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Fashion Business Advice

Designer Discussions: A Successful Founder Shares How She Grew Her Fashion Business

One of my favorite things to do is to have a conversation with brands that are reaching their goals and finding success. I love to learn how their doing it and get bits of advice and insight that I can share with the members of the StartUp FASHION Community as well as our blog readers. 

Recently, we hosted a designer discussion here in New York City with Parisa Wang who is the founder of the namesake accessories brand Parisa Wang.  Parisa Wang sells in Opening Ceremony, ShopBop, and other major retailers. They’ve been featured in Vogue, Refinery29, Glamour, and more!

We discussed her journey as a brand owner, the things she has accomplished along the way, and how she’s managed to reach those accomplishments.

It was a great evening where StartUp FASHION members were invited to attend the event for free and non-members could purchase a ticket to attend.

Here’s what we talked about…

Parisa, could you share with us a little bit about your journey and where you were before and what made you say “OK I’m going to do this.”?

Parisa: Let me start from the very beginning. I grew up in urban China where art was seen as a waste of time. So to actively pursue my passion in college I chose a major that would make my parents happy, which was accounting.  But what my parents didn’t know is that I was also starting art and painting on the side. After I graduated I had the choice to be an accountant or really decide to take my passion to the next level and come to New York and study Fashion Design. So I chose the latter and after I gained my degree in Fashion Design and I worked in the industry for for a while. 

Throughout the process, I was learning as a designer, but I was also a little bit disappointed in the workplace as a designer because you were told to replicate existing trends or to copy a garment and change out the colors, prints, or patterns for your new collection.  

That’s not exactly what I envisioned as a designer so I didn’t really find the outlet to express myself creatively in the workplace, nor did I have a chance to do something different. So I decided to take more of an entrepreneurial path which was scary and full of surprises with a lot of risk taking. I left my previous company and decided to launch my line in 2016.

How did that go over with your parents when you told them that? Where they supportive at that point or were they not so into it?

Parisa: You know, after college when I decided to go for fashion design they weren’t really happy about it, but I was so persistent about it and I just didn’t give a shit anymore. I just kind of did it and I was eventually able to secure a job, gain a work visa, and start working and they were like ‘ok you can do whatever you want.’

Nicole: That’s great. And it’s interesting to hear that you had that financial background. That must have been helpful in terms of the whole entrepreneurial thing because often it’s like you either have the design background or the more business background and it can be challenging when you have one or the other and trying to learn the side you don’t have. So it’s kinda nice that you had the numbers background.

Parisa: I think it’s definitely useful to have the math skills and to have a rough budget of what you’re doing. For example, from a price point example, where do you see yourself in the market? Are you going for the luxury high end perspective or the middle range contemporary, or the more commercial perspective? Having that price point in mind, think back and work your way backwards in calculating costs will help you save a lot of energy and time in the long term.

When you were in the early stages of your business, how did you decide where to spend money and where not to? When you were budgeting how did you allocate?

Parisa: I chose to spend money on products because I think ultimately it’s the product that distinguishes you and your business from the rest of the competition. So I chose to spend money on product designing, product manufacturing, and the logistic part which is huge. It’s huge to get the product ready to sell and physically put the product on the shelf so we receive the fastest and honest feedback from the customer..and they will tell you honestly if they like the product and how they feel about the product, or whether they don’t like the product and how we can improve from there.  So that’s where I spent 80% of my money at the beginning.

So you said you spent it on product and you wanted to get that product on the shelf. So what do you mean by that? Are you talking about you were selling it or you were putting it somewhere and attending trade shows? What did that mean to get it on the shelf to get feedback?

Parisa: I did pop-up stores, and had already rented a small space at an artist market. I was able to gain a lot of feedback from a weekend of popping up into a busy foot traffic location.

Were you aggressive in your questions like “what do you think?”. How were you getting that feedback?

Parisa: I think customers are stopping by and inquiring about these products and would ask me the price point and I think it’s just a matter of your willingness to introduce your design to people. We have an interesting style that can be worn across the back or also as a cross-body and everyone was interested in that particular style when they stopped by the space. So I would take the time to get to know their opinion and their needs and when I showed the different ways of wearing a product they were fascinated. I think initially I had five products in the collection and I was able to get the feedback from the customers that it was the star seller, so I started with that one.

Audience Question: Were you actually selling at the pop up or was it just for customer feedback?

Parisa: I was selling so I was making profit that weekend too.

Nicole: That’s great. Although I have seen designers who have done it in a pre-sale way so they might not have inventory. That’s a little harder of a thing to pull off.  So have you done that as well?

