fashion entrepreneur

Q&A with Women's Empowerment and Fashion Visionary, Ashley-Victoria Smith

Ashley-Victoria Smith, founder, and producer of Descalzo Shows, a fashion show production company focused on women empowerment and working with female-owned businesses and brands, helps small business owners find the tools and resources they need to grow, scale, and build their businesses, and ultimately themselves.

Ashley-Victoria Smith

 

Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?

In 2012, I was fed up with my underpaid, underappreciated, Director of Marketing 8–5, a desk job that I decided to quit without any backup plans. I had been doing behind-the-scenes fashion show production for about two years by then and I knew that I wanted to bring something different to the table. That difference was to do a lingerie fashion show that focuses on WOMEN EMPOWERMENT to erase the taboo of lingerie being provocative, but rather as a statement for the woman wearing it; making her feel good.

I put together a theatrical lingerie fashion show with one of my good friends at the time with a $500 budget. We partnered with boutique lingerie stores and we showcased the most beautiful luxury pieces while telling a “star-crossed lovers story”. It was a hit. We sold out violating fire marshall code and donated ticket sales to a local breast cancer charity.

Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?

Really it’s the businesses that I first reached out to who told me no or no response, are now actually asking me to be involved. It’s like “hustle until your haters ask if you’re hiring” kinda thing.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I believe the company stands out because I genuinely care about the woman behind the brand and her well being. Being in a male-dominated industry is hard enough and when you’re a business it doesn’t get any easier.

I want designers to know that when they register for our showcase, I am with them every step of the way. For many, this is their first show, so the nervousness and insecurities are even higher. I will help show them the ropes in putting together their models, run of the show, etc…

Many producers have a team that does this for them so they can (obviously) focus on the logistics and production standpoint; however, I choose to do both.

Additionally, I am not competing with anyone, I am not trying to be like the other fashion show production companies out there; there’s nothing wrong with them but I feel that having a private, invite-only show isolates the everyday woman who reads Elle, W, and other high-end magazines that may not get invites to fashion shows but sure as hell BUYS what’s showcased on that runway. I want to give those women an opportunity to have a fun night out, meeting designers, experience the red carpet, shop the runway in person. This is also great for the designers because they can get direct feedback from actual customers & future clients.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

There’s actually two; one is Ryan Philemon who held my hand and stayed up late hours with me offering me more wine to calm down and know that our first production was going to awesome. The other is my late best friend Carolyn Colon, whom we lost to suicide; she pushed me to believe in myself, she took care of the back of house, taking care of expenses, helping models, encouraging other women to believe in themselves; it was her that kept me running when the coffee ran out. I wish I could tell her that today.

Are you working on any exciting projects now?

Always.. I have several large projects in the works that Descalzo Shows will reveal in Spring 2019.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

My Grandmother told me, when you can, give. Then the money from the shows I give towards charities geared to help women; from breast cancer awareness to fighting human and sex trafficking. This year for Miami Swim Week, I am switching it up slightly to donate to The Humane Society.

Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life?

Yes, and of all them, it’s #Girlboss.

Can you share a story? I picked up this copy back in 2015 at a gift shop at the Philadelphia Amtrak Station because I had 13 more hours to go before I was back home, and this book was a game changer for me. For one, I was going through a rough time with the lingerie shows due to uncomfortable businesses situation with men. I felt that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be in my career path (still working a full-time job), and my relationship with my own man was just crumbling. I started reading this book and I cried because I realized that us women aren’t so different. We all go through financial battles, personal battles, health crisis, bad relationships, etc… #Girlboss simply enlightened me to know that I am not alone in this entrepreneur...ship (pun intended).

What do you “ wish someone told me before I started my company”?

