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launching a fashion business and taking the plunge

starting a fashion brand


I can't take it anymore. I had to respond to this exceptionally transparent and much needed post about how to create a fashion business startup when you're not loaded, connected, or even the most talented the world's ever seen. By now you may be thinking, "who does this girl think she is?" Does she have a degree? A mass produced line I can find at Barney's or Bloomis? Collections at Fashion Week? Anything?" And although my answers to all those questions are....well...not really, I do have something much more valuable - passion, a willingness to help, and life experience. You see, life experience is that little tool they can't provide in school, and the friend you will hear about time and again from already established brands like Kate Spade or Alex Wang, heck, even Vera Wang. There just isn't one school or one business course that will work for everybody, because courses like that take into account that you already meet the following criteria: trained under professional names in the industry, are of an adequate age to start a brand (which again, is irrelevant because what they really mean is that you have acquired enough life experience, not birthday candles) and posses the tens of thousands of dollars needed for launching a fashion line. Now can you check off each of those requirements at this moment in your life? Didn't think so. But that's why you are still reading, because like myself, you genuinely believe your talent to create beautiful quality products and designs surpass the fact that you are still only earning $12 an hour at a retail joint, may still be in high school, or even that mom and dad would prefer you were a veterinarian not a designer.

If that's the case sugar buns, then this 12-step program to launching a fashion brand, or design business, or online shop selling you wares is for you. You've got questions (that you may have been afraid to ask, or did ask and got very vague secrecy in return) and I've got the answers. I will do this series in 12 segments, one for each week it takes me to launch my very first designer label of homewares and loungeware. I am an impatient extremist when it comes to deadlines for myself. I launched Pick Me Meal Club in one weekend. Literally. I was just so frustrated with the lack of vegetarian inspiration outside of blogs and wanted a solution fast, which then became a side biz. I launched Coterie in a prestigious incubator program that lasted only a few months. The Fashion CEO series on this blog was supposed to be about that, but I realized getting millions of dollars to create a fashion app was not what I wanted. I wanted my own designer fashion brand, as I have since I was 17, I just was too scared to face that truth. Oh and the life of a fashion CEO gets downright cray cray. During my inevitable hiatus, do check out Fashion Incubator or follow real time behind the scenes over on my instagram.

Try as I might, keeping a journal or diary during my pantyhose-wearing, boy-crazy, uniform-aged years was uncontrollably difficult. I seemed to have lacked the discipline to do the exact thing I was born to do: write. My body seems to have a repulsive chemical reaction to anything even closely related to deadlines or structure or authority, all of which are fundamental basics to being a writer. Then when blogging exploded like a Hawaiian volcano, I consumed the life out of it, of course continuing to fail perpetually at consistent writing for what would be the next six years. But it was the chance to be a part of the blogging community, or any community, without much effort in the form of traveling and money that struck me. Having been an entrepreneur since high school, any women in business can attest to the loneliness and involuntary autonomy that eats at you like an infectious disease. So please bare with me as I try to really reinvent myself as a disciplined scheduled writer going forward with both blogging and designing this mega brand. I'll encounter an insurmountable crcokpot of questions that you or I wish there would have been answers to a long time ago, so as they come up I will try to share the journey on how to overcome these classic obstacles that deter many of us of finally taking the plunge and going all in. In fact, if you have any now then you know what to do. In the comments...


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Part 1: why it took me 9 years to launch my fashion business


Well, holy hell. Creating a fashion label from scratch is expensive. Duh. And since I lack white privilege, a good-on-paper marriage to an "older" man, or exceptionally well endowed parents, it's been quite a hiccup for the perfectionist in me to settle for just an average fashion brand, while my role models Diane Von Furstenberg and Stella McCartney torture me with their business acumen flawlessness. I mean seriously, how does an average Asian New Yorker go from a skinny streetwalker to Alex Wang, seemingly, overnight? We all know its not overnight, but some people sure do make it seem damn easy. Either you have the 100k in your pocket or you get a sugar daddy. In the industry they call them venture capitalists. You heard of 'em. They're the ones loaning $1.7 million to Janes and Sues and Sharons, all day, everyday, but never you. So if you need a short and sweet reason, that was it. Plain and simple. Money talk can be discouraging to even the most prodigal of them all. But what else fought me for almost a decade?



the business side


Business is either in your veins or its not. I have a post I'm really proud of coming up that touches on mental health and running a business, but for now I can say that after all this time I definitely can tell the difference between a designer that should design for an established house versus someone who can juggle the insane intricacies that is running their own label. Is that you? Whether you're doing jewelry or handmade organic skincare or fabric pouches to sell at holiday markets, know the difference before you start. After a certain age I just turned a blind eye to the advice that you should always get hands on experience before launching your own line. All I have under my belt are fashion magazine internships, but it was a seed planted which was more than enough to know I could handle going my own way instead of always working for someone else. You shouldn't let pride and a yearning for notoriety set you off on a dead end. Its stupid. And you're not stupid. Stella McCartney and Karl Lagerfeld and Alber Elbaz aren't stupid either, and they all worked for someone else under the most respected heritage brands out there.

