Tell us something about yourself. What is your niche? Why did you start your business?
I started my business when I quit trying to become a social media influencer. After two years of taking pictures in an effort to attract followers and notable brands, I decided that wasn’t the life I wanted to lead. Since the 7th grade, I wanted to become an entrepreneur and working as a freelancer wasn’t what I had in mind. Yet, I knew I was going in the right direction. So my senior year of college I decided I was going to make my own clothes in an effort to be my own boss, get away from fast fashion, and making something of quality that would resonate with the customer on a deeper level than, “I bought this jacket because I liked it”.
As a result, I started the brand with the intention of my clothes to resonate with the customer on a personal level at the same time transporting them back to an earlier time period. I wanted the clothes to be an extension of the person wearing them. And when the customer saw my clothes I wanted them to be reminded of something they would see in the 60s or even the 90s.
What type of products do you sell? How does your manufacturing process look like?
I sell pretty much whatever the customer wants. Everything is custom, so whatever the customer wants I’ll make it for them.
All manufacturing takes place in my mom’s living room believe it or not. When a customer places an order they have two options: either they pick a design I’ve already created or they have the option to create an entirely new design. Once the customer has decided on their piece I will take their measurements and go to the fabric store to pick out the fabric they want. One I have the fabric and anything else the piece requires I will begin making the piece. Each garment typically requires at least 2 fittings to get the fit exactly right.
More recently, some customers have been out of state which means I need to travel to do some measuring and fitting but I don’t consider it a hardship because what I give the customer isn’t a product it’s a service.
What are some challenging aspects of your business? How did you overcome them?
There are a bunch of challenges when it comes to a startup fashion brand. One of the main challenges is the speed of production. In this digital age, it’s hard to find many people who are tailors or seamstresses especially those who are willing to produce custom pieces that require meticulous tailoring. And since I’m currently a sole proprietor it’s hard to produce a large number of custom pieces. As a result of such slow production, it makes it difficult to raise money to mass-produce ready to wear pieces. And because of the pandemic, it’s hard to find work in order to make money. However, I just recently was able to acquire unemployment and a credit card so that should help with production and potentially motivate freelance seamstresses to work for me.
What do you enjoy most about being an entrepreneur? What’s the hardest about it?
Freedom. And not the freedom most people are thinking of. When most people think of the word “entrepreneur” I think they believe it means you can work whenever you want. Yet, working whenever you want isn’t as viable as working when you need to work. And like most entrepreneurs, I have figured out that working when I need to is all the time.
The freedom I’m referring to is the freedom of how I work. I don’t have a boss, there is no time limit on my lunch, I don’t have someone micromanaging my every move, I don’t have to travel a long distance to do my work. Since the 7th grade, I knew I didn’t want to work for anyone. I wanted the freedom to do whatever I wanted when I wanted.
However, the hardest part about being an entrepreneur is consistently finding the motivation to work even when you don’t feel like it. Some days I don’t feel like being an entrepreneur, I don’t feel like being a fashion designer and I don’t feel like being a tailor.Yet, if I only did work when I felt like it then it would never get done. It’s really a mental battle being an entrepreneur because you are the only one responsible for pushing yourself over the mental mount mountain of resistance.
What are some beginner mistakes you made? What advice or words of inspiration would you like to share?
Biting off more than I could chew. Instead of doing something simple like a small bag or a t-shirt I decided to make a denim jacket. It was way too much work for a beginner but I didn’t want anything simple I wanted something that I knew I would be proud of and that grabbed people’s attention.Even though, it was a mistake if I could do it all over again I wouldn’t change a thing. I think if you’re starting out the best thing you can do is take risks. A lot of my friends want to start businesses but they say they need to write down goals, plan things out, get a business license, create a logo, create a name, etc. The longer you wait the more likely it is that you will never get started. If you’re thinking about making clothes or starting any kind of business doesn’t spend too much time planning. Instead, jump into it headfirst and figure the thing out the rest along the way.Keep these two quotes from LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman in mind; “If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product, you’ve launched too late”, “An entrepreneur is someone who jumps off a cliff and builds a plane on the way down”.
What inspires you while designing and/or creating new products.
Pretty much anything vintage. When I’m walking in Philly I love passing vintage cars. Whenever I see one I’ll take a picture for later use. I also like to grab inspiration from past time periods in the form of artwork, buildings or objects.
How did you get the background and skills necessary to run this type of business?
My mom.She taught me how to thread a sewing machine, put the fabric through the machine, and how to use the presser foot. She explained to me how to read pattern pieces, cut out fabric, and put the pieces together. My mom got me started and I would come to her for help constantly for about the first month but after that, it was all me from there. I would say I learned the most from consistent practice. I sew every day.
What are some of the most effective ways in terms of marketing products to your customers?
Establishing a personal brand. Before I started making clothes I was established myself as a men’s style influencer on Instagram. For two years I had been taking pictures and writing blog posts about style and fashion. So by the time I released my clothing line I had built trust with my friends and followers. People trusted my sense of style and fashion because of my content and so it made it easier to sell.At the same time, it also helps to be a walking billboard for my own products. I have learned that most people are fascinated with the way I dress. They appreciate the way I put my clothes together and will often ask where I buy my clothes. And since I have made a few pieces for myself I’ll just say, “I made this”.
What would you say are the key elements for starting and running a successful online business?
There are so many elements to running a successful business and they all aren’t through virtual means. Posting jaw dropping content, posting to social media consistently, and running ads are a sure way to starting a successfil ecommerce business.But at the same time, the stuff that happens away off the internet helps just as much. For me, I found that building relationships with customers outside of the internet have helped me generate online sales.
How do you personally define business success? Is it money? Freedom? Influence? Creative expression and innovation? Something else?
For business success is the ability to make money doing the thing I love while climbing up the fashion ladder. A couple of years ago I might’ve just said making a bunch of money but I realized that if I don’t love what I’m doing it doesn’t matter how much money I make. On the same note, I wouldn’t do something that I loved without figuring out how I could get paid to do it. I have to survive like everyone else. Simply doing something out of love doesn’t pay the bills.Also, I love to compete. At some point, I want to have one of the best brands and be known as one of the top designers.
Describe your day-to-day operation. How do you manage your time?
Pretty much from then time I wake up till I go to sleep I’m either sewing, coming up with designs, or thinking of ideas for my business. The only time I take a break is to eat or workout. In the morning I sew til about 2, eat lunch sew till about 7 then eat dinner. After that I might sew till I go to bed but lately, I’ve gotten in the habit of jumping on my laptop fixing up my website, drawing designs, researching other companies, etc. Pretty much anything that could help my business besides the manual labor.
How do you plan on growing your business? What is the biggest impact on your profitability?
Right now I’m looking for other seamstresses and tailors. The more products I can push out the more money I can make. For me the issue isn’t attracting customers for my custom pieces it’s the speed of production. I actually have enough customers to last me till 2021 but that’s a lot for one person. The more products I can push out the more money I can make.
On the other hand, selling my creations at mass is going to be a challenge. On Etsy, a few pieces have garnered some attention but the next step is turning those interested individuals into paying customers.