Don’t try to be like everyone else. When I first started doing my lingerie shows, I wanted to be like New York Fashion Week, after three productions (while the audience was now at 400 people), I still wasn’t getting the response for mainstream press and media. It took coffee on the Chelsea Pier with a very notable photographer in NYC to tell me this; “do you think NYFW cares what London FW is doing? Do you think Paris Fashion Week wants to be like London? No. You have to do what works for your city, your audience”… and that is legitimately my Oprah, ‘ah-ha’ moment. He then told me, “If we weren’t friends, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now because, in NYC, time is money.” Jaw drop.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why?

I want a date night with Ellen DeGeneres (aka De Generous). Ellen has heart, has character, and more balls than some of these men ruining, I mean, running our country. I want to work with her in doing a show with real everyday women, not models, help them bring out something they never saw in themselves or too scared to. Tell them to know their worth add shipping and handling fees.

Q&A with Twin Sister Entrepreneurs, Rebecca & Rachel

Rachel & Rebecca

 

Twinnks, created by twin sisters Rebecca and Rachel, is a modernized t-shirt bra that solves all of the most common “brablems”. Not only does it have the molded, seamless cups for comfort and support, but it goes a step further and smooths out the edge of the cups, making it invisible under clothes. Eventually, they hope to expand into all things basic: t-shirts, undershirts, tank tops and more.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

We’re the youngest of four girls (I know...our poor dad), born and raised in Birmingham, AL. In 2015, after months of talking about this idea for a new bra, we finally decided to go for it.  We’re almost two years into development and plan to officially launch at the end of 2017. In the meantime, we both still have our full-time jobs (Rachel in marketing, Rebecca in insurance). In fact, up until this point, we have been keeping our identities on our website and social media pages under wraps because we didn’t want to risk having our work see it. But the opportunity to be on Fem Founder is worth it, so we’re throwing caution to the wind.

What inspired you to start your business?

Getting dressed. But really, it started with a mutual frustration for bras that claim to be “invisible under clothing” but after a short period of wear would show the visible cup lines (which we refer to as the “VCL”). We read countless articles as to why this happens: wrong size, you’re washing it too much or too little, you’re wearing it too much, you should get professionally measured every 6 months, the list goes on and it fueled us to start Twinnks. The reason it happens is simple: there’s an abrupt transition from the bra cup to the skin, so after the slightest wear, the line shows. We had a very clear vision of how a bra should be constructed to fix it and it didn’t exist.

Where is your business based?

Online, but we both live in North Carolina.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

In our initial research, we came across MakersRow.com, which is an online network that connects entrepreneurs with factories (very helpful, we highly recommend). From there, we contacted several manufacturers to see if they could make a prototype for us. We found one in San Francisco that really understood the idea and we’ve been with them ever since!

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Social media, hands down—especially Instagram. Not only is it a great way to build a brand and raise awareness, it also allows our potential market to get to know us and our personalities.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

Coming into a very competitive industry with no experience in product development. In the beginning, we were overwhelmed because there’s so much to learn and we had no idea where to start. There is a ton of information out there about starting a company, but we realized that we’re never really going to learn until we do it. So we hired the factory, started on development and asked a lot of questions along the way (our designer can vouch for this). Now look at us, we’re product development geniuses.

How do you stay focused?

By constantly thinking about the end goal. We both have a really strong work ethic, so even though we still have full-time jobs, we’re extremely determined to make Twinnks a success.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

For starters, we’re women, which is a rare find in this industry. Most bra companies are run by men who seem to love lace, tiny bows and push up cups. That’s cute and all, but we’re not about the frill. Our focus is on functionality, comfort and, of course, making it flattering. Second, we’re committed to relating to our customers rather than talk down to them. There are a lot of brands that position themselves as experts and treat customers like students. That’s not our style. We’re extremely new to this world and we won’t pretend otherwise. Lastly, we’re actually building this company from the ground up. Everything is self-funded: no GoFundMe page (although, nothing against it) and no venture capitalist hurling money at us.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Social media without a doubt. We knew what we wanted our tone and aesthetic to be early on and started planning our posting-schedule four months before launching. We’re currently taking an Instagram marketing class through ilovecreatives.com. The creator, Jennifer Puno, grew her Instagram following from zero to 80,000 in one year so she’s good.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

