Thursday, June 28, 2007

What's Up With MySpace?

Have any of you had luck marketing your line on MySpace? I can not figure that site out for the life of me. Is it because I'm over 30? Being that its all the rage, I broke down and created a page for fashionCEO, thinking that perhaps that would plunge me into the cool world. I can now say at parties "hey, check out my MySpace page". I don't think I'm welcome in the cool world. I'm like the kid in the corner at the high school dance that no one notices. The first week that I had my MySpace page I would log in everyday to see the hundreds of friend requests that would be awaiting me. I can hear crickets chirping on my page. I can't figure out how to network and make friends on there. And the few people who have asked me to be their friend are really scary looking people that I'm guessing are recruiting people to come drink Kool-Aid with them.

I've had MUCH better luck with Facebook. I like Facebook. It's easy to navigate, there are some great fashion groups that are easy to find and I like the interface better. It's much cleaner. I get alot of links from Facebook because I've joined some fashion groups and posted messages in them. If you are have a line that you are marketing to the public, I highly suggest using Facebook if you aren't already. Its free...what do you have to lose? I even had another designer email and ask me to be in his fashion group. Aha! I am cool in Facebook! I think I'm sticking with it.

If you have any suggestions or tips on how to use MySpace, I'm all ears.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

What Makes a Designer A Designer?

I'm pretty irritated over some opinions I've read lately and I just have to air my thoughts on it. I read an article recently by a fashion industry "expert" that seems to feel its not worth her time to help emerging designers because in her opinion they probably aren't prepared and its not worth her reputation to refer them to suppliers. Who is truly prepared when they are first starting out? And how do you learn this crazy business when everyone is so guarded?

It steams me to no end that people in the "industry" stick their nose up at independent designers who are trying to make a go of a dream. Going to a fancy design school gives you a certain type of training, agreed. But it does not give you talent. If you design & produce a quality product that people buy, then honey, you are a designer. I don't care what your training is. I don't care that you never worked for Donna Karan or Vera Wang (who, by the way, never had a lick of formal design training). I don't care if you can't sew or sketch. There are MANY successful designers out there that can't do either. If you design a handbag or a dress or a belt or jewelry that you put in the marketplace and consumers are a designer. When I buy a piece of clothing or a handbag, I don't care what kind of training the designer had, or whether they can sew. They clearly produced a product I'm willing to spend my hard earned dollars on.

I founded fashionCEO because I saw a lack of information out there for independent designers trying to find resources to build their brand. My goal with this company is to bring information & inspiration together in one convenient place for designers to help nurture their business. I'm not here to poo poo your idea or products. The marketplace will determine whether you are good or not. And you know what, if you're not good at designing, you won't be in business for long. That's not for me to determine. I'm not worried about my reputation (what reputation? Lets be real.) when I put together a list of suppliers for my designer members. If I'm worried about anything, its the quality of the supplier that I'm referring to fashionCEO members, not the other way around. The supplier is going to make money. You are spending your precious dollars. But to say that you are not talented or worthy enough because you are just starting out...uh huh...ain't happening. You go for it and you do it better than you ever thought you could. If someone isn't willing to help you find what you need...then you know what, screw them. You don't need them. Folks, this is fashion, it ain't brain surgery. We're not saving lives here. I will stick my neck out for someone trying to get going. Plenty of people have done it for me.

I agree you have to be willing to work VERY, VERY hard to make it happen. You have to invest time, money, pride, blood, sweat and tears...but if you work at it, then you have a chance at being successful. Its brutal...I'm not saying its a walk in the park. You have to do your homework. But to say I wouldn't help someone just because I'm not going to somehow benefit from it, I just can't feel good about that. But that's just me. Maybe I'm too soft...but I'm okay with that.

