I’m the consummate observer. I feel most comfortable sitting in the corner with a good book and in a position with walls on either side. From this vantage point, people can’t really get a good view of me, and there’s only one angle that I need concern myself with—right in front of me.
Over the twenty years of working in the fashion industry, this position has allowed me to watch everyone around me and choose my friends wisely, and one of the wisest decisions I ever made was Misha Sturns. I knew from day one that this dynamo was going to be a lifelong friend.
I saw her nearly every week, and every time I saw her, she was rocking a different hairstyle. She had such a strong sense of self. What I loved most was that she wasn’t beholden to the industry. She took her job seriously, but she took herself even more seriously. She knew her worth then, as she knows her worth today. She is a woman who cannot be put into a single category. She’s as smart as she is funny. She’s as caring as she is daring. She’s as business savvy as she is creative. Misha strives for the best and is fully capable of tackling anything that comes her way.
There isn’t one thing that she can’t accomplish, and I only feel like this is the beginning. There are so many years to come, and I cannot wait to see what this multifaceted woman comes up with. With that, I invite you to read Courtney’s interview with our August Woman of the Month—Misha Sturns.
MB: Let’s start off with where you were born and raised.
MS: I was born in Lawrence, Kansas, at the University of Kansas, where my dad was in law school and my mother was getting her master’s. I was born there, and I was raised in Fort Worth.
MB: You’ve been in Texas for a while?
MS: My whole life practically, except for college.
MB: What about your family growing up?
MS: I have a younger sister, and then I have a stepbrother and a stepsister. They’re older. We were raised apart. I was raised with my full sister, and then my father remarried when I was in college.
MB: You and your full sister are pretty close?
MS: Very close. We were born two years and three days apart so, we’re like one in the same. But for some reason, when I was younger, that two years felt like it was twenty. You know what I mean? My little sister, she would follow me everywhere. She cramped my style. We had older cousins we would go visit every year in Kansas City, and I just didn’t want her to be around, you know? Like, seriously.
I remember one time we all walked up to K-Mart, and she’s straggling behind. I was like, “She’s in my way,” so I made sure we ran and left her. We left her at K-Mart and went back to the house.
My mother and grandmother were like, “Where is Kenya?”
I’m like, “I don’t know. She got lost.”
I don’t know how many hours had passed. They were ticked at us. They were so upset. I just didn’t want her to be around anymore. About three or four hours later, here she comes. She’s in a police squad car. I guess they found her because she was lost. She’s in the back of the car just eating all this candy and bubble gum. Of course, she ratted on me and didn’t share the candy.
I know that’s bad, but we talk about this all the time. Every time we go back to Kansas City, that K-Mart is still there, so she always references it… “Remember when you left me at K-Mart?”
MB: Are there any hard feelings left?
MS: Oh, yeah. She still remembers every bit of it.
MB: My sister is about two years younger than me, and yup that sounds about right. When you were young did you have any hobbies or interests? What sort of things were you into as a kid?
MS: This is really pathetic to say but I am going to a concert of my favorite boy band of all time, New Edition. The current spinoff is Bell Biv DeVoe. I saw this group literally three weeks ago in Dallas. You’d think I had enough of them but now I’m going to see them again. I’ve been a fan since like ’83 or ’84. Whenever New Edition came out, I’ve been a fan since then. I would clip all the magazine articles with them in it, and tape them to my wall. I attended as many concerts as possible.
Yeah, so that was my thing. I wasn’t into sports like most people would imagine just because of my height. Couldn’t stand sports. Couldn’t stand any sport that involved a ball of any sort. I was just a big superfan of this group.
Let me tell you. My level of love for them is really bizarre to most people. They got their Hollywood Walk of Fame star in January, and when I was made aware of the fact that they were getting a star I was like, “I’m going.” My sister and I, we went. We went to Hollywood and watched them get their star. It’s so crazy to be the age I am but to still feel the exact same way that I felt thirty years ago.
