From JC to NY to LA, saying yes and following instincts leads to a star-studded career.
by Jennifer Bondurant
On her 16th birthday, Laura Farris landed her first job – working at Little Caesar’s in Jefferson City. Tossing pizza dough might not seem like it would lead to a career in Hollywood fashion, but she says that first job taught her valuable lessons she still carries with her today.
“I was so excited and ready to make my own money,” she says. “I worked with two of my good friends, and we had a blast. It was an amazing learning experience about hard work, making my own money, and taking pride in what you do.”
Today, this 1995 Jefferson City High School grad has consulted on shows and covered the fashions in shows such as “Pretty Little Liars,” “Young and Hungry,” and “Jane by Design.” Her past and present clients include celebrities such as Lucy Hale, Troian Bellasario, Emily Osment, Denise Richards, and Sutton Foster. Now Laura Farris Schuffman, she lives in Los Angeles with her husband, Noah (a Rock Bridge High School graduate she met while they were both attending MU), and their two children, a 6-year-old son, Rhys, and a 2-year-old daughter, Isla.
Ask her how she arrived at her current career from that first job at Little Caesar’s and Schuffman says she doesn’t have a good answer. “I think I am really good at saying yes to opportunities,” she says.
The daughter of James and Suzie Farris, Schuffman was more into sports than fashion when she was growing up.
“I started gymnastics when I was in kindergarten and never looked back,” Schuffman says. “I loved competing and being on teams, and I learned just as much from losing as I did winning.”
Through athletics, Schuffman learned how to be persistent, and she saw rewards from what she invested in.
“I learned the power of my own efforts. Sports taught me that I was in control of my successes and failures to a certain degree, and I have used that lesson throughout my adult life.”
Schuffman recalls memorable teachers and family who supported and encouraged her during her early years in Jefferson City. At Moreau Heights Elementary, Jim Foster was her physical education teacher and one of her first influences.
“What I remember is a feeling of total support,” she says about Foster. “Not just in class but in life. He believed in me, and it made me want to do great things.”
When she reached JCHS, she says her English teacher David Lineberry was “a game changer.”
“He made all of the kids in class believe that there was life after high school,” says Schuffman. “He helped me imagine what life could be like if I did not place any restrictions on myself.”
Schuffman also credits her dad as a huge influence on her life. A teacher at JCHS, she says she never saw him through the lens of a student.
“To me, he was always just my dad. He never missed a game, a performance, or a meet. In hindsight, my dad’s teaching ability influenced me the most,” she says.
Schuffman describes her teenage years as good but frustrating. She says she had no idea what she wanted to do or who she wanted to be.
“I wanted to grow up, move out, and become an adult,” she says. “I had periods in my teenage years of feeling depressed and trapped and angry that those things were not happening fast enough. I wanted to live, move, travel, and experience all the things I saw in movies, in magazines, and on television.”
Fast forward through four years at MU, where she majored in secondary education, and Schuffman acted on her desire for a different life by leaving mid-Missouri for New York.
There, she discovered that one of her best qualities is that she doesn’t take no for answer.
“When I moved to New York, I had no job and no place to live,” she says. “My best friend (Jennifer Johnston) and I just packed up and took a chance. When we got there, we had to truly make our way.”
She took any job that would have her.
“We were not qualified or experienced in anything, but that did not matter to us. We knew if we could just get the chance, we would make the most of it. And we did.”
After four years in New York, the pair moved to the West Coast. In California, Schuffman found a career that many young women might dream of – working with supermodels and actresses and on television sets.
She says her success working in the entertainment industry has more to do with her people skills than her fashion sense. Her first job in California, serving as an assistant to a senior talent agent, led her to meet Estée Lauder spokesperson and supermodel Carolyn Murphy. Thanks to a good rapport with Murphy, she worked with her for four years as a personal assistant, organizing Murphy’s schedule, serving as a liaison for her, styling her wardrobe, and shopping.
“Being a really good assistant was important,” Schuffman says. “I took that role very seriously.”
She says many interns and young people that approach her for advice misjudge the time it takes to become successful. Schuffman worked her way up serving as a personal assistant for four years. In doing so, she proved her loyalty and dependability.
“I work really hard at whatever my job has to be,” she says.
Today, Schuffman juggles motherhood with an erratic schedule. She works with Freeform (previously ABC Family), serving as a style consultant and network “stylista,” but she doesn’t work 8 to 5. She says she often doesn’t know when she’ll work next, not working for six weeks and then getting a call. Sometimes she’ll work 10 hour days or for 10 days straight.
When she is working, she might be pulling clothes from a showroom or going through boxes of 500 pieces of clothing for a TV show. Or she might be meeting with a client, then spending the day shopping.
“It’s a mix of corporate and creative,” Schuffman says. “It’s not glamorous.”
Life is different for her now with two small children, and she strives to be a “very present parent” living up to the example set by her own working parents.
“The juggle of life is a little harder with kids,” she says about the non-traditional hours and fluid schedule. “There are extreme highs and lows, really great moments and moments when I think I will never work again.”
Her love for the people she works with and the final products of her work fuels her.
“Seeing (a client) on the red carpet, seeing it all come together, makes all the stress worth it,” she says.
Schuffman says she is often approached by others who want to do what she does.
“I encourage them to follow their gut in terms of traveling and saying yes, even in moments when it doesn’t make sense to say yes,” she says. “I’m a big believer in following an organic path.”
She adds that she feels incredibly lucky. “My career was never planned or something I dreamed,” she says. “It happened over time and happened because I was open to opportunities. I worked really hard and put a lot of focus on being someone that people wanted to employ.”
Jefferson City High School
Parents, James and Suzie Farris
Husband, Noah Schuffman
Children, Rhys and Isla