I believe that there is a certain attitude out in the fashion world that any Jane Doe thinks they can design a handbag and call themselve a designer. But who is a true designer? Is it someone who went to Parsons and has formal training? Is it someone who lives in New York and is well connected? Is it a celebrity who has someone design for them, but they can slap their name on the label and make millions? Are you less of a designer if you live in Kansas? Developing your own line with no formal training and selling it through your website? Again, the consumers will determine whether you are talented enough to be a designer. I look at most of the runway shows and I think "who would wear this crap?". Seriously, who would? Most of it is hideous and is ridiculously expensive. Most of these people are respected designers with formal training in schools, big design houses, yet they can't relate to what the majority of America wants. There is a huge intimidation factor. Don't let it stop you. Look at designers like Mary Norton of Moo Roo bags, or Liz Lange or Sara Blakely of Spanx or Jennifer Velarde of 1154 Lill. Chances are they weren't fully prepared when they first approached a contractor to make their product. I'm sure glad someone had faith in them.

Thank goodness for the independent designer.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Being Open to Unexpected Opportunites

Before I took on the leather bag dream, I was sewing fabric bags. I had read on another handbag designer's website that she was being featured in an article that was being written in the Denver Post about local handbag designers. I of course, promptly emailed the reporter (the handbag designer mentioned her name on her site)...and asked if I could be included in the article. She called me! Yea! More free press. The article ran and it featured about 15 handbag designers from the Denver area. I was the last one mentioned (I was on the back page of the business section). I got 200 hits on my website that day (that was alot for me)! It was great. I even got a couple orders from it. Read everything you can...and be ready to take action. You never know where you are going to find that gold nugget of information.

I have discovered that you never know where you might find a valuable piece of information. It might be on a competitor's website or a networking event. Either way, be open to new information in places you least expect. I worked at a local television station, 9News, last year (yes, I've always maintained a "day job" to support my bag business). All the employees were invited to go to a presentation in the station given by a bunch of marketing people hired to do research on what viewers wanted. Most people might think its a waste of time if they didn't care too much about their job (which I didn't), but I've learned over the years that you can find inspiration in the strangest places. I went to the presentation and it was fascinating. They talked about what people responded to on the station's website. They even had research information on the what viewers liked and disliked about the layout of the homepage (whether it was cluttered, what information they wanted to see first, etc)! I'm thinking the station paid some high dollar for that kind of research. I got the information for free which would later come in handy for my own internet business!

Another example of this happened to me the other day. I had a telemarketer call my cell phone. Not knowing who it was, I answered it. Turns out the guy works for Hacker Safe...a company that I guess guards against hackers on your e-commerce site. I don't know...I was half listening to him. But I was very polite because he was nice. I explained to him that I didn't need the service and that I had started a new internet venture for independent fashion designers. He started talking about his wife who owns 3 lingerie boutiques in Las Vegas! She could be a potential retail buyer member for fashionCEO's Showcase Center! So we chatted for a bit and then he sent me an email with his contact info. I now have a contact for a lingerie store which I need for the Showcase Center! If I had been rude, hung up on him, or been closed off to the idea of making a contact, then that probably would not have happened.

Don't burn bridges....don't turn your back on someone you meet at a networking event just because they don't appear to be in the same line of work or of value to you on the surface. That person's sister just might be an accessories buyer at Bergdorf Goodman! You NEVER know. Keep your eyes open,and always embrace a potential, unexpected opportunity. I don't believe in pure luck, I think people who are lucky go looking for, or are open to, new opportunities.

I'll dig up that article in the Denver Post and show it to you in the next couple days. In the meantime, keep your eyes open and watch for that unexpected contact or opportunity!

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Keep Your Eye on the Goal

I don't know about you all, but whenever I tell someone that I design handbags, I can see their face light up. People think its cool when you are doing something creative and different. Even my guy friends always ask me how my handbags are doing. I usually smile and say its coming along...which is true. Yes, after 6 years, I'm still in research and development mode, but hey, that's okay. They still want to hear about it. I don't think the majority of the people out there have an entrepreneurial drive. I think when someone does, people are interested in hearing about it.

