My Journey from Fashion to Passion

by Karen Amster-Young

This is a guest post by Marni Heller.  Full disclosure:  Marni is one of my (Karen’s) oldest friends since the college years.  She is creative, driven, funny, and fashionable.  She is a wife, mother, daughter, sister and a great friend.  I have many fond memories of our “entrepreneurial” endeavors together many years ago. She was inspired to write for recently when she found herself embracing a new career after many years out of the fast lane and  many years after her “sexy “career in the high-paced and exciting world of fashion. This is her first guest post for the blog.  Marni lives in Westchester with her husband and three children and her dog Lucy.

“Cinderella is proof that a good pair of shoes can change your life.” — Anonymous

Design trips to Europe, trade shows and parties in Vegas, frequent trips to LA: this is how I spent the bulk of my 20’s and 30’s in the fast paced world of fashion.

Driven at a young age to be independent, I ventured out on my own and opened a small showroom on 42nd and Broadway representing West coast designers. Very soon it became clear I would need a business partner or I would not have anything resembling a personal life. Not having to look far (down the hall from my office) I met a fellow over-achiever.  Together we plunged head-first in what would be an exhilarating 11-year ride of hard work, financial struggle, glamour and lets face it, a whole lot of fun.

We worked hard, shopped hard and played hard.   All was wonderful until one day I found myself married with twins, moving to the suburbs, and simultaneously trying to keep up the same pace as I did when I was 24 and single. Needless to say, I was exhausted!

Making the decision to change my lifestyle at the time was one of the hardest that I have ever made. It is amazing how your career can become such a big part of your identity. As much as I loved my life with my husband and beautiful twins, I felt lost. How could I, the same women so driven for so many years now be a “stay at home mom”? I couldn’t bare it. Luckily I had my hands full with number three on the way and all the joy and exhaustion that comes with it but all along I knew that, to feel complete, I needed to make a move towards a professional future…at some point.

After leaving the garment center, I took some classes in what was always a personal passion:  exercise. I took classes at NYU, received a bunch of certifications, and began teaching spin classes and personal training.  Quickly realizing that teaching adults was not my forte. I began teaching after-school yoga programs and kickboxing. Okay, so keeping our youth fit, not bad right? But I knew something was missing.

When my twins, Molly and Ethan turned 5, it was time to put them in day camp. I also knew that I didn’t want them with their classmates at the local “in” camp so I began checking out a Jewish Day camp across the bridge in Nyack, New York.  It was known for its diverse programming, large Israel focus and spirituality. I met with the Director and in no time at all I had a job as the kickboxing /yoga instructor At Ramah Day Camp in Nyack. Fast forward to what became a life-changing experience for my whole family:  I quickly became a division head for the camp and moved my whole family there that summer. It quickly became our “summer home” for many years to follow.   I was also brought on to recruit campers and staff during the off -season.  Granted, I was the only person on staff who immediately changed into my four-inch platform shoes and skinny jeans as soon as the campers were on their way home, and I quickly became the staff “personal shopper” and style consultant. It was almost exactly 10 years after I left the fashion world but my experience at Ramah, initially started as something to help my kids go to the right camp, resulted in, once again, finding a passion that could be a career: the non for profit world of Jewish camping.   But the fashion world was still gnawing at me. Was that part of my life really over?

Recently, my former business partner from those glamour years, who also had left the business world to raise her children, re-entered the fashion world. Honestly, I thought that it was only going to be a hobby and expected it to be very short lived. Much to my surprise she has now moved into a showroom and is back in business…without me. How was this possible?

This is when I found myself stuck.  At a crossroads in my career, I began to question my direction. I started daydreaming of being back in the fast paced, glamorous world of fashion.

I even went as far as staying up all night creating a concept, a label, registering a name and a website. The next morning, when the rest of the world woke up, I was on high speed, telling anyone who would listen that this was going to be MY re-entry into my past life. I must admit, it could have worked. It was good stuff. Still, when the adrenaline rush wore off. I felt torn, once again, stuck. Was this really what I wanted? Was I ready to take the last ten years and pretend that they never happened? Was I like Dorothy waking up after the tornado only to realize that what she thought was reality was only a dream? I knew that I needed to take a step back, have few glasses of wine, hit the gym (not necessarily in that order) and hopefully in a few days all would be clear.

Then it happened, browsing through a weekly email of job listings that I have been receiving for years (, I came across a listing that literally jumped off the page. There it was, clarity. This needed to be my next endeavor: sending High School age children to Israel. My heart began to race as I read about the Alexander Muss High School in Israel ( A secular Israel experience that instills, at a young age, a love for the land and history of Israel as well as a deeper understanding of what it means to be Jewish. Not religious, Jewish.