  1. This is cliché, but patience is a virtue. It's so easy to get caught up in the eagerness to launch, but it's so important to focus on the product and get it to where you want it to be, rather than where it's “just passable”. In reality, it probably won't happen according to your timeline and that's usually for the best

  2. Use your support system and reciprocate. We were pleasantly surprised at how supportive everyone was, and not just our immediate friends and family. Our generation has the reputation of being entitled and unwilling to work, but we couldn't disagree more. Millennials have great work ethic, we just insist on working for something we actually care about. And what's even better, there's so much support from people (even strangers) in the same situation, so become a part of the comradery! There are a lot of startup communities out there that help connect like-minded people, whether it's for collaborations, feedback, advice, promotion, really anything. Groups like Rising Tide Society and SocietyGal are great places to start. Put yourself out there.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

This is hard because there are so many good ones for both business & personal use.

Blogs: Instagram’s Business Blog is a great source for content inspiration (they literally have “inspiration” as a category). Also, Buffer and Entrepreneur.com’s blogs are great for startups and strategy.

Apps- It’s lame to say out loud, but pretty much all social media apps (you have to stay in the know!). We also use Later to schedule posts and Google Drive.

Podcasts- you didn’t ask, but we are podcast fanatics so we’re throwing it in there.

●      How I Built This is amazing. It’s really inspiring to hear how some of the most successful companies got started.

●      The Art of Charm (both a blog & podcast) ties personal development and social skills into successful business relationships. Let’s be honest, incorporating human behavior into anything is so interesting. We are a crazy species.

●      My Favorite Murder- We can’t talk podcast without mentioning this. A great go-to when you need a break from reality. We love true crime and the hosts are hilarious.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

We’ve already mentioned it, but MakersRow.com is a great one. Also, since we work in separate places, Google Drive has been extremely useful. Peoplemap.co is an Instagram tool that we use daily. It lets you comment, filter, build lists and analyze Instagram from a desktop. 

Who is your business role model? Why?

It's hard to pinpoint one but we have serious admiration for Whitney Wolfe (founder of Bumble). After being sexually harassed and suspended as Co-Founder of Tinder, she walked away with her middle finger up and started a competing app that empowers women and she's killing it. It’s inspiring.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

Perfecting and launching our product. We’ve worked so hard preparing for this moment and there’s finally a light at the end of the tunnel. Following our own advice from question #10, we will not launch just to launch. Above all else is the quality of the product so the first batch will go to our test audience to ensure it successfully solves the problem before selling it. We’ve mapped out our marketing strategy so once we’re certain it’s ready, we will H-U-S-T-L-E.

How can our readers connect with you?

Website: www.twinnks.com (*make note of the two N’s, using only one will get you a pornographic surprise)

Email: info@twinnks.com

Instagram: @twinnks_co

Facebook: @twinnks

Twitter: @twinnks_co

 

Q&A with Entrepreneur, Eileen Zimmerman

Eileen Zimmerman

As a seasoned business traveler, Eileen Zimmerman found herself wishing she could take advantage of the beautiful pools and spas at some of the hotels she stayed at but didn't have a way to pack her wet bathing suit for the flight home.  Searching for a solution, Eileen was disappointed by the lack of high-quality, beautiful, wet bags on the market so she decided to create her own. 

As colleagues, friends, and family members saw her wet swimsuit bag they began to ask her to make them one too, and Eileen knew she was on to something.  Designed to protect your purse, suitcase, or gym tote from wet and soggy items while on the go, Wander Wet Bags™ are super cute, eco-friendly, powerfully water-resistant, wet swimsuit bags.  With gorgeous prints on the outside and waterproof lining on the inside, Wander Wet Bags™ let you live in the moment and look polished at the same time.

Can you tell our readers about your background? 

