Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Fashionpreneur hits the Learning Annex

I listened to a class through the LA Learning Annex taught by Stephanie Johnson. I listened to it online, (because I don't live in LA - ah, the beauty of the internet). I think it cost me $4.00 to download the 2 hour class. Stephanie Johnson created a very successful line of cosmetic bags. She quit a high paying job to pursue her fashionpreneur dreams. In one section of her class, she talked about sending press kits to magazine fashion editors. She created a very simple pr kit, with pictures she took in her front yard of her bags. She was creative about it and made it stand out, but it was by no means fancy. Check out the Stephanie Johnson website, because I think she does those learning annex sessions regularly.

I listened to it because at the time, I was trying to figure out how to sell my line. Was I going to sell through my website, or through tradeshows? Tradeshows are expensive, but that is how you get exposure to wholesale accounts (stay tuned for the upcoming fashionCEO Showcase Center), maybe it was necessary. Of course, if it were up to me, I'd sell strictly off my website. Stephanie Johnson sells wholesale through tradeshows and she said that has worked best for building her business. Her cosmetic bags are in Nordstroms and many other stores. She said that even though her bags are available on her online store, only a small percentage of sales come from her website. Most of her sales come from her wholesale accounts.

Sorry...this is changing the subject, but I just came across a really cute bag on Bagadoodle. The designer is Holly Aiken. This is a baby bag...but how cute. It's not busy and girly like some of the baby bags out there.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Fashionpreneur Links

I've come across a few cool sites recently that might be worth checking out. A new site that is about to launch is Trendi. If you are an independent designer ready to sell your goods to the public, check them out. They are a cool group pulling together designers to feature on their site. If you are a designer, you are probably well aware of Lucky Magazine. I noticed they now have a Lucky blog on their site that's fun to read. Another must-read if you are a designer is WWD. I'm guessing you know about WWD, but if you don't, you need to check it out. It is THE resource for the fashion industry. I subscribe to their daily news email. It gets kind of hard to keep up with, especially when you're busy, and most of the news relates to luxury designers and big-business retailers...but its still interesting to know whats going on in our "biz".

I recently signed up for the DailyCandy emails. I know I'm a little slow in signing up. I've always figured I could just drop by the site when I have the time, but I decided receiving the email in the inbox would remind me to check out what's happening on there. It's good to look at DailyCandy to see what's new and hot out there, plus to check out your competition if you are a designer. It's good to see who's getting good press and why.

Oh, another plug for the fashionCEO site (I'm shameless), but I'm excited to announce our upcoming Guest Speaker. Dale Lindholm is with Pure Accessories in NYC. Pure Accessories in a high-end accessories showroom. If you have a nice bag line or clothing line and you are not showing your work in a NYC showroom, I would recommend looking into it. Dale's showroom is really good...which is why he is going to make an excellent Guest Speaker interview. Be sure and sign up on the fashionCEO site so you can read it in the coming weeks.

The Early Years of the Fashionpreneur

As promised, here are a couple pictures from of the bags I made for the California car show. They are cute, right? Simple, but unique with the car fabric. I had a really cute one that was black with the flames (like you see on hod rods), but I sold out of those.
See the "Denney" label on the upper right hand corner? Those were the first Denney labels I used. They were printed labels on a black nylon-type fabric. Don't use these! Spend a little more and get woven labels. These labels tore and wore off after awhile. Friends of mine who carried my bags would report back that everything was fine on the bag except the label. You're label is important...make sure it stands the test of time!

Here is one of the first bags I made (before the leather bags). I think the design is cute...but don't look too close!

Thursday, May 24, 2007

the Fashionpreneur Hits the Road

This is a funny story. My dad is a HUGE antique car guy...he hits all the car shows in California. He collects and restores 40-Fords, Mercury, etc. Several years ago, he suggested I get a booth at this big car show event in Southern California and sell bags there with old car fabric (fabric that had pictures of antique cars) on it. I thought it was a great idea. I packed up my car and drove from Denver to LA with my bags in tow (I spent many o' hours sewing these little babies...I'll find a picture of one and post it later). They were cute little bags. I think I was selling them for $20.