Parisa: I’ve also done that as well. Before I even had the physical product, I did a kickstarter campaign by selling an idea. It was an idea about love stories that captured the different stages of her relationship and people bought into that story.

Nicole: That’s great, and I’ve heard this before. There was a discussion in our member’s Facebook group, one of our members shared this really awesome point that she used a kickstarter campaign as a marketing tool more than anything else. So yes, she raised money for the first batch of production, but it was about learning and seeing the star pieces..and getting feedback and really having people talking about her brand before the product was out there to really sell. So I think the kickstarter..more and more people are realizing it’s not only about raising the money. They think “oh I need to do a crowdfunding campaign to raise all the money I need”, but you will inevitably need a lot more than you ever raise. So a big part of it is about the marketing.

Parisa: Right and just getting the press. You have a reason to pitch the press and say “here, I’m launching this company…” and you have a story to tell.

Did you find they were interested in it? There’s so many Kickstarters out there now that the press are probably like “oh another one…”. Did you pitch your romantic stages of a relationships story or were you pitching like “hey I’m this new brand doing a kickstarter…”? What was that like when you were putting that out there?

Parisa: I think initially pitching can be quite difficult because it’s a brand new label out there and they just don’t have much time to listen to your story and everything. I started with smaller blogs and built my way there and when you’re honing up your skill and also perfecting the product, I get responses back in my second season from editors and press.

Nicole: Ok. I think that was a really great point about starting with smaller blogs, because I think sometimes it feels like, “what is that going to do for my business?”, and you’re putting all this time into it, but it’s building blocks and it takes time.

Audience Question: Have you ever done consignment?

Parisa: Yes, I think as a new designer you should definitely try out [consignment], but what you should be doing is , if things are going well, pitch wholesale for the second season when they reorder, not consignment. I would recommend trying consignment on your first season, especially for the store you think is a good fit and where you shop and you see your product sit on the floor. Talk to their buyers and introduce your line to them. When you close up the conversation, just tell them,

“Look, there’s no risk for you to take this line so let’s try this out. There’s no risk involved and you can only make money and lose nothing.”

Audience Question: When you were doing pop-ups, did you focus on your financial demographic? Were you focusing on pop ups that were going to expose you to that customer base?

Parisa: I didn’t choose specifically what kind of pop up I wanted to go for because I just wanted to get a feel for the product and test out the price point. I wanted to see what these customers were comfortable buying. And I realize that for designing handbags, $250-$300 is the sweet spot right away. That’s when I realized that this is something they are comfortable spending on a designer handbag and this is what I’m going to do for my line.

Nicole: So then you work backwards and figured out how much they are willing to pay, and figured out how the hell you were going to make it and make money. Too many people start with the cost of producing something and multiply and multiply, but no one wants to spend $1,000. So your point of working backwards is a beautiful example of that, where you tested out what they were willing to pay. Then you figured out how you were going to make your product selling it at that price.

Audience Question: Did you try to stay in a local market, or did you travel?

Parisa: Yes, local in New York. Work in your backyard first before you go nationally. I think regardless what kind of market you find, work as close to you as possible so you can eliminate any travel or overhead startup cost.

Audience Question: Do you have someone who handles sales and marketing or do you do it yourself?

Parisa: I handle my sales and on the second year we hired a PR firm and they handle press outreach, but I do my personal wholesale and it’s produced in Hong Kong.

Audience Question: Do you send your patterns to your production team?

Parisa: I use Skype to schedule design meetings and make sure the samples look great. We follow a four seasons delivery, so every month we have to have new things coming out.

If you could think back, what are some of the things that did in the early stages, but now in hindsight wish you wouldn’t have?

Parisa: I think essentially everything was a learning experience for me. I could say, I wish I didn’t send that email where I forgot that attachment or there’s a typo. Or I wish I didn’t attend that slow traffic trade show. But I think it’s through those mistakes and rejections, thousands of them, that I learn and recover and know exactly what to improve and how to get those yes’s.

Nicole: So there wasn’t anything that really stuck out?

Parisa: A lot to be honest. Too much to mention. You learn as you go so I think the most important thing is to start.

You have a lot of impressive wholesale partners and I know that was really exciting for these designers to see, because so often when you’re pitching buyers you’re hearing nothing… crickets…and you want to be in it for the long game and just keep pushing and pushing. I’m wondering if you can share what made you go after those wholesale accounts in a time when so many people are talking about direct to consumer. Was that a conscious decision “I want to be in these stores” and what were you doing to get into them?