One thing that I find amusing is that people love to give you ideas. I can't tell you how many people have said to me, "hey, you should make doggie bags", or "you should really be making baby bags". I love it when my Mom says "honey, you should make you some curtains with that sewing machine." Um, no. When I first started my handbag business, I jumped on those ideas (except the curtains). I would add them to my list of to-do's. But then I would get overwhelmed just thinking about all the things I should be designing. It took me awhile to figure this out, but its better to stay focused on your passion, whether its bags or belts or jewelry or whatever. Do what you do best and get it out there...then later on you can branch out. People mean well, but you have to try and filter out all the voices saying "you should be doing this...".

I even sat down and made a baby bag (yes, I made it myself, I know I was supposed to be done with the sewing, but old habits die hard). is handy to have a sewing machine and some skill at it because when you do want to experiment with a new idea, you can sit down and play around with it. It's way too expensive to have a contractor "play around" with new ideas. Here's my Denney baby bag:

I know, hard to believe I made it since I don't like to sew and can't follow a pattern to save my life. I'm 90% hard work, 10% talent. I still carry this bag everyday. I don't have a baby, but I carry it because I love the outside pockets. The side pockets are great for water bottles. The front pocket is perfect, easy access for my cell phone and keys.

So back to what I was saying. People love to throw out ideas when they know you design handbags and/or clothing. I've had people ask me to sew covers for their camera equipment. I guess when you say you design handbags, that means you can sew anything and everything under the sun. if they only knew! If you have any stories of people suggesting ideas to you, I'd love to hear them!

Stay focused, learn to say no, and stay true to your vision!

Breaking the Blog Rules

If you are into self-development, I think you'd enjoy a site I stumbled upon the other night. The author of the site is Steve Pavlina. I had never heard of him before, but apparently he has one of the most popular self-development sites on the web. Where have I been? Read his blog if you get chance. His posts are REALLY long, but I like that.If I like what I'm reading, I want to keep reading. I hope you guys don't mind longer posts. When I was reading up on how to write a good blog, I found many sites that said "Write short & frequent posts". When I'm writing a post, I break out in a sweat about half way through because I feel like its getting too long, so I quickly end the "conversation" and get out. But I've decided I don't like that. I don't abruptly end conversations with people in person (well, depends on who I'm talking to), so I'm not going to do it here. I'm not talking to a computer, I'm talking to you. I'm not ready to run yet. I kind of like you.

Okay, this one is short and sweet. I feel the beads of sweat building...Baby steps.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Investors - To Use or Not To Use

I went to a fabulous talk the other night at the University of Colorado campus. The session was put on by TechStars, an organization in Boulder that helps startups. Its made of up a bunch of successful entrepreneurs who are now Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors. The topic of the session was "How to Finance Your Startup". There were about 150 people or so there. I was one of maybe 15 females in the audience. I felt pretty proud that I was there.

The panel was made up of 6 investors. Very smart, very successful people. Here are some of the key things I took away from it:

1.First of all, they advise against taking on investors for as long as you can. The more money you take, the more equity you give up in your company. Make sure you are ready to do that. Bootstrap, self-finance, use credits cards, work a day job, whatever...but run as long as you can before borrowing from VC's or Angels.

2.If you are starting a business because you want to work for yourself, the minute you take money from an investor, you are not working for yourself anymore. Really take a look at why you want to start a business.

3.Don't take little bits of money at a time from investors. You give up approx 30%-50% of equity in your company every time you borrow. It sounds like its better to wait as long as possible and then do one big round of funding from an investor.

4. Don't ask yourself "How can I borrow money". Ask yourself "How can I not borrow money".

5. When approaching investors, engage them so they want to spend time with you.

6. Be able to describe what your company does in 10 minutes.

7. Entrepreneurs feel like they have to know everything about their company and how its going to work from the get go. You do not have to have all the answers in that investor meeting. They know that your business plan is going to change and look very different in 6 months.