My parents sacrificed so much to send me to Israel when I was a senior in High School. That experience began what has been a lifetime of evolution which has helped me to instill in my family a love for a country as well as a people who defend the a place where I may not have my own address but will always feel comfortable calling it home.

So here I am, 46 years old and I finally get who I am; I am a four- inch (sometimes five-inch!) platform-heel, skinny jeans-wearing “fashionista”, wife, friend, mother of three, ready to utilize all of the experiences and passion that led me to where I am today and embark on this new path. This journey has taught me to embrace it all; where I’ve been, where I am today and most excitingly where I may be tomorrow.

And even though we know better now than to ever “sell” our daughters on the fantasy of Cinderella I can honestly say that a good pair of shoes CAN change your life.  You just have to walk around for a while, preferably in 4 inch spikes, to find the career you want.






commentLeave a Comment (13)  

categoryPosted: 03/8/12 5:10 PM

{ 13 comments… read them below or add one }

laurey March 9, 2012 at 10:25 am

Amazing, Marni! What you’re doing is a home run! So meaningful and helpful! Incredible, I didn’t know all that stuff about you!


Lori Gilman March 9, 2012 at 10:31 am

Well done Marni written perfectly!!!… You have captured all my feelings as well xox


Andrea March 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

Ok…you made me cry…
Never knew you wrote so nicely!!!!
Those 11 years will never be replaced. Working???? How about shopping , partying, laughing, knitting, living large. Nothing mattered…
Carrie, Cindy, Jodi, Carol, Lev, Dorit, Amy, Nancy, Deb, and if I’m forgetting anyone that means they didn’t call the showroom enough. 730 7474 will never be the same.
Hipchik couture doesn’t have that many friends lol
Love you.
Any time you are ready to come back…. But really… Topaz….???? Contempo? Really what you want? Lol love you!!!!


Jodi March 9, 2012 at 1:08 pm

Brava Marni, brava! Such an amazing account of your journey! And the best is yet to come!! No surprise I made that show-room calling Wall of Fame. Ha ha!! I think it all really started in Monsey, summer of 1985 with Marni Mae’s Fitness Club! All I’m sayin’ is that I knew you when!! LOVE LOVE LOVE You!! YOU GO GIRL!! Xo!


Kathy March 9, 2012 at 6:59 pm

Great piece Marni!! Good for you-a great Mom, wife, sister, daughter and humanitarian!! That’s what life is all about-to me anyway!!! You Go Girl!!! xoxo


andrea March 9, 2012 at 9:12 pm

Karen, what a great idea,,,, awesome blog…love….go girl….nothing better than girls who just get it!!!!!


Dany March 9, 2012 at 10:27 pm

So my little marnilah ( even in 5 inch stilettos :)…well compared to me,,,ha) loved reading this blog..kudos to you karen too…great idea. And blog.
From 3rd grade to have always been an amazing everything…so proud of you
Xoxo dany


Beth March 10, 2012 at 7:37 pm

Marni, you are courageous and beautiful, and an inspiration to all that know you. You embrace life’s journey with a purpose. Bravo! Love, Beth


Bella March 11, 2012 at 12:12 am

Kol Ha’Kavod, Marni ! even thought i don’t know you that well, always knew you are smart, driven, passionate, fit, a fashionista, and yes, i can sense (& am right) – that u are an uber-business woman ! (in past life & now new life….)
This sounds like a dream job – inspiring h.s. kids to drink in Israel & all it encompasses – the land, culture, & if they choose, religion too. … you are a true inspiration Marni Stick with it – & keep us posted !


Melissa March 11, 2012 at 10:59 am

enjoyed reading of your journey. identified with the exercise bit – been there. but 5 inch stilletos? – really? platforms definitely, being vertically-challenged myself, but having moved to the land of the short and promised people, much less of an issue than it was in my American past. If life or work takes you this way, feel free to look me up. after first career reached a dead-end, embarking on the second…(husband and four kids later). let’s hear it for keeping the faith and pushing on!


laura green March 11, 2012 at 4:13 pm

LOVE it! love you! you can do anything you set your mind to! and im here to help you along the way!


Caren March 11, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Marni, You’re a sista who keeps on doing it for herself (and others). Brava to you and all the best in this next chapter. I’m sure you’ll bring your own style to this next venture and make it your own, brimming with ahavat israel. Cheers!


Risa Levine March 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

Just read this—what an amazing and passionate accounting of who you really are. I was there for your late 20’s and 30’s. And have been there, in spirit, through your 40’s. I am so proud of all you always accomplish. This next venture will have you written all over it. Everything and everyone you touch is blessed by the person you are. I am lucky to have you as my friend. Hats off to you and Karen for this wonderful article. Missing you in Toronto…….
xoxox Risa


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