MB: I don’t think it’s crazy. I think it’s awesome. Have you ever met them?
MS: In the case of me and this band, there’s been one degree of separation about ten times. Like, one degree. I have a really good friend who’s a cousin. I have another good friend that I went to college with that’s the singer’s business partner. I’m like, “We’re so close!”
MB: How have you not met them yet?
MS: How have I not met them? How? How have I not done that? These guys are almost fifty and they’re rocking out. It’s crazy. Anyway…
MB: I want to make sure I get the full scope of your childhood and what you were into. Not a lot of people have passions that they carry through their whole life so that’s super fascinating. Have you ever tried to make music yourself?
MS: No. I mean, I love music. I love every genre in music. When it comes to me making music, I don’t have the voice for it. My son on the other hand, he’s incredibly talented and I don’t know where he got it from. When it comes to music he’s very musically inclined. He writes, composes, and sings incredibly well, beautifully.
MB: Do you consider yourself a creative person?
MS: I do. As a child, I was always very creative, very much so in the arts and whatnot, and then I also had a strong attitude of “if you want to do something just do it.” Just be bold in that sense. I wish I would have continued to cultivate that instead of allowing my parents to be so influential. They really persuaded me to go down a different path, like a more conservative, a more stable path versus a path that allowed me to pursue my true passions. I’ll give you an example. When I was in college my initial major was radio, television, and film. Then, through my own little research I realized that, man, you have to really be in a top market in order to make any money in that profession.
I realized it was going to be hard, so I changed my major to public relations. Even that was equally as competitive. Gosh, when I got out of college, there were no jobs and anything in my industry the base salary was in the low twenties.
While I was there, I started dabbling in modeling a little bit. I just started doing little fashion shows with the school and got involved in all that. I really, really liked it. When I came back to Dallas and a modeling scout came up to me, I wanted to pursue that because I felt like it was a limited-time opportunity. I thought, why not take advantage of it now since I can!
MB: Makes sense.
MS: My family so did not support that. My dad was like, “I didn’t pay all this money for you to go to college so you could then do something that requires less than a high-school diploma.” He was super-duper non-supportive. I started pursuing law. I started thinking I wanted to go into law because my dad’s a judge and I was trying to follow in his footsteps. That really messed with my head because I was torn between what I felt like I should do—take advantage of the modeling opportunity—and what I needed to do, which was really try to make my parents proud of me.
MB: How did you ultimately decide to follow your gut?
MS: Around this time, my health suddenly got really bad. I had appendicitis and didn’t realize it. It ruptured when I was preparing for the LSAT. Looking back, I feel like that was God’s way of showing me that perhaps pursuing the LSAT was not for my benefit. It was to benefit and please my family. Once I came through the appendicitis and was healthy again, I tried the modeling thing out. I did that. Funny enough, I was able to make my father proud because he saw the work that I put into it, but also I got to be pretty successful at it.
It was a pivotal moment. When I tell you I was sick, I mean I went for two blood transfusions, my right ovary was removed, part of my colon was removed, and I was in the hospital for two and a half weeks. Basically, between Thanksgiving up until maybe the week before Christmas. It was horrible and I was extremely beat up. I was jaundiced. I had lost a ton of weight. I looked worse than I felt. People who’d see me were just horrified. Again, that was the moment where I said, “I have to live for me because there’s a reason why I lived through this procedure.”
The doctors couldn’t even explain how I was able to still walk because usually people don’t live through a ruptured appendicitis. I lived through the rupture and I didn’t even seek medical attention until ten days later.
MB: How? Just how was that even possible?
MS: I have extremely heavy cycles, like very heavy and I get sick—blackout, faint, bedridden the first day. The symptoms were similar to how it feels when I was going through my first day or two of being on my cycle. I felt miserable. The only difference was I was unable to bend my body. If I were sitting in a car, I wasn’t able to sit without being in excruciating pain. I attributed it to the cramps, and my dad thought I was trying to get out of looking for a job.
