Marcia Masulla: Community Is About Give and Take

Co-founder of Nashville Fashion Week and a community editor and manager at 12th & Broad, Marcia Masulla, 35, stays active within the community.

Originally from St. Louis, she moved to Nashville, well, because of a boy in a band.

“The way I ended up in Nashville is kind of kismet,” she said.

NASHVILLE: NEW CITY, NEW CULTURE

Marcia grew up in St. Louis and spent most of her life there. She owned a boutique in the fashion district. She was involved in projects like St. Louis Fashion Week and even had a radio show.

Through work on her radio show, she said she starting seeing a guy in a band long distance.

“On a trip to Nashville, where they were doing new band photos, I came along and did styling for them,” she said.

After they left Nashville, Marcia said she dropped her boyfriend off in Kentucky and was on her way back to St. Louis when she said she had this “knowing thought in her head.” She said she picked up the phone, called him and said, “Hey, I think we should move to Nashville.”

“I had only been in Nashville prior to that for a little over 24 hours,” she said. Marcia said it was a gut instinct thing she just had to go with. “I didn’t know anything about Nashville, I barely knew this guy, but it was just this moment where it just felt right.”

“I WAS VERY ESTABLISHED IN ST. LOUIS, BUT I HAD THIS ITCH FOR A WHILE. I KNEW I WAS NOT SUPPOSED TO STAY THERE.”

Four months later she closed down her shop, leased out her loft in St. Louis and she was in Nashville.

“The romanticism of starting over sounded really cool but reality hit pretty quickly because he was on the road a ton and I was basically by myself,” she said. “It was interesting. [I] went from being very accomplished and embraced by a community to a community that’s friendly, but you have to break through some barriers.”

She said with so much of what she did in St. Louis it was a different territory in Nashville.

“I couldn’t find a job folding t-shirts,” she said. “It was a kick to the teeth and it was hard. I remember thinking in the first six months, almost to a year ‘Did I just make a huge [mistake]?’”

Marcia said she took a pay cut and a huge cut to her ego when she became the general manager of Clothing Exchanged in Hillsboro Village, now closed.

“That was a huge turning point for me because it was a risk. Fiscally, it didn’t make a lot of sense for me, but it was the best decision because I met a ton of people that way and picked up on the culture as a whole,” she said.

Nashville ain’t no St. Louis and Marcia said the culture of the city was something to get used to.

“Believe it or not I used to talk a lot faster,” she joked. “I have slowed down a little bit. I’m very impatient and Nashville has this easiness about it, that thankfully it has rubbed off on me a little bit.”

Marcia said she loved the culture here as soon as she arrived.

She said when she initially came to Nashville, everyone was nice, but it was a prove-yourself environment. Now, so many years later she understands that aspect of wanting to protect what’s good here.

Marcia said in the last few years she’s been embraced so much. She said she’s been lucky enough to have opportunities to work on things that have made a positive impact on the community, whether it’s been Nashville Fashion Week, 12th & Broad, Yelp, or her nonprofit, Tiny But Mighty.

“IF YOU GIVE TO THIS COMMUNITY, TRULY, AUTHENTICALLY AND WITHOUT LOOKING FOR A HANDOUT, THIS COMMUNITY WILL EMBRACE YOU LIKE NONE OTHER. I’VE NEVER SEEN ANYTHING LIKE THAT. THERE IS NOTHING LIKE THE WAY THIS CITY WILL EMBRACE AND HUG YOU.”

12th & Broad

Marcia helped launched Yelp in Nashville in 2010.

She spent four years with the company before she came to a crossroads and decided it was time to move forward.

Marcia made the announcement late last spring and took some time after leaving to travel, read, sleep, eat and be a normal human being.

She said soon after Knight Stivender, the general manager of 12th and Broad, reached out to her.

“We had always heard of and respected each other from afar,” she said. “I loved her because she was so direct. She was like ‘I want you to come work for us.’ I voiced some of my concerns and she was like, ‘Yup, let’s do this.’”

Marcia said Knight made her an offer she couldn’t refuse, and she officially joined the team in September of 2014.

12th & Broad is such a cool concept because here’s an opportunity to work at a startup, even though you’ve got the backbone of a major corporation, and a chance to be interesting, experimental, liberal and do all these things and still have creative freedom,” she said. “Working with Knight, I’ve learned so much.”

Marcia called it a dream job.

“I come from a background of branding and style so I really function as a creative director, editor, custodian, community manager,” she said with a laugh.

Marcia said they’ve had some big wins in the last year, and the Vote Y’all campaign is something they are proud of.