I started my career in sales and moved into software product management after business school.  My first job out of college was cold calling businesses door-to-door selling long distance phone service. It was probably the hardest job I've ever had but it gave me the confidence to walk into a room and talk to pretty much anyone.  Later, as a software product manager, I learned how to work with a team to create products people want and need to use.

What inspired you to start your business? 

After fifteen years in the corporate world, I left my job when my eldest son started kindergarten.  I wasn't sure what I wanted to do next but I knew I needed a more flexible lifestyle. I had made myself a wet swimsuit bag a few months earlier because I couldn't find a cute one that I wanted to carry with me at a spa or resort pool. A few family members and friends had asked me to make them one, so the business just kind of grew out of my newly found free time and ability to see the market opportunity.  

Where is your business based?

Wander Wet Bags is based in Encinitas, California, just north of San Diego in the heart of the surf culture and the Southern California lifestyle. 

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

The first thing I did when I started to get a sense that there was so much interest in my Wander Wet Bags was to test out my idea with people I didn't know.  I decided to make a few bags and see if any of the surf shops in downtown Encinitas would be willing to buy them.  Using my cold calling experience from my first job out of school I simply walked into the shops and asked to speak with the buyers.  One of the biggest stores said they were interested and wanted to buy some and test them out.  This feedback told me that I was really on to something and I decided to move forward with the next step of turning my idea into a business.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business? 

Perhaps in unexpected ways, Instagram has definitely been a powerful tool to get the word out about Wander Wet Bags.  It is so easy to tell a story through photos and to leverage other users' images to add to your own story and create relationships with other brands that share a common vision.  Less about driving immediate sales, Instagram has helped me create a lifestyle brand through visual storytelling and get that story in front of similar partners, influencers, and retailers that want to collaborate.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them? 

My biggest challenge so far has been an issue with my first manufacturer.  On my first big run, my manufacturing partner lost hundreds of my bags during the shipping process.  It was a lot of money for me, and I remember thinking that many people would quit after such a loss.  I decided that I would keep going and that I would not let this setback take me down.  "Keep Going", has been my mantra every time I face an obstacle that seems daunting at the time.

How do you stay focused?

When you are running a business there is always a list of 100 things that needed to get done yesterday.  It is easy to get caught in the bustle of the day to day and lose sight of the bigger picture.  I use the Self Journal by Best Self Co. to set quarterly goals and outline what I want to achieve every three months.  It is so rewarding to look back at the end of a quarter and see how far I have come.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition? 

I differentiate Wander Wet Bags by staying authentic to why I started the business and who I started it for.  Wander Wet Bags have gorgeous prints, are made with high-quality fabrics, and are sewn with a pride in craftsmanship that you don't often see in consumer products anymore.  In the drive for fast fashion, many companies choose to use cheap zippers, for example or don't reinforce their stitching so their products fall apart.  The women that buy Wander Wet Bags command a higher standard of both style and durability and that is where I focus my business.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business? 

Going back to staying focused, we get a lot of feedback about additional potential uses and target markets for our Wander Wet Bags.  We hear again and again that we should create a line for children.  While I absolutely agree that the market for kids is large, there are already so many products focused on the market for baby gear that is covered in kid prints.  Staying focused on making something upscale specifically just for stylish, strong women have helped set us apart from the competition.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs? 

Be courageous. 90% of entrepreneurship is taking calculated risks and doing things that most people find uncomfortable.  Trust your instincts!  If a partnership doesn't quite feel right to you don't do it.  Conversely, if you are scared to take action on something that will move your business forward, be brave and do it anyway.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

Favorite App - The Momentum Dashboard plugin for Chrome.  I love the gorgeous photography combined with inspirational quotes every time I open a new tab in my browser.

Favorite Blog/Podcast - NPR's How I Built This Podcast with Guy Raz.  I love hearing the real stories from entrepreneurs who have made it.  I have my favorites that I listen to when I hit a wall and need to remember that other entrepreneurs have gotten through these same issues and made it to the other side with success.