Parisa: Why wholesale accounts? It’s because I’m 100% self funded which means there’s no investor money involved. Also, there’s limitation which means I don’t have a lot of access to capital to invest in advertising and for most of the retail business out there goes direct to the consumer and you see ads everywhere on Facebook. So essentially it requires a large lot of money to invest on these advertisements in order to find your target customer. So the wholesale accounts will get you there and they help you to build equity and are selling for you. I think that’s the conscious decision I made early on as an independent fashion label; wholesale is so essential to many perspectives to marketing to sales.

So you made that decision and said, I’m getting into these stores. What did you do?What was your first step? What were you saying, how were you getting those meetings, and how persistent were you being? Did you get a lot of rejection in the beginning and how did you deal with that?

Parisa: Yeah, by opening up a wholesale account by attending trade shows and researching stores. I personally have a store list. Start building your store list by researching these stores in your region. If you shop frequently at some stores, go talk to them and see what sits on their floor and envision your line. Where do you sit beside these labels? Where do you see yourself on the floor? You want to help your buyer by helping yourself when you talk to the buyer so you know exactly where it is on your floor so you can demonstrate it to them.

I suggest to physically go to the store because for some of these smaller boutique stores in New York there sales associates are actually their buyer. Sometimes the owners hang out in the store and as far as I know most of them, their office is there in the store, downstairs, in the basement, or just in the back office so you can build a relationship with them right there.

Bring a product of yours whether it’s handbags, belts, clothing, or anything bring a product.

But for some of the bigger stores are paying attention to your store list. They see you’ve sold somewhere and it makes them interested. And for me I’m not sure if it’s my luck, but some of these bigger stores contacted me through email and I know the buyers want to see three to four seasons of your lookbook before they even schedule a meeting with you.

So you do want to be presentable…like last night I was having a meeting with Bloomingdale’s. They did go to one of my stockist, which is the opening ceremony, and check on them to see how my stuff is doing on the floor.

Nicole: So they’re doing their homework on you too just to see where you’re selling and then how you’re doing in those sales…that’s fascinating.

Parisa: Exactly, so for these bigger stores, I would say keep them in the loop for what’s coming up. Keep them excited and I think ultimately persistence is the key.

Nicole: So when you say keep them in the loop you’re just emailing them about new collections? And are you hearing back or was it just in the early stages I’m just going to keep talking to them? How did that go?

Parisa: I think now in the digital age we talk a lot by email, but my mentor was telling me you can’t physically build a relationship with this person by emailing. So whether it’s by attending trade shows or going to their store, have a connection with this person and talk to them.

Audience Question: I’ve thought a lot about doing what you said which is taking a few samples and walk in the store, but have always felt awkward about it. Will a buyer or sales person in the store ask why is this person talking about this stuff? Is that frowned upon in the industry or is it acceptable? What kind of reaction do you get from doing that?

Parisa: That’s definitely something I have encountered as well. You will know when the buyer comes in by calling them in first. Once you do your store research you will know who the buyer is and you can just ask them “hey is the Manager in today?”. And when you find out if he’s in there, come in and stop by and pay a visit and say “hi” to him. The first time you don’t have to straight sell to them, but establish a relationship with them by saying you’re a big fan of your store and I buy whatever… Or sometimes these stores throw summer parties and you can also go mingle with them and I think it’s an easier way to get to know the owner as well.

Nicole: And I would add that if you want in then just go talk to them. It’s the kind of thing where you can second guess this stuff forever and ever.

Is this frowned upon? Are they gonna be like “what are you doing here?” So what if they do say that? So you go in and they say, “no, the buyer is not here, or why are you here?”. So you say this is why I’m here, I want to talk to them, or show them something, or whatever it is.

I feel like sometimes things seem like, “oh I couldn’t do that”, or it’s fear of embarrassment that keeps us from doing things we just have to do to push forward. Sometimes just asking yourself what’s keeping me from this? If you get embarrassed by them asking what you doing here…is that the worst thing? No because it could be the opposite way and they could be like “Oh those shirts are awesome! Let’s talk!”.

Audience Input: I have a small boutique in the city and I do get people that come in and I’m very sensitive. I will always look. People may call me and I may say I don’t like it…you’re not gonna get my money…but I’ll always look. And maybe in the future… my budget is really small..most people have already gone to the shows…summer is already over, but they’ve introduced themselves and shown me what they do, maybe in six months, maybe in a year, I’ll have it stuck in my source bag thinking I’m gonna try and get that into my store eventually. So the worst is as my Mother said, “if they say no what are you gonna do, die?” 