I’m like, I feel horrible! But after hearing that so much from him, I felt like maybe there was some truth to it. I thought it could be just a really bad cramp. Or maybe it was a combination of stress and the cramps. When I went to the doctor, my ob-gyn did a sonogram, and he was like, “I don’t know what all is going on over here, lady. We’re going to have to have a laparoscopic emergency surgery on Wednesday.”
This is on the Monday. In doing so, that’s when he saw what he saw. I was under but not completely under. I’m sure I was under, but I could hear things. I could hear the discussion that he was having with a team of medical professionals. He said, “I don’t know how this girl managed. She’s one tough cookie.” They’re like, “Her tolerance for pain is just through the Richter scale, which is good and bad.” Had I done something a lot sooner, I probably wouldn’t have had to have all those procedures.
MB: You didn’t even know how tough you were.
MS: I didn’t know, and the other thing that’s kind of unique about the story…I was maybe twenty-two when it happened. Just living my life, carefree, very excited about the next course of what my life was going to entail, but the doctor told me the likelihood of me having children would be slim to none.
He said, “We just don’t know. You don’t need two ovaries to have a baby, but you had a lot of infection.” Most people would be devastated by that. I was like, “Okay. I can have fun with no consequences. Hello!” I was just like, yippee! This is the life.
Years down the road, when I got married and found out I was pregnant, I was in complete and utter denial because I was thinking there’s no fricking way after what I went through. Being told that I couldn’t have children and all of a sudden being told that I’m pregnant I just was like, “No. This can’t be possible.”
MB: You’re like, I counted that out a long time ago.
MS: A long time ago. It took him putting me on a sonogram and showing me what the heartbeat looked like before I would believe it.
MB: Wait. How far along were you?
MS: Girl, I was beyond my first trimester. That’s almost foolish of me, but I was in such denial.
MB: How long was it between when you had appendicitis to when you got pregnant?
MS: Eleven years. Let me tell you something, I was like “Oh hell yes!” I’m not a loose person, but I felt like I had zero consequences if I wanted to have fun and not worry about that level of responsibility. Keep in mind I never considered myself to be a modest type of person anyway. But I was like, “Perfect. I hate that I had to go through that, but now I can just have fun.”
MB: I love that positive attitude.
MB: Going back in your time line a bit…you started modeling around the age of twenty-two?
MS: Yes. I did a little in college. I wasn’t with an agency. I was just modeling for fun. It wasn’t until ’94 that I got scouted and then started professionally.
MB: How did your modeling career progress? What was your career trajectory?
MS: I started with the Campbell Agency, and that was fun. That was good. I only stayed about three months with them because they didn’t have a runway division. That was truly my niche—runway.
When I left there, I went to Page Parks. Page Parks was actually a great agency for me. That’s where I was able to travel a bit more. I went to different markets. I never went overseas, but I had a New York agency, Chicago, LA, and San Francisco in addition to Dallas. I got to do a lot more traveling just here in the States. They had an opportunity in South Africa, but there was a lot of civil unrest during that time and the agency was concerned about safety, so I never went. It was good up until I had my son and body parts started shifting, at least for me they did.
It’s funny because growing up, I can’t tell you how many shakes I would drink and how many layers of clothes I would put on underneath my jeans to make myself look fuller. I wanted to look curvy. I wanted to be bigger. If only I could just turn the hands of time because that metabolism is no joke. When you hit a certain age, I don’t care what you do, how much running, how much boot camp, how many crunches, how well you eat, it has a mind of its own.
MB: Are you still modeling now?
MS: Well, my goal—it’s kind of a silly goal but it’s something I just want to do for myself—is to get myself down to a certain weight so I can do one more fashion show. Just to say, “Hey, I can do it still!” But I got a long way to go, girl. It ain’t happening this year unless I stop eating altogether.
MB: Well, you can’t do that.