We set up the tent at the fairgrounds and people started strolling by. Keep in mind my dad's friend's wives were helping me in the tent. This is almost embarrasing to admit...but every time someone walked up to the booth, I would pretend to be busy and go hide behind something or go by a beer and let the other ladies deal with them. hum...okay, sales 101, if someone walks up to your booth to look at something you really should go talk to them. And then, this actually makes me laugh when I think about it. I kept changing the price...in the morning the bags were $30 and after a couple hours I think I was taking $15-$20. One guy bought a bag for his wife for $30. He came back and asked to buy 5 more for friends...I told him I'd sell those to him for $20 with a quantity discount. He said, "so then can I get the first bag for $20" (the one he paid $30 for). I thought well no, because you bought that one alone. Clearly, I was not ready for the world of sales. I have come a long way though. I think alot of my problem was that I didn't believe in my product. It should be a reflection of you. I thought the bags were cute, but they weren't really my style so I had a hard time selling them. To get your product out there, you HAVE to believe in it...the quality, the design, everything. It comes through when you talk to people. It goes back to my sewing. I don't think of myself as being good at sewing, so my bags would never live up to my expectations. But I wasn't about to give up! You learn and evolve...that's the beauty of the journey!

One more thing...the bags were underpriced. But you probably already knew that.

Sorry for the lack of links and pictures in this post. I'll make it up to you on the next one tonight or tomorrow!!

Monday, May 21, 2007

Free Press Rocks

If you are a handbag fanatic, visit Purseuing.com, a great blog about handbags. They did a write-up on my Denney Bags when I was just starting out. I stumbled upon Purseuing while surfing the net one day. I sent the editor an email with a quick little blurb about my line, Denney Bags. The next day she posted a write-up on one of my bags with a picture she took off my site. It was great exposure and cost me nothing.

My theory is, it never hurts to ask. Shoot for the stars. What's the worst someone can say? No. Big deal. I wanted to interview Liz Lange for fashionCEO. She's HUGELY successful. Her designer maternity clothes are worn by tons of celebrities, she has appeared on Oprah and she struck a deal with Target. I emailed her and asked her if I could interview her for "Behind the Brand" on fashionCEO. The site wasn't even launched yet. She emailed back and said, "Sure, when should we do it." She is so wonderful and inspiring. Like I said, shoot for the stars...why not? By the way, you can check out her interview on fashionCEO in June.

Back to free press. Find opportunities and take them! (Sorry, I got a little off track from my handbag story...but I'll get back to that tomorrow!)

Thursday, May 17, 2007

PR and the Fashionpreneur

This blog isn't meant to discourage anyone from following their dream. I think there's nothing more inspiring than someone going for it...following an idea, making it happen, going against the mediocracy of a "day job" that is expected of us. My hope is to save you some dough along the way. I want to help prevent designers from making the same mistakes I made.

We've established that I shouldn't have been sewing my own bags, right? Well, I hadn't figured that out when I called upon a PR company out of LA/NYC that I found on Ladies Who Launch. By the way, if you don't know about this site, I recommend visiting. It gets those entrepreneurial juices flowing everytime I visit. The PR company was okay, but I felt honored that they would take me on (it should be the other way around). I thought I was ready to hit the InStyles and Oprahs of the world and take the fashion scene by charge. What I didn't think about was how the hell I was going to produce all these bags that I was expecting to sell. If it was taking me 15 hours to sew one bag, how long would it take me to sew 200? Okay, and I didn't mention this before, but I was buying leather from a fabulous place that produced leather for the high-end airplane & bar market...not little single-engine planes, but Gulfstreams. Yeah, the leather was about $11-$15 a sq. ft. WAY too expensive for my bags (or any bags). But I liked the leather and it was pretty and I liked the colors and it was soft and they were nice to me and they took AMEX...so I thought it was perfect.

Make sure you have your manufacturing in a realistic place and the cost of your materials fit your selling price (after all, besides being famous, we want to make money!) before hiring a PR company. If you don't have good, reliable manufacturing, you don't have much. And PR services ain't cheap as I found out. I spent over $2000 (in credit card debt) to have them create a press kit (that was less than impressive by the way...I could've done it myself much better.)I spent time sewing, when really I could've written a pretty awesome press kit myself - not to mention I have a TON of creative writer friends that would've done it for free. I thought somehow hiring the PR company made me more real. Not so. It just made me more broke.