In the months and weeks leading up to the Nashville mayoral election in August, 12th & Broad created a video and photo campaign on social media called Vote Y’all encouraging millennials to get out and vote.

“The biggest thing that I am proud of is as a media brand, we’re not saying ‘our voice is louder than yours’, we’re not saying ‘you’re reading, so this is how it is’. We’re all about being a platform to create a conversation, so that’s why Vote Y’all is so important to us. We’re not telling you who to vote for, we’re just providing you a platform to talk about it and we’re actually challenging voters to get out there and vote.”

FASHION and a NONPROFIT

Marcia had her first Vogue subscription when she was seven.

“The funny thing is my mom already subscribed but I was so ridiculous that I wanted my own subscription with my name on it,” she joked about. “I would get markers and mock-up the pages and make notes.”

She went to Parsons School of Design in New York to become a designer. Three weeks into classes she realized that she was more business minded and factual and not a designer. She said it was difficult coming to that realization as a 17-year-old in a big city.

“I THINK IT’S BEEN THROUGH TRIAL AND ERROR THAT I’VE ENDED UP WHERE I AM.”

Instead of designing, Marcia studied the history of fashion, the business of fashion and merchandising.

She left New York to return to St. Louis because of her father’s health issues. She opened up a high-end women’s boutique on Washington Avenue in the fashion district when she was 26.

Seven years ago, Marcia teamed up with Mike Smith, Connie Richardson, Robert Campbell and Cindy Wall founded Nashville Fashion Week to give a platform for the local fashion community.

“We knew it was emerging, we felt the undertones and we wanted to find a way for voices to be heard and create interest and commerce for our community.”

Marcia said the first year was one of the most traumatic and incredible experiences of her life.

“You care so much,” she said. “It’s called Nashville Fashion Week. There’s a burden on our shoulders to produce something that’s quality and that will make an impact. We did it and we do some pretty interesting things,” she said.

Marcia said despite those raised eyebrows, the reception that first year was amazing.

“We had a Christian Siriano show in a church in East Nashville. Now let’s go back seven years, let’s think about that,” she said. “Things have progressed with our community, but you had an openly homosexual designer coming into an African-American Southern Baptist church. I was the only Yankee in the group, but even back then there were eyebrows raised.”

“I get chills just thinking about it,” she said. Marcia said there was a line a mile long of people waiting to get into the events. “It was cool because you had a kid in a PBR t-shirt next to a woman in pearls.”

Heading into their sixth year, Marcia said she wishes she could lie and say it gets easier every year, but it doesn’t.

“There’s pressure like fashion to be ahead of the trend, to be relevant and to do it well but what’s been great with our project is that it has made an impact,” she said. “Because of our project, it’s created commerce, a platform for creatives like models, designers and photographers. I’m really proud of that and our city.”

All proceeds from Nashville Fashion Week go toward Nashville Fashion Forward Fund.

Two years ago, When Marcia’s Chihuahua named Chico passed away she decided not to mope around about it all day, but to be active and start a cause.

“He opened me up to the concept of loyal and everlasting love,” she said. “Every experience that I’ve had in my life whether positive or negative, he’s been there. I had cancer twice and he’s been there and so when he got congestive heart failure it hit me hard. We fought it for a year and then he passed away,” she said.

Marcia said instead of sitting there and losing her shit, days after he passed away she got a group of her friends to start a non-profit called the Tiny But Mighty Fund.

“He was the one stable thing in my life as an adult,” she said. “I had a pretty rough childhood. I lost my mom when I was eleven, and my father and I had a very tumultuous relationship. I didn’t have a lot of stability on that front so what I did was funnel all of that sadness and trauma into work. I funneled it into being busy, that’s why I’ve done all these things.”

Marcia said she found him at an animal shelter in St. Louis when she was living there.

“I share a lot of things on social media, but I’m very private about my real self, so for me to open up and post something that says, ‘I’m not okay.’ was shocking for a lot of people who have known me for a long time.”

In the inaugural year of the Tiny But Might Fund, Marcia and the others launched a fundraiser for 30 days and were able to raise an astonishing $26,000. Those proceeds were then donated to the Nashville Humane Association. In two years, the fund has raised $35,000.

According to their website, the Tiny But Mighty Fund celebrates the unbreakable bond between dogs and their owners while also raising awareness and much-needed funds to animal welfare and rescue groups.

“He’s made me a better person,” she said. “It was because of my relationship with him that I started doing research on animal welfare and how our decisions affect animals. I decided to become a vegan to honor him and actually worked with PETA for a year.”

Traveling around the world, Marcia worked as a grassroots campaigner after her time at Clothing Exchange in Nashville.