The other thing I wanna point out is I don’t like people that bullshit me. If they come in my store and they’re gonna try to sell me something you get really good at the psychology of a person so I know exactly why they’re coming in. Be friendly. We can have a great conversation about something and then I can say “you know what, here’s my card, here’s what I do, if you’re interested maybe we can do a few emails back and forth, but tell me the truth…” and I will really value that more than not being up front.

Audience Question: Do you recommend not bringing your product in the first time or just going in for purely “hey how’s it going?”

Parisa: I always wear my product, always. But it doesn’t have to be to sell, it’s just a part of your accessory and they would realize that and say “oh, cool hand bag!” and then I could say “I designed it”.

Nicole: With Taylor, it’s gowns so maybe she couldn’t wear her gowns in, but you could say here’s my card, here’s what I do…

StartUp FASHION Member Question: We did get a question from our Facebook group and she was wondering if you could share a little about how you even figured out who the buyers were for these stores? 

Parisa: Yes, I think by attending trade shows. Trade shows are a place where all buyers go and hang out and I’m not sure if you have tried this, but when I attend a trade show I usually ask the host for a list of what stores are coming in and usually the buyers will leave their name on the roster. From there you can understand and get to know who are these buyers from what store.

Nicole: And the trade shows were open to that? You could ask if you could have this list and they said yes?

Parisa: Yeah..sometimes just ask and you will find out a lot of things you actually don’t’ know. I have a list and ask them if they can cross reference my list and they are very happy to do that.

Nicole: Wow, and you have a booth at these shows, correct? So you’re paying them, that’s a big part of it to.

Parisa: I think they offer that kind of service.

Nicole: Interesting…what shows did you go to?

Parisa: Capsule

Nicole:  There was an interesting discussion about designers attending trade shows and just walking and not having a booth cause their really expensive. I think it was the charge was $1500 to walk the show… to attend as a brand, they wanted to charge $1500 because designers are now showing up to shows and not renting a booth, wearing their product and striking up conversation with buyers as they are walking. Which I find fascinating…I think if you can pull it off and you have that kind of personality where you can walk up to someone who you don’t know who’s walking around it could be interesting. You’ve never heard of anyone doing like that huh?

Parisa: Actually, I recently heard a podcast with Daymond John and I was like “oh my God…you know…” so that’s why he’s so successful!

Nicole: Look up this podcast with Daymond John if you haven’t listened to it. He was talking about his early years and when he went to MAGIC and had no money. He wore the FUBU brand there..a couple of his friends wore the Fubu brand there…I don’t know how he got into MAGIC without a badge… and was hanging around the booths of brands like Timberland and ones that were aligned with his brand and would start talking to people that were walking up to the booth who were probably buyers.

How much of your business is direct to consumer? Do you focus on that a lot now once you build up that wholesale or are you not even there yet where you feel like you’re ready to invest in all the ads and stuff?

Parisa: I think customers are always looking to get the most from you and the fastest way for you to improve your product offering so that you can grow faster. I think essentially B2C is very important. Whether you’re doing wholesale or retail, I think ultimately the customer is always the key.

Nicole: I think that’s a good point — it is not one or the other. You just have to figure out what kind of resources you have in the early stages to help you decide which one that’s gonna be to start. So if you have the budget to be putting money into the ads and everything and you want to be one of those brands that starts with direct to consumer and builds up that exclusivity like you only get this on our website, that’s great, but you have to put some money into it. Or you can start focusing on the wholesale knowing you’re going to be adding some direct to consumer where you can learn about your customer and that kinda thing.

I think what’s interesting if you do start with direct to consumer and add wholesale  but only a few accounts, because you’re profit is reduced significantly. You can get really creative in deciding on a few wholesale accounts and say,  “these are the stores where you can get my stuff, or you can get it online.” So it doesn’t have to be like what it was for a long time, “oh I need to get a whole bunch of wholesale accounts and then I can also be selling D2C.” If you can build up that D2C then you can be really selective in wholesale accounts…which says something about your brand.


Audience Question: When you first started out, did you work with your customer and design products that fit your customer? As in a lot of people start out with family and friends and that sort of thing. Or maybe you start out with a product and then looked for a customer that was interested in that product?

Parisa: That’s a good question. I think I started with the product first and then I put it in front of the customer. I think I had four or five of these products and would see which one received the best response and started from there.  I think as a creative person, you do spend an equal amount of time and energy on every product, but you really need the market to tell you which one is the one that’s going to be a starter. You have to listen to their feedback, otherwise you waste a lot of money on things that are not moving.

Nicole: You’ve been in some really impressive magazines and gotten a lot of attention from the industry and I’m wondering…I know you mentioned you started with blogs and then you built up from there. Did you at any point hire a publicist or do you still work with a publicist? Do you feel like that’s a good thing? Do you wish you had done it sooner? Tell us your whole story about it.

