Mary Lou Cook, an american actress from the early 1940s, once spoke the following words: “Creativity is inventing, experimenting, growing, taking risks, breaking rules, making mistakes and having fun.” For emerging, aspiring or experienced entrepreneurs, the art of establishing a business is best embodied by Cook’s definition of creativity.
The process of establishing a business begins with inventing – observing what the industry lacks, analyzing what it needs and intentionally inventing something that challenges what’s already out there. The next phase is a trial and error run of experimenting with the hope to grow, breaking rules to challenge the mainstream traditions of business, making mistakes to learn and trying new things to determine what works effectively and what doesn’t.
To set an optimistic tone for 2016, I’ve accumulated advice and wise words from a few business owners on what they’ve learned and their thoughts on starting a brand. The direction of the following words ranges from fashion bloggers to designers all the way to digital collaboration and networking opportunities in an effort to weigh in to whatever direction appeals most to you.
1. I recently had the opportunity to chat with Amy Levin, the founder of CollegeFashionista, a well-respected and well-known blogging platform for fashion enthusiasts on college campuses. Levin has experienced a tremendous amount of experience since the idea of CF emerged a few years ago. Throughout our conversation, she made it a point to emphasize the importance of establishing connections in the industry.
“Talk to people, whether they interest you or not, and let them talk. Meet with people and network. Put yourself our there.”
Levin’s success conveys her willingness to remain open-minded to a variety of opportunities and her eagerness to continue learning. Talking with her allowed me to uncover the realization that you can learn so much even when you don’t expect to.
2. In light of networking in the fashion industry, I was humbled to have met Evan McCarthy a few months ago when I covered a story on his street-style brand, Evanem, a headline brand at Portland Fashion Week. McCarthy’s professional endeavors in the industry were inspired by his lifelong interest in the arts. While he’s recently made tremendous strides in growing his business, he offers invaluable advice to aspiring entrepreneurs who are still in the phase of transitioning an idea in to a reality.
“I used to think too much about what the outcome would be, but you really just have to do it. You have to start somewhere.”
The authentic and transparent nature of McCarthy’s advice weighs in to the doubt and uncertainty many face in deciding to launch a business. And it’s here that we see a reflection of Cook’s advice that attests to taking risks. Starting a business will surely present you with curveballs and unforeseen obstacles, but McCarthy’s right. If your dreams are vast, you must decide to start somewhere.
3. Kristin Coffman, another emerging designer in the Portland/Eugene area, touches on the experimenting and growing component of cook’s theory. In the midst of working on her first up and coming fashion line, Coffman is finding that aspects of her life in both the past and the present are merging together to influence the outcome of her work. These inspirations are of great importance, and her advice for aspiring designers explains why.
“Designing a brand or a fashion line really gives you the opportunity to start new and rebrand yourself. I can’t wait to see where my line goes, and to learn and to grow as my line does.”
I think it’s imperative to remember that starting a business and sustaining a business are two different things. Starting a business is a project. Sustaining a business is a journey – an adventure of highs and lows that reflect great triumphs and great failures. The best businesses experience phases of modification with the intent to improve its mission and purpose. Often times we see brands recreating their image and reinventing themselves at the core. Coffman’s ability to embrace the industry with resilience and an open-mind makes her a brilliant role model for hopeful designers.
4. There are many components that contribute to a successful business, and social media, is undoubtedly one of the most influential. Establishing a strong presence across Instagram, Twitter and Facebook is one of the most efficient and strategic ways to build your brand. Your target audience will best indicate which of these platforms is most appropriate for building your brand.
Because the fashion industry is highly visual, Instagram is extremely popular among emerging models, designers, fashion brands, etc. One of my favorite brands, Flea Market Girl executes this remarkably well. This growing brand exemplifies how you can apply this strategy to growing your business.
Flea Market Girl does an impressive job of merchandising their product on Instagram in a way that creates a visually appealing aesthetic. “Artsy” has become a commonly used term coined by popular culture, but the ability to artistically advertise your product on social media is one of the fastest ways to attract your audience, engage loyal followers and engage consumers.
5. As our world continues to become increasingly connected through technological advancements,online resources are becoming another powerful tool for business owners. The internet has become the greatest tool for networking with likeminded entrepreneurs and creating contacts with other creatives in the industry.
In addition to the ways the internet connects us, it also creates new doors for innovative opportunities, such as blogging and online marketplaces. Colabination represents a profound example of this. As a digital space that promotes the art of fashion by featuring the work of independent fashion designers, Colabination creates a virtual community that connects designers and fashion bloggers alike. Other examples of this include CollegeFashionista, Polyvore, Pinterest, Looklet or Lookbook. Attending professional conferences, digitally or physically, can be another excellent resource. Some that may appeal to women in fashion may include Simply Stylist, Create + Cultivate, Fashion Forward, The 3% Conference, Decoded Fashion, etc. These establishments and businesses provide you with possibilities. Here you can choose to partake in a plethora of unique opportunities that will not only educate you as a business owner, but that will further enhance the quality of your own business. There are so many outlets to be uncovered so long as your willing to pursue them.
The key to utilizing the internet in starting a business is best embodied by the three C’s: connection, collaboration and community. Establish relationships with people, ask questions, collaborate with people who interest you and who produce work that resonates with you and build community with people, near or far, who have dreams that look like something like yours.