Building Your Brand, One Night at a Time

JUNE 4, 2012

One night a week. That’s how it started. Wednesday nights there would be no spin class, no errands, no happy hour, no dinner dates. Wednesdays, I decided would be the nights I worked on my accessory line. I had always wanted to start it. In design school, I was always left with excess fabric from projects and a desire to procrastinate doing my actual school projects. If I was doing something with all of my school materials, it wasn’t really a waste of time, I told myself.

Through the years while procrastinating, I made a few belts and headbands here and there. I always wished it could be more, but I just didn’t have the time. I had been in New York a year and a half and there was always something else to do.  A friend who worked in publishing who had an extra invite to a book party, a new restaurant I wanted to try, or a great concert I wanted to see. How was I supposed to find the time to have a side business with a full time job?  Then there came a point when I realized if I didn’t start something soon, I’d be an ex-designer with too much fabric to fit in my very small NYC closet. So I decided, Wednesday. No excuses. I was not accepting invitations or making plans. Wednesday nights, I would sew, glue, solder, design, and think about ways to grow my business.

It’s two years later and the growth has been slow but steady. I’m currently in three stores with my own online shop. I’ve been featured in magazines and on fashion blogs and even made it onto a small runway show during fashion week. One night a week has gradually evolved into at least one hour (usually more) a night. I’ve learned a ton and still have more to learn.

There are a few aspects of design and branding in which I feel I’ve really succeeded. And on the flipside, there are a few areas where I wish I had done better

 

Things I did right:

-OUTSOURCE TO YOUR EXPERTS. I seriously cannot stress this enough. If you execute something well but someone else can do it wonderfully (at a decent cost), use them. Don’t think about the extra money too much. The better your product is made, the better it will sell at a higher price point.

-TAKE EVERY OPPORTUNITY. If you hear about an emerging designers meeting or a lecture on manufacturing in the city or starting your own business, GO. You never know who you are going to meet and when starting a business, it’s good to get as much information as you can get to determine the best strategy for your brand.

-GET PEOPLE INVOLVED. Your family, friends, and collgues will want to be involved in the project; LET THEM. I’m lucky to have a great amount of incredibly talented peers that have been a vital part of the project. Chances are you’re not the only one of your friends who’s trying to turn a creative outlet into more. Let your photography-obsessed friend shoot a lookbook for you. Have your friend who works in PR help you write your press release. Have one of your many search engine savvy friends help you with your search terms. This will not only help you develop your business, but it will get people excited about your brand. And it’s just more fun with friends!

-DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. You still have to work every day, you still want to have a social life. You still want to sleep (well, as much as you can). You are not going to wake up tomorrow and be Tory Burch. One of the best pieces of advice I every heard was at a lecture when someone said that it took Diane Von Furstenberg 30 years to become an overnight success.  Do as a much as you can in the time that you have. Freaking out over every detail will not help your brand or your sanity.

 

Things I did wrong:

-RECORD KEEPING IS SO INCREDIBLY IMPORTANT. As soon as you have an EIN number, open a small business account (mine is Bank of America and I love it). Keep the money separate, and always record as you go along. In the beginning, I tried to do all of my accounting quarterly and it was a nightmare. Record sales as they happen, track all of your expenses weekly and you will have a much easier time.

-BE POLITELY PERSISTENT. I used to get very easily intimidated when a buyer wasn’t immediately interested. You have to keep in mind that buyers and editors receive hundreds of emails per day. Don’t get discouraged if someone doesn’t want to buy or feature your brand immediately. Keep calling and keep sending look-books each season. I used to get incredibly discouraged if I didn’t get an immediate yes.  It’s hard not to take things personally, but remember: it’s business. People have a lot on their plate. Keep calling.  It’s not like dating, no one is going to think you’re crazy if you call or email too much.

-BE PREPARED WITH AVAILABLE MERCHANDISE. Always have an extra set of product in case a stylist wants to shoot it or a boutique wants to see it. The last thing you want to be doing when you have an important meeting is scrambling to make product.

In short, don’t obsess about your brand’s shortcomings. Take calculated risks. Stand behind your brand and believe in your product. Most of all enjoy every step and be proud to build something that is solely yours.

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