8. There's no such thing as a bad meeting. Even if you sucked in it and they hate you, you learned something that will better you the next time.

One of the panelist, Greg Held with CTEK, had a great saying. It goes something like this..."if I had bacon, I could make bacon & eggs, if I just had eggs". In other words, you have nothing, but you can envision everything. I hope I didn't botch that up. Gary said it so beautifully.

The Fashionpreneur tries new things

Once I had my professional samples in hand, I had to come to the hard realization that maybe I should have thought through the functionality of my designs before rushing them off to the patternmaker. The leather I used was really nice quality, but it didn't have any texture to it. Alot of the leather bags out on the market at the time (which was just last summer) had texture to them. Now, I'm not staying you should always follow what everyone else in the market is doing, but I'm not sure that choosing a perfectly smooth leather was the right choice for my designs. I think I was really on target with the hardware. I used either brass or nickle (DON'T cheap out on hardware) rings and rivets. I used alot of hardware in my designs. And like I mentioned before, I used good quality zippers. VERY important!

Another thing I think could've have helped me is to study other bags out there. I did go to Nordstroms one day and spent an hour really studying the construction of Kate Spade and Brighton bags. AGAIN, I was stuck on this theory that I needed to worry about how to make the bags. WRONG. I had someone to do that now...I should have been looking at the overall design, functionality, what I liked, what I didn't like. But no...I was trying to figure out how they sewed the zipper in. I really needed to get out of that head space. But I couldn't seem to.

Several years ago, before I got into handbags, I designed a new product that held nail polish bottles and nail files in a nice vinyl case. I called it "The Paint Shop". My boyfriend at the time thought it was a good idea (anyone who knows me tolerates all my crazy ideas). I kept talking to him about how I should sew it...that I needed to buy a sewing machine etc. I even went out and bought a $300 sewing machine from Sears! He kept saying to me, "why are you worrying about how to make it. You'll have someone else do that. Just focus on design and marketing." Boy, he was right, but at the time I just couldn't get that concept into my head. Now it seems so obvious. I'm an idea person, not a seamstress. It's great if you can do both, more power to you. I admire people who are crafty and can sew and follow patterns. I can sew a handbag together, but I cannot follow a pattern.

After calling about 5 or 6 sewing contractors, I finally found a place in Kansas that would make a prototype of "The Paint Shop" for me. I was so excited. I think it took them a couple weeks to make it. It cost me $75 for one prototype (after being in the handbag world, $75 seems cheap!). When I received it in the mail I was SO excited (again, thought this little package was going to make me rich). It was actually really well made. Unfortunately the cost to produce them was going to be $15 each. That means I would have to sell it for way more than I thought anyone would pay for it. Its definitely the type of thing you would have to have made in China. So that fizzled...but ya know, that's okay. You try things. Some work, some don't. That's part of the fun of being a Fashionpreneur (at least in hindsight its fun - at the time its just plain frustrating). Here are some pics of "The Paint Shop". I tried to wipe all the dust off before taking the picture, but clearly, its too thick to tackle in one try. I still think "The Paint Shop" is a fun idea.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

These bags are going to make me rich, or are they?

So after waiting patiently, or not so patiently, I finally received my leather bag samples from my NJ sewing contractor. The quality was really good. Whew, that potential disaster was averted. You know how in real estate they say the 3 most important words are "location, location, location". Well in fashion its "quality, quality, quality." (If you don't believe me, just read fashionCEO's interview with Dale Lindholm from Pure Accessories Showroom in NYC.) The quality of my new samples was perfect. Yes, there were a few things that looked different from my sketches, but that's because for the last several months I was going off a vision of what they would look like in my head. Once you see them in person, its not always the same. I did get a tad nausea after looking at one or two them...not because of the quality, but because of my design details. I probably should have researched and tested other bags before rushing off my sketches. I was in such a hurry to get them done, that I didn't take the time to really test some of the design's functionality. For example, on one of my designs, the shape of the bag was like a box. The zipper at the top went from the left top corner to the right top corner. Now, in theory, that sounds like a great idea, but it should have run down onto each side of the bag so that it opened wider. Little things like that turn into big things once your sample is "born", so try and find those flaws before sending off the sketch.