MS: You can’t do that. I’m not having it. I love food too much and I’ve got to live. That’s another passion of mine. My son, my boyfriend, and I have this weekly tradition. We believe in the sanctity of eating as a unit on Sundays. Usually every Sunday, sometimes on some Saturdays, but every Sunday we get together and we have brunch without any social media. Can’t be interrupted by social media during Sunday brunch. That’s our time to sit down together, convene, have good dialogue, enjoy each other’s company over good food and cocktails. For Myles it’s lemonade.
MB: That sounds beautiful. How old is your son now?
MS: He’s twelve, going into the 7th grade.
MB: About to be a teenager.
MS: Please don’t remind me. He’s exhibiting all signs of a tween.
MB: You’ve got a little bit of time left.
MS: I’m holding on to it. I’m trying to savor every single morsel of the day with him.
MB: And you were with Page Parks up until you had your son, correct?
MS: Actually, I was with Page Parks for maybe three years because again they didn’t have a very strong runway division. They helped me out with everything else print wise, and just being placed with other agencies, but I had been trying to get with Kim Dawson for a while. They just kept on shooting me down. In 2000, which was four years before I gave birth to my son, they finally did sign me. That was amazing because those were the days. Oh my gosh, I was working two or three jobs a day. And working for Neiman’s all the time. It was Neiman’s, Neiman’s, Neiman’s. All the little trunk shows. That really allowed me to develop my gift of gab, having that confidence to go up to people and talk about what I’m wearing. I totally loved doing that. Loved it, loved it, loved it.
Then September 11th happened and business went all the way down. It was tough because people weren’t spending money the same on clothing and other little things like that back then. They had to change their habits, so work really dwindled. I had been working for Michael Johnson, who’s a gold medalist and a record holder in the 200 meter and 400 meter.
MB: What? No way!
MS: You know who that is?
MB: Yes! I remember watching him run in the Olympics when I was pretty young. His gold shoes!
MS: Exactly, so I worked for him for three years. That was so much fun because I got to meet all the elite athletes at that time. Like I met Serena and Venus Williams before they were truly at the top of their game.
But after September 11th, I had to figure out what I wanted to do. I couldn’t go back to that gig, working with him. I’d never had a real job. I did a lot of odds and ends stuff while I was modeling, and I remember one of my girlfriends saying to me, “You should get into pharmaceutical sales.”
I was like, “Oh my gosh, no. I do not know a thing about science, and that’s quite intimidating to me. There’s no way I could do that.”
She said, “No, no, no, they teach you everything. They teach you the product. They teach you all that stuff so you don’t have to worry about it.”
She pointed me to an organization, and I did their eight-week training course. It was amazing. It truly helped me learn terminology so that when I did have that face-to-face interview with a hiring manager in the pharmaceutical field, I would know what the heck I was talking about even though I had zero experience. One of the first questions they asked was to tell them about my sales experience.
I didn’t have any direct sales experience, but I painted a picture and told my story as a model working in Neiman Marcus, because in essence that’s what we were doing.
MB: I can see that. It’s a fancy way of displaying the product, but you’re still selling it.
MS: Honey, don’t you know. I painted that picture, and I told that story, and I was sharing with the interviewer. I told him there was one instance when I was working at Neiman’s. I was talking to a customer and just going around showing. She was pretty affluent. I’d seen her at all the trunk shows. I was talking to her about the line, the fabric, all the details. After talking with me, this woman decided she liked the entire line and dropped $50,000 on it. Just like that. During my interview, I shared with the hiring manager what I was able to do. How I was able to identify this customer and share with her what was important to her. What it translated to was a huge sale. I think he saw that skillset as being one that was transferrable and relatable to that of direct pharmaceutical sales and he gave me a chance. I started my career off at Merck and spent nine years of my professional pharmaceutical career there.
After a phenomenal start in pharmaceutical sales, Misha was met with unforeseen challenges. Find out how she handled these challenges with grace and determination in Part II of our interview next week!