Be a Mentor: Fashioning Futures for Up-and-Coming Creatives

3 min read · 7 years ago


Many nascent designers would give the shirts off their backs for a break in the creative world.

That’s what I did – literally. 

In 1997, before my eponymous design and clothing labels came to be, I had zero intention of starting a brand or a business. I just enjoyed being creative and expressing my ideas by printing them onto cotton T-shirts. When I walked into a boutique in New York’s SoHo wearing a hand-printed shirt I’d designed earlier that week, it caught the eye of the store manager. He placed an order on the spot for 12 T-shirts.

With my door officially open for business, I successfully turned my one-man T-shirt operation into a full menswear collection and later branched off into a full-service design firm, Staple Design Studio. In 2002, I opened my retail store/art gallery, Reed Space.

Since then, I’ve been fortunate to design work for Burton Snowboards, Converse, Gap, Levi’s, Nike, Uniqlo and more. But my successes are due, in part, to the mentors who encouraged me early in my career.

If it weren’t for my high school art teacher, Michael Reed, I honestly don’t know where I’d be today. He didn’t just teach me about art – he taught me about potential. He gave me a chance when other teachers did not. He made me understand that I had a voice that deserved to be heard.

Michael Reed passed away the year I was in his class, and it effected me tremendously. Reed Space lives on in his honor.

Today, schools are cutting art, sports and music programs in an effort to save money, and the ramifications are frightening. I’ve made it my mission to mentor young people and help them understand what Michael Reed taught me. I’m working to pay it forward to the next generation, most recently through my participation in Rémy Martin’s Circle of Centaurs initiative.

Here, tips for mentoring the next wave of innovators, creatives and entrepreneurs. You just may alter the course of someone’s life. 

Related: Maximizing the Potential of a Creative Mind

1. Spot the diamond in the rough

Being a good mentor calls for knowing the difference between a “diamond" – someone who could use some polishing but has the potential to be the next great talent – and wasting time with a “rough.”

Fine-tuning the ability to do that is key, and knowing when to walk away from someone who doesn’t want to live up to his or her potential and take advice is important.

2. Patience – lots and lots of it

Mentors need to balance patience with smarts, or else patience will run out. Realize that mentees aren’t going to get it right overnight – it takes time. But you can help shorten that learning period by reminding the mentees of the insights they’ve gained from their mistakes.

3. Allow them to make mistakes

Sometimes mentors put themselves in the position where they don’t allow their mentees to make a mistake. But sometimes the most effective way to learn is through an error. You can tell them over and over again not to touch the teakettle, but they won’t believe you until they feel the pain for themselves. 

Related: Is Your Advisor a Critic Posing as a Mentor?

4. Allow them to shine, even beyond yourself

Sometimes mentors are angered when they see their mentee reach a level beyond where they’ve gotten themselves. Mentors should want their mentees to succeed and rise as far as they can – or else they’ve failed as mentors.

5. Never ask for anything in return

If mentors enter the relationship looking for a check, equity, payback – even a pat on the back – they’ll be disappointed. That’s not why you should be there. If a mentee has climbed to a certain level and then walks away without a “thank you,” there’s something wrong. It reflects a shortcoming on the part of the mentor.  

Related: The One Thing That Prevents You From Falling Flat on Your Face

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