Favorite Book- "Delivering Happiness" by Tony Hsieh, best known as the CEO of Zappos.  I love reading about how "All in" Hsieh was willing to go to ensure Zappos' and his team's success.  I am inspired by how laser-focused Zappos is on perfecting their customers' end to end experience.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

Shopify is my favorite business tool right now.  It is really incredible how far I've been able to take my company with such a small investment on the technology side.  Their platform is so robust and the features are so well thought through I am able to expand my business with additional functionality through their third-party apps whenever I need to.

Who is your business role model? Why? 

Sara Blakely is my idol.  I remember my dad sending me an article about her back in my long-distance door to door sales days.  He told me there was a woman, not much older than I was, who had used her cold calling skills to get in the door at Nordstrom and other large retailers and sell her women's' shapewear product.  I so relate to her feelings of, "This is not my movie," when she talks about selling fax machines door-to-door at the beginning of her career.  I hope to meet her someday soon and swap stories about getting kicked out of buildings by security guards.

What do you have planned for the next six months? 

For the next six months, I am building out my sales and marketing plans to dominate the luxury wet swimsuit bag market in Summer 2018.  I have new prints coming out that I am really excited about.  I look forward to expanding the select resorts, spas, and boutiques we currently work with in the USA and around the world.

How can our readers connect with you? 

I always love to hear feedback and ideas from customers and prospective partners.  You can learn more about my journey and purchase Wander Wet Bags at www.wanderwetbags.com, on Instagram @wanderwetbags, and on Amazon.  I can be reached personally via email at eileen@wanderwetbags.com and on Twitter @eileenzimmerman.

Q&A with Stylist and Entrepreneur, Bernadette Payne

Bernadette Payne

I love to interview female entrepreneurs from around the world as every journey is different. And today's interview is with leading Aussie stylist, fashion blogger, and entrepreneur, Bernadette Payne of That's My Style, a personal styling company. Here's what she had to say about her entrepreneurial journey. 

1). Please tell our readers about your professional background. 

My background is a solid 20 years in the fashion industry as a buyer and overseeing the manufacturing of clothing for large Australian retailers. By my mid 20’s, I was in a management position and was juggling overseas travel, predicting fashion trends, sourcing fabrics, running a production team, negotiating with China factories, and producing high-quality budget level clothing in short lead times.

I was very driven but under immense pressure to perform and in turn constantly stressed. I left after having my third child and knowing that I just couldn’t give the energy to the job anymore. I wanted to focus on my family but share my background knowledge – That’s My Style was now born.

2). Why did you start your business? 

My inspiration behind ‘That’s My Style’ is that I truly believe everyone has the right to know how to dress to feel like the best version of themselves.

I want people to understand the power of clothing and how it can make them feel great. Dressing confidently and understanding what works can change people’s perception of themselves. With this comes acceptance and a new-found confidence that impacts their personal and professional lives. I feel honored to witness their journeys.

3). What market does your business serve? 

My market is mainly women aged 35-65. They all engage my services for a similar outcome but they each have their own story. No matter where they are in life, I can help them feel more confident about their wardrobe choices. Learning what to wear and what to avoid creates empowerment and a new found love of getting dressed every day. Confidence starts from within and this is where we start.

4). What's the largest challenge you've encountered as a business owner? 

The styling and marketing of my business come naturally and is where I want my energy to go. The challenges are the behind the scenes admin and getting the most out of the time that I have.

My husband also runs a business, so it’s a constant juggle. We know the value of family time and embrace it is much as we can.

5). What's your best piece of business advice? 

Believe in what you do. Be on your own journey and don't worry about what others are doing. Believe in your own vision and what you can offer that no one else can. And never stop learning and growing.

6). How do you like to relax? 

Good question – I don’t have a lot of me time, so soaking in a bath, with a good book and a candle burning is very relaxing (as long as the kids are in bed) and I always feel energized and grateful for a dinner catch up and drinks with my gorgeous friends.

7). Connect with Bernadette on: 

That's My Style

Facebook.com

Instagram.com