Another thing I figured out...the quality of a zipper is key. DO NOT use cheap aluminum zippers. Whatever you do, spend a little more and get a nice zipper. The ones used in my samples were very nice. They Were sourced by my sewing contractor, Manolucci, so I'm not sure where they got them, but they were YKK Ever Bright (metal) zippers. They are glossy and they glided very smooth. If you make a nice product and put a cheap zipper in it, you might as well call it a flea market special in my opinion. Same goes for all the hardware you use. Make sure its of the highest quality.

Okay, so I have my samples. Now what?

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Sketches and the Fashionpreneur

Here is what my sketches looked like when I sent them to Manolucci. It's nothing simple, but it gives enough detail for the manufacturer to go off of. Keep in mind they had a lot of questions and we talked over some details on the phone. But this got the ball rolling. I'm sure they aren't perfect by any means, but it gives you an idea if you are trying to figure out where to start with a handbag sketch. Notice I have a style # in the upper left hand corner. You probably already know this, but sewing contractors always want a style # on each design. This isn't a name like the "Julie Bag". This is more like "7501", or something like that. That way the contractor and you always know which style you are referring to when placing production orders, etc.

When I was searching for these sketches on the computer I came across this picture. I went to NYC last summer to walk the Designers & Agents show and afterwards I met my friend Janice for a cocktail at a bar in mid-town. Charles Barkley just happened to be at the same bar. Shy that I am, I pretended I didn't even see him (how can you miss him). But Janice's sister had a lot more you-know-what's than me...when it appeared Charles was leaving, she ran up to him and asked for a picture. So here we are in our wine haze! That's me on the left (the short one). Charles was very, very sweet and gracious. Afterwards we went to a great little sports bar near Rockefeller Center and has fries, onion rings and pints of beer. (Charles didn't come with us.) It was a lovely evening, I must say! But I digress!

Friday, June 1, 2007

Becoming a real Fashionpreneur

Okay, I finally realized it was time to find someone to sew for me. I was never going to have a real business with high-end bags if I was trying to make them myself. I needed to let go a little. I didn't really have the money to hire someone, but I had to make it happen. I started searching online for sewing contractors and I couldn't believe how hard it was to find any. It felt like finding an invisible needle in a haystack. It's interesting, but most wholesale suppliers don't really advertise. You can't just Google sewing contractors and find a good handful of selections. You can look at, but in my experience, I've done that and many of the vendors listed on there are geared more towards industrial sewing...miliary or medical industry, things like that. I needed a smaller shop that catered to the independent designer.

After digging and digging, I found a place called Manolucci based in NYC. They manufactured handbags for designers like myself. Cool...I was on my way. Getting 5 handbag samples made took about 3 months and $3200. That included patterns and initial sample. My bags at this point had become "briefcase bags", so a more unique, feminine take on the standard briefcase. But that meant alot of pockets! To get started, I gave Manolucci some simple sketches with dimensions. Looking back at them, they were overly simple. I have no formal training in design, so I really didn't yet have the eye for a great bag, but I think they were okay to get started. Lesson here...patterns are expensive. Make sure your sketch is where you want it before proceeding with a professional patternmaker. And DON'T skimp on the pattern. Make sure you find someone experienced & reputable to do it. The pattern is the blueprint for your samples and production, so it needs to be right. You can make adjustments along the way...but it costs $$ to do that too. Save yourself some money and finalize your design before handing it off to a patternmaker.

I finally got my 5 samples and they were great. The quality was great. Some of my design features were so-so, but regardless, it was so exciting to get my real live, leather creations in the mail! These were going to make me rich!!