to observe his leadership style firsthand through working summers at the store. All these combined experiences gave me a holistic view of retail and fueled my desire to pursue my own store."

5. Is your career what you expected it to be? What did you see yourself doing in college?

"No, I always dreamed of one day having my own business but never imagined I would take the leap so early in my career. It certainly was taking advantage of the opportunity when it presented itself!"

6. To prep for an interview, someone should always....

"Prep multiple, relevant follow-up questions. Not only does it show you did your research on the company and current events in the industry, it further communicates your desire to learn more about the role."

7. What is your favorite part about your job?

"I absolutely love interacting with product, refining our product assortment online, and choosing the items to give our gift boxes personality. We attend the NYNOW gift show every year, and I totally geek out on finding new, brand-appropriate products that I've haven't seen before. I love learning the story behind the products [and] designers and thinking through how our customers will respond to each thing we come across."

8. Any words of advice for someone who wants to start their own company?

"It definitely takes a leap of faith. There have been so many times during this process that I've doubted myself, but I'm so lucky to have a strong support system that has encouraged me through it all. That being said, do your research! My husband hounded me the first couple months to put together a business plan and further develop our strategy on what makes us different from other e-commerce shops. Turns out he was right, retail is fiercely competitive, and it's important to examine all angles from a customer perspective before jumping right in. It's not uncommon for your original idea to morph many times before launching. 

Another key piece of advice is to not be afraid to ask for help. I think a key part of running your own successful business is assessing your strengths and focusing your time there. And for those areas where you lack the expertise, finding great people that can help. For me, that definitely pertains to anything legal, accounting, and web development related. Delegating those tasks elsewhere allowed me to focus on the more creative aspects of the business."

9. How do you handle setbacks, whether it be a missed opportunity, something not turning out your way, or disagreeing with a co-worker?

"Setbacks are part of any business, it's more important to evaluate what lessons you learned and move forward with experience under your belt."

10. What's the most valuable lesson you've learned from working and being successful in your industry? When and  where did you learn this?

"Perspective, even though I still have my own ups and downs with this piece of advice. My first boss used to say, We're just selling stuff, not curing cancer here, and that always stuck with me. No matter how big and overwhelming that obstacle may seem, you will overcome it and a new test or trial will be on its way. It's the best way to learn, and it stretches you out of your comfort zone. Through adversity, you can learn your most important lessons."

11. What was the biggest win or accomplish you've had in your career? Anything you're most proud of?

"Making the initial move to NYC for my first job after college. To work for Bloomingdale's was a great achievement and a lifelong dream, but it also required me to overcome a number of personal fears and insecurities. By diving head first into this experience and having such a strong support system, I was able to learn many new applicable skills and develop my self-confidence in my work. Without having the courage to go to New York, I wouldn't have made some of my closest friends and I doubt Curate would be a reality today."

12. Is there anything we should be watching out for?

"We have lots of exciting things in the works. These include more event collaborations throughout the greater Chicago area, showcasing more local artisans, and evolving our web presence. Lastly, we're testing brick-and-mortar with pop-shops throughout the year. Be on the lookout for our next one!"

What are your best career tips? Share with us!

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