Elizabeth Ackerman '91

Elizabeth Ackerman '91

Elizabeth Ackerman '91

Elizabeth Ackerman '91

Sixteen years after leaving her job as a fashion editor in NYC to raise her three sons, Elizabeth Jefferson Ackerman '91 entered the world of fashion design. A chance encounter at a trade show in Atlanta led to meeting her business partner, and the two joined forces in 2018 to create Olivia James The Label, named after their two oldest children. The contemporary women’s clothing line is currently being sold in over 250 boutiques across the United States and online at oliviajamesthelabel.com.

Tell us a little about your career.

Fashion has been a lifelong passion of mine, and after an internship with YM magazine in New York the summer after my sophomore year I knew that I wanted to pursue a career as a fashion editor. I also worked with a designer in London during a semester abroad internship program my junior year. After graduation, I moved to NYC, took a job as a receptionist at Adrienne Vittadini and worked as an assistant stylist before landing a job as fashion editor for Woman’s Day magazine. I stopped working to raise my three sons, James (22), Peter (20) and Cooper (17) and really did not give much thought to a second career until being asked to chair our school’s apparel committee and falling in love with product design and manufacturing. I decided to go for it, and with the help of friends, interns from FIT, online research, and a lot of trial and error, started a small clothing label that I sold for several years before Olivia James.

I spend most of my time working on print design and product development for Olivia James. We design five collections a year, each with approximately 80 pieces in 18 different prints, so we are constantly working on new ideas. The computer has become my canvas, and being able to play with color combinations in photoshop and collaborate with textile designers is by far my favorite aspect of my job. It’s always exciting trying on samples when they arrive from the factory to confirm fit and then seeing them styled on professional models on photo shoots. My husband and biggest fan, photographer Jay Ackerman, does all of our photography, and I love being able to collaborate with him on location scouting and photo editing.

I thought I had fulfilled my dreams working as a fashion editor in the 90’s, but sometimes dreams you didn’t even know you had come true. Beyond the success of Olivia James The Label is the joy that comes from being my own boss, giving careers to the talented young women who work for us and spending my days doing what I love.

What was your Dickinson experience like? How did Dickinson help prepare you for where you are today?

I was a studio art major at Dickinson with a minor in French. Even though I knew that I wanted to go into fashion, pursuing a liberal-arts degree and having the opportunity to study a variety of subjects has definitely shaped me as a person. I especially loved courses in American studies, psychology and European film. I was battling anxiety when I went to college, and the confidence I developed during my four years at Dickinson combined with the communication, writing and creative thinking skills I gained definitely set me up for a successful career path.

What are your favorite memories from your time at Dickinson?

As a member of Pi Phi sorority, I especially enjoyed writing skits and making props and costumes. I was a member of the Dance Theatre Group and also loved supporting friends who performed in musical theatre productions. Some of my favorite Dickinson memories involve theme parties. This was pre-Amazon of course, so there were trips home to raid my mom’s vintage clothing as well as to the mall and local thrift shops in Carlisle. I remember a sibling's weekend senior year trying to pull together a '70s outfit for my 16-year-old brother and a roommate’s sister.

Coffee and donuts, dancing late night at the Plunkett and just hanging out with my close group of Dickinson friends remain among my fondest memories. We always managed to find humor in any situation on campus and are still laughing thirty plus years later.



Published March 2, 2023