Then the freakin numbers. I swear, its enough to make you prefer rehab over launching a design business. Budget, budget, budget. If you don't like numbers and lack a co-founder or business partner, then please do the world a favor and not tease us with your creativity which will inevitably fail. Even Izaac Mizrahi went bankrupt and he was everywhere for most of the 90s. PR can't buy you business sense. So don't be tricked into thinking limelight is a enough to strap yourself to a harness destined for success and into a sunset of longevity. Its not. And its another reason it took me this long to finally launch. It might seem ridiculous to wait years simply out of a fear of numbers, but why the hell would I chase my ultimate born-to-be dream only to be engulfed in taxes and accounting and bookkeeping that boggles my mind? There were so many smaller projects I did where I shoved that aspect under the rug and just went to bed praying every night. Newsflash, both your God and the one I don't believe in doesn't do taxes. The CPA you hire does. Get with it! #realtalk


the name and branding


Design for yourself, at the very least, if you suck at branding. One universal story that weaves its way through the many great talents still in business today is that they design for themselves and the rest followed. I will definitely be divulging my formula for branding and how I try to get to know my future customer like the back of my hand, but for now I can spill the beans on the name. It will be my name. The most narcissistic choice of my life to date. But it didn't start that way, I swear. It was actually Belle Vie originally, after spending months pouring over combinations in different languages to spell out "a beautiful life" since that is what I wanted my lifestyle brand to eventually emulate and signify. That evolved into a quest to hunt down my birthstone and name the brand something more personal to me. Born in October (hey, hey Libras!) means I struck gold with opal. I became obsessed with it and soon changed the name to Opaline which was the most wonderfully original thing I could think of; much less competitive than Belle Vie. I mean there were boutiques by the truckload and even bed and breakfasts with that name, so Opaline was perfect. Sweet, feminine, alluring. Just right. I even shelled out thousands two years ago to start the website for it before even having a product! It was ludicrous, but pretty damn gorgeous.


creating a clothing line

After going through my own signature branding process and really being honest about my goals, I reminded myself it is okay to want an empire. It is okay to aspire to be a mogul. It is okay to have Tory Burch, and Donna Karan, and Diane Von Furstenberg as idols. It doesn't matter that I can't name one black designer that hasn't accomplished that status, I could still try. I guess Rachel Roy comes to mind as a women of color, but if she isn't the most well connected and divorce-settlement-superstar out there then I don't know who is. I didn't have to bury my name and hide behind a beautiful nominer. I could wear my own birthright and assert myself into a traditional yet broken industry that only salutes the socialite trust funders. I'm no Mary Kate and Ashley, but I would do everything just as tenaciously and expertly to earn the honor of having my name on someone's back. And so, my friends, the brand is now named after me. Talk about vain right! Geez. But I was thrilled that a porn star doesn't already claim my name, only a famous poet. Life gives you lemon sometimes.


the end of excuses


Get off your butt! No really. Procrastination and insecurity should no longer be words in your entrepreneurial dictionary. You won't get anywhere by doing nothing. That sound familiar? Yeah, because its true. I'll let you in on a little secret- I'm the biggest lazy stalling bum they probably invented the word procrastination at the event of my birth. I was so stubborn, my poor mother was in labor for 20 hours, and nothing has changed since then, I can tell you that. I kid you not, I am your average Jo Schmo, or Mary-Jane if you will. This is not Vogue, we will not tease you with stories of how a young gorgeous designer landed in Kitson or Barneys after just one season, only to find out she is the niece and most likely future heir of Guinness......yes, as in Guinness, the world-wide famous alcoholic brewery. I hated that story! No instead, this is a recollection about me, a recently turned 27 year-old minority that failed math twice, answered phones at Jenny Craig (only because my momma got me the job...her being the boss and all) took a year off to postpone college then never returned, BUT still ended up with her own multi-media company, prominent indie designer boutique, and now fashion and homewares brand launching by the end of the year. Which is like, tomorrow. How? Sacrifice, and never taking no for an answer....no really. I don't. Believe it or not, in this day in age, no one has the right to tell you no in the first place. The last magazine I applied to for an internship turned me down. So what did I do? Okay, admittedly I weeped and wallowed, thinking I'll never amount to anything, but then I bought a few books, ate allot of 'pick-me-up' sundaes, and started my own damn magazine. So what exactly are you waiting for!

Get over your fears! What are you afraid of anyway? Getting laughed at? Rejection? Well guess what.....you already failed if you didn't even try; those that are enjoying success are laughing at you from their Parisian penthouses, and you definitely will be rejected by every single boutique out there if you don't even have a collection to show for. So now that we got that out of the way, here is an excerpt from an email I really, actually, did have the balls to send to a very famous fashion designer and author back in 2003 (just found it while cleaning my closet for a new wardrobe post...see what getting off your ass can lead to) when I was about 16 years old. As you can see, I had already passed followed my own advice above, (FYI- keep in mind I did a lot of fibbing in these ongoing email conversations with my new mentor, not only was I only 16 and barely new how to sew at the time, but by no means was I ready or equipped to start my own brand. I knew this, but that didn't stop me from thinking ahead).

"I was hoping you can help me with some vital information.....I go to one of the best fashion high schools in the country. After I learn all there is to learn about sewing and draping or even illustrating, what are the steps I take [afterwards]? I really want to know how to make it to Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. How do I put on my own fashion shows? If so how does the guest list work? Is it possible to run shows at low cost? How do I get publicity? How do I get contacts and foots in the door? I have collections flowing out of my sewing machine but nowhere to sow them. I was thinking of selling them to boutiques, but how do you do that too? Ok that's all, please write back as soon as possible with all the info you can give.

Sincerely,
Letitia"


Pretty naive and forward huh? Well, looking back on it now, there are definite ways to word this better and not come off so overwhelming, but the point is to not be afraid to seek answers that are not readily available to you. All I did was google 'How to be a fashion designer' and the first person with a website who seemed to know what the heck they were talking about, I emailed them. Just that simple. No tricks or gimmicks, or contact info that cost an arm or a leg. Thankfully, we now have the likes of people like Susan at FashionCEO and Kathleen at Fashion Incubator who you all should know by now because you completed step one and already placed an order for her book. If not do it now. Trust me.......I'll wait. Look at that, I didn't even put an affiliate link. So go! I mean it.


When I walk in a fabric store, it’s Disney World for me.  You have to figure out where your Disney World is.


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