“It was one of the best things I ever did but it was also very difficult and that’s eventually why I left. It was difficult because you know too much,” she said. “With the negative things that were happening, I felt like I carried that weight.”

Now Marcia has Bellini, a rescue from Corpus Christi, and Clementine, a rescued Chihuahua from Murfreesboro.

“Clementine is essentially me as a dog,” she said. “She’s very opinionated, sometimes too yappy, and she’s alpha.”

HEALTH, FUTURE, GROWTH and COMMUNITY

When she was eleven, Marcia’s mother passed away from cancer.

At the age of 21 and again at 26, Marcia has had ovarian cancer.

“You already have that fear factor of that outside experience of watching someone you love pass, but then you go through it yourself,” she said. “When you go through something like that it puts a lot of perspective on how short your time on this Earth can be, so maybe that’s why I try to squeeze so much in.”

“Going through the treatments and chemo and radiation and all of that is horrible,” she said. “You have to kill yourself to make yourself well. The worst was what happens to your mind. Your mind gets very muddy, gray and negative. Anger definitely came out during that time. It was a very scary time. I don’t think about it every day anymore but for a while it was a big part of my life.”

Today, Marcia is cancer-free.

In the near future, Marcia is gearing up to for the third annual Tiny But Mighty fundraiser; she’s co-chairing the Tennessee State Museum’s Sparkle and Twang, co-charing Nashville CARES Red Ribbon Breakfast and chairing the Nashville Humane Association‘s Unleashed event in January for the 5th year in a row. Aside from that, she’s planning for Nashville Fashion Week and producing the January issue of 12th & Broad.

Marcia said it would take a lot for her to leave Nashville.

“I love this city and can’t imagine leaving anytime soon,” she said. “It would take Tom Petty and a big ol’ suitcase of unmarked dollars, only then I might say peace out Nashville.”

“When I think of community, I think of a band of individuals that share a common interest or that are working toward a common good,” she said. “Community is important because it doesn’t mean that everyone is a robot, talks the same or even have the same opinions.”

Marcia said for her when she thinks about being a part of a community she thinks about how she can contribute to making it better and making it something others want to be a part of. She said part of a community is about resources, but there must be a balance.

“If you’re going to take from your community, you better give too,” she said. “I relish in being a backbone for things and for people so when the Tiny But Mighty Fund launched and we raised all that money and I said, ‘I’m not okay.’ that really changed my life. It made me realize that it’s okay to take from your community sometimes. It’s great that you want to give, but you have to take sometimes too.”

She said a community is about texture, different classes, different looks and contrast.

“Contrast is not a bad word. Sometimes it gets a bad connotation, but contrast is a beautiful thing as long as it’s done constructively and respectfully.”

Marcia said the Nashville boom over the last few years is “trippy.”

“I think back just two years ago, and it’s not the same city,” she said.

“There’s a lot of clash about buildings being knocked down and traffic,” she said. “Yes, with growth there’s stress, with progress there’s stress. When you move into a bigger house, you still have the stress of packing all your stuff up and moving and that’s how I feel about Nashville.”

“I’m not happy with everything. There are things that frustrate me,” she listed traffic as becoming noticeably worse over the years. “I’m not going to sit and complain about it and not take steps to try to help in my little way.”

A few weeks ago, she attended a meeting with the Nashville Area Chamber of Commerce and Young Professionals (YP) Nashville about putting a committee together to talk about traffic.

Marcia said to keep it real she hasn’t drunk all the Nashville Kool-Aid, which if was up to her would be spiked with vodka.

“Could there be some better decision made? Sure. Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Are there things that need a lot of attention? Absolutely. For this “little city that could”, we’re headed in the right direction. It’s an energetic time to be here. If you’re anyone who makes to make some type of impact in your career, or a cause or if just want to be heard, this city is an incredible platform for you.”

Marcia also said she’d like to see more equality in our city.

“When I say equality I don’t mean just race, I mean GLBT and women’s rights. I think we’re one of the most progressive Southern cities and while we’re making strides I think there’s more that needs to be done,” she said.

Marcia said as a community we all need to continue to have these thoughtful conversations. It’s great to talk about it until a certain extent, but then it’s like let’s do something about it, she said.

“If we don’t then we’re just whining and no one like whiners, because eventually you’ll stop listening and when people stop listening, you don’t hear your people.”

Thanks for reading Nashville!

Cheers!


Every Thursday at noon Neat Nashville embraces the community by highlighting an individual in a feature article that tells their story and voices their concerns about the city moving forward. It is our hope to inspire good change locally, to be a force of unity, and support the people we all call neighbors.

It starts with community. It starts where you are.