Q&A with Olga & Victoria of Chic Cartel
Olga has graduated from Harvard Business School and has been a fortune 500 executive before starting ChicCartel.
Victoria was working as a fashion photographer shooting covers for anything from GQ to Cosmopolitan. She also published a widely acclaimed art book on body images called Curves on www.victoriajanashvili.com.
Victoria Janashvili Olga Gomonova
Can you tell our readers about your background?
Olga has a classic American Dream story. She came to the US at the age of 19 to work as a maid in a hotel in New Hampshire. In the following years, she went to college in Boston, worked for several fortune 500 companies and went to Harvard Business School.
Victoria is an immigrant just like Olga. She came to NYC 10 years ago and has been working in fashion photography. She has been an instant success having shot many glossy magazine covers (from GQ to Cosmopolitan), she also got deep into commercial photography having shot campaigns for Macy’s, Lord and Taylor, MiracleSuit, AdoreMe, Badgley Mischka and many others.
In 2015, Victoria released an art book Curves that was exploring body image issues. The book got widely acclaimed and was behind articles and segments on CNN, Fox News, ABC’ Today show, NY Times, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, ELLE, Refinery 29 and many others.
What inspired you to start your business?
VICTORIA – For the longest time, I was developing an interest in sustainability in all ways, but especially in fashion. In the years of work in the fashion industry, I came to learn how much pollution and damage our cool outfits cause. A couple years ago I took a 3 month long trip to India and Indonesia and visited a lot of sweatshops there. Coming back to the States I knew I needed to do something about it.
OLGA - Never ceasing desire to be in charge of my own destiny, do something meaningful, never have "dead" days when you just looking for a day to end so you can go home. Basically, I was looking to find a mission that can utilize all the energy and creativity that I have. Also, I am a big proponent to take an opportunity that comes to you and this time idea, partnership and financing aligned at the same time - it was impossible to say no so we jumped in!
Where is your business based?
New York City – Williamsburg. We are located in the center of NYC’s cool. The air is filled with new ideas, latest fashion is in every little shop and people living here are starving for all sorts of new and real.
How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?
OLGA - one of the deadliest early mistakes that any entrepreneur can make is picking the wrong partner. In fact, from what I remember from HBS, most of the businesses fail on this first stage. This is why Victoria and I - and we knew each other socially in New York - spent several months just getting to know each other. For many weeks we met for an hour each week to go over the business model. Then we started spending more and more time dedicating ourselves to discussing different aspects of the business.
Months later, we made it official - we signed a partnership agreement and she changed my name in her phone to "Work Wife". For anyone who wants to start a business, we advise this - approach partner selection as if it was marriage: you will end up spending as much time with that person as with your spouse.
VICTORIA – agreed with Olga about the above completely. From my perspective, an interesting lesson was in how much the expectation of what the business is going to be changed throughout the first year. We knew the general direction in which we wanted the business to grow but most of the ideas we had in the very beginning were challenged later on.
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?
We were very surprised to learn that Pinterest is the best channel for us. We explored Facebook, Instagram but they didn’t show much effectiveness with a very similar content.
What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?
One of the greatest challenges was quitting jobs and starting to work on our startup full time. It’s a huge leap of faith to take, but it was also necessary to give the business a fair shot.
How do you stay focused?
The greatest challenge is staying focused when the times are tough. Collectively as a team, we have been through horrible breakups, health issues including hospitalizations, severe financial worries and most discouraging disappointments with partners and employees - and we had to endure all of it and show up to work every day knowing that we don't know when - and if - the payout is coming to us. This simply takes dedication and mutual respect. We both have days when we want to give up and we don't give up out of mutual respect for each other and our mission.
How do you differentiate your business from the competition?
We focus on our story and mission - we don't want to just sell our customers another dress - we give people an opportunity to do something meaningful while also making themselves look good. Essentially - our company provides support to local designers and local communities so everyone who shops with us is contributing to the development of local economies and sustainable production. We are a double bottom line company and we are proud of doing good while also making people feel good about themselves.
What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?
We switched to video in our advertising, which gave it a massive boost. We found that video is a great platform for telling our story. We also focus on highlighting the story and the mission of the brand instead of product.
What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?
Make sure you have a stable foundation before you jump into a new business. Everything they say about entrepreneurship is true - most entrepreneurs wouldn't have started had they known how hard it would be. I hear this so many times but only now do I understand how true that is. Start the business only if you can't not start it.
What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?
Eat Prey Love - we love reading about another woman overcoming crippling challenges and failures in life before hitting it out of the park. Similarly - Lean in by Sheryl Sandberg. This one is especially meaningful given her recent heartbreaking developments with the sudden death of her husband. Everyone gets tested in life - either before or after success. Remembering this helps us endure.
What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?
Lucky Orange! it gives us an opportunity to watch our customers interact with the site - so inspiring to watch them shop!
Who is your business role model? Why?
MMLeFleur, Glossier, Reformation, Outdoor Voices - all founding ladies
What do you have planned for the next six months?
Marketing push, refine website, recruit new designers, fund-raise....all of it :-)
How can our readers connect with you?