Olive J. Smith Fashion Scholarship
Olive J. Smith was considered a grande dame of Seattle fashion. For over 50 years, she helped shape Seattle Style. Shortly after her death in 1996, FGI members began raising dollars for fashion scholarships in her memory. The trustees of this fund recently agreed that the time was right to allocate these dollars to students who want to broaden their education and earn a certificate at the University of Washington titled Fashion: Concept to Market. A small committee of FGI members will begin the selection process soon so that awards can be given beginning fall quarter, 2011.
Olive helped shape Seattle style by bringing an international perspective to regional fashion. She was described as “A legend”, “A woman of great grace,” who was as tenacious at unearthing that next trend or new resource”. Olive was born in New York City in 1917. She began her fashion career at Macy’s in Manhattan, and was recruited to Seattle in the 50’s to manage women’s apparel for the Bon Marche. In 1961 she received a call from Lloyd Nordstrom to join the Nordstrom Best Company and oversee their newly acquired women’s apparel business after Nordstrom acquisition of Best Apparel. She was a trailblazer in the world of Fashion Merchandising and was a leader in creating new concepts such as the Pantsuit that proved successful at a time when women in leadership in the business world were scarce; and if they were, they were required to wear a dress or skirt suit. In 1974, Olive declared “Pantsuits are here forever”, and wanted them to become a staple in the Northwest. “Chinese woman have been wearing them for centuries…Why not? They are versatile, chic and comfortable,” said Smith, who was among the first American business woman invited to Beijing by the Chinese government.
Olive was a student of business, and authored the first historical account of the apparel and fashion industry in the Pacific Northwest, which included customer needs based on the founding of companies like Eddie Bauer, Pacific Trail and Filson. The account also included stories about the rise of NW style and the denim revolution that began at Brittania, Generra Sportswear and Union Bay to name a few. Her personal style was only outmatched by her love of the business. She retired from Nordstrom in 1979, and passed away in 1996. As a result of Olive’s contribution to the Fashion industry and The Fashion Group of Seattle, a scholarship was named in her honor that will provide future students the opportunity to pursue a career in fashion.