Don't underestimate the power of your creative friends. Now I needed to find a manufacturer to sew. Much more to come...

These are my first professional pictures of Denney Bags, courtesy of my talented friend Michelle from Misha Photography.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

The Fashionpreneur learns from mistakes

I've made many mistakes in my journey to start my own handbag line. First mistake, thinking I can sew my own leather bags (I don't even like to sew!). Second, spending money on things I didn't need, like PR services when I wasn't ready for them or material that was too expensive for my product. But...you learn from making mistakes.

I like to read about entrepreneurs. Its comforting to read that even the most successful entrepreneurs make mistakes. One of my favorite sources is Inc magazine. It's not all about fashion, but its a great resource, has fabulous articles and practical tips. Of course, if you're looking for targeted information specifically for independent fashion designers, I suggest visiting fashionCEO's main site to read interviews with established designers, get practical tips and find suppliers and resources. I also like the interviews on the FashionMista blog. If you're into handbag design, check out handbagdesigner101.

I recently interviewed Rebecca Minkoff of Rebecca Minkoff Handbags for fashionCEO.
What a treat she is! So wonderful and down to earth. My favorite quote of hers is "its just fashion, its not that serious. Have fun with it!". Her high-end line of leather bags are so stylish..I think her theory is paying off.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sewing and the "fashionpreneur"

If you really want the nitty gritty of starting a line, I suggest visiting the Fashion Incubator site. Kathleen Fasanella, who started this site, really knows her stuff. She doesn't blow smoke and make it all sound like a walk in the park. She's realistic and tells you what you need to know to succeed. If only more people would do that. Her book, "The Entrepreneur's Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing" is really good. I bought it when I was first starting my line and it offered some great, hardy info on the more technical side of starting a fashion line. I think I read it in one sitting...I was so in awe and clueless.

Speaking of sewing...unless you absolutely love it, leave it to the professionals. Being the control freak that I am, I thought I could sew my own bags and avoid the cost and time of having a contractor do it. I sewed this little beauty for my first leather collection. It's not bad, but would you pay $450 for it? I knew it had to be better. Plus it took me about 15 hours to make it! I ended up wasting alot of money on expensive material and scads of time that could've been spent doing more useful things. Trust me...hire someone to sew for you!

Tuesday, May 8, 2007

Exploring the "fashionpreneur"

My name is Susan. I am a "fashionpreneur". I'm guessing you can figure out what this word means - someone who is a little bit fashion, and a little bit entrepreneur. I think I'm actually more of the latter. I'm a dreamer. I have big ideas. I've always wanted to have my own business, and I love handbags, so what better industry to jump into head first then the easy-going, easy-entry fashion industry, right? Wrong.

I've read countless articles about established handbag designers who started out making handbags on their kitchen table, using grandma's old curtain fabric, sewing it together on a 20 year old sewing machine they found at a garage sale, using thread they had to pull out of an old sweater because they were too broke to buy it new. They go on to say how the first time they carried their new creation in public, strangers on the street were running, chasing them down, desperate to find out just where they can buy such a an incredible piece of arm candy. Within a year they were raking in at least a million in revenue. How does this happen? If you look at any of the fashion blogs, Indie Lust or indiedesignermarketing for example, you can see that clearly indie designers are out there making it happen.

I'm really not a bitter person. I love to see people succeed. I love to read success stories, especially of people who really changed direction in their career and took a chance. One person that particularly inspired me is the story of Mary Norton and her company, Moo Roo Bags. I'm happy for her. Really. Okay I did get sick of reading the same story of success when I, myself, spending countless hours working on my business, wanted nothing more than to sell just one bag to a stranger (and not just to my mom or friends, God love them). I just wanted to know the truth of how these people went from sewing bags on their kitchen table to filling large orders for boutiques and department stores without batting an eye.

Okay, in my next post I'll go into more detail on my business and why I struggled. The title of the post will be "Susan Can't Sew, But She Thinks She Can" hummmm. Above is a picture of one of my first leather bags. Not bad, right?