Parisa: For PR, I didn’t hire my current PR until year two. I was doing all of my PR work by myself for year one. I’m a big believer of do it yourself first because by doing the work you will understand what it takes to do the work. After, you’ll know what it takes to talk to editors and what works and what kind of images are appealing. You would know afterwards what kind of people are going to be good at this job and the skill set you are looking for and ultimately whether this person is doing a good job or not. I made mistakes of hiring people on doing some small things on my website, but ultimately I wasn’t really sure whether it was going to help me increase my ROI or not. So I think it’s just a matter of doing the work by yourself first to know the big picture and then you can break it down to smaller steps to execute.

Nicole: I think that’s a really good point because it’s really easy early on to feel so overwhelmed with everything that you have to do so you feel like if I could just hire a PR person to handle this for me and someone else to do this for me…and then there’s certain really sexy things with a PR person where you think oh if I hire that person all this really cool stuff is going to happen. So nobody cares necessarily about hiring the more operational stuff like that’s not as exciting. It’s exciting to hire a publicist because you think you’re going to get all of this press and that kinda stuff…and maybe you will and maybe you won’t. The idea that you need to take a step back and really think about doing a lot of that stuff yourself.  

You not only learn so much, but you start to build those relationships with those editors. If you were hiring this out from the very beginning, let’s say you have the budget to do that, you’re not as much a part of that conversation and not getting to know these editors.

The thing about editors is that they have a new job at a new magazine every other month so you want to create that relationship. So that editor has you  in their mind with them as they go to all these new positions. And they may have started as the Assistant’s Assistant at Glamour and then two years down the road they are now the editor of Vogue and they remember you from then and have taken you along. So that’s a really good point to support what you’re saying about doing it yourself as much as you can in the beginning. I know it’s overwhelming, but try.

Parisa: Right, exactly and some of these magazines it’s tough to have a magazine media company. So all of a sudden the person you’re talking to has to find a new job. These editors are all freelance editors and they pitch their stories to the all kinds of publications. I think the relationship with editors are very essential and even when you have a PR rep you still need to know what’s going on. You can’t just hands off it and do whatever.

Nicole: I would also add to that if you hire a PR firm too soon when you are still learning about what your brand is about it’s a waste of money. When you spend this money and you’re still working out your best sellers and message so if you start spending money on things like that you’re going to find it was a waste of money down the road because you weren’t ready. So instead if you’re working on it like Parisa has suggested, it’s a much smarter approach early on. I know it’s easy to want to hire one right away, but I also agree spend time doing it yourself.

Audience Question: How early on did you start to communicate with these editors and how did you do it?

Parisa: I researched and Googled it and saw a blog post on StartUp Fashion popped up on my screen. There were a lot of posts which I bookmarked about how to pitch an editor and I just started from there.

Nicole: Well that’s really nice to hear!

Nicole: I feel like the biggest part of it is nothing happens without follow up. You’re gonna send it and not hear back and then just follow up a few times. And if you don’t hear back after a few times then you wait until you have something new to say because you don’t want to just keep emailing the same thing. When you have something new whether that’s you have a new color or you’re launching a new collection, touching back with them if you haven’t heard from them after several attempts and you just keep going.

Audience Question: Are influencers still important to you?

Parisa: Yes, I think influencers are quite important for us as well. I see them as micro media to build a relationship with the brand. I work with a lot of influencers actually. We put a spotlight on them so essentially it’s a celebration of inspirational women who have forged their way to success.  They help us to express the message that we embody. So for influencers I see them as a collaboration because I feel like as a brand we want to create beautiful fashion, beautiful handbags. We also want to celebrate the things that are important to us and we utilize these amazing girls as influencers to help us to express that message.

Nicole: Do you see a conversion on that?

Parisa: I do see a conversion. It really depends on which influencer because nowadays it’s quite easy to get many followers in a short period of time so you really do want to do your background check. After being in the industry for long enough I follow some of the girls from when I was a college student so I know they work really hard to build those contacts for their followers so I know whose voice is authentic. I think you should do your research with who is going to have a good conversion for your product.

Nicole: And you pay these people correct?

Parisa: Sometimes…we mostly work on gifting or partnership base…I want to test out that partnership first before I come into something deeper.

Nicole: I’ve heard that it’s often a good idea if you’re going to do that also offering a percentage of sales. Do you find that works for you?

Parisa: Definitely, yes.  Whenever the fans purchase something through their feeds they will receive a percentage.

Audience Question: How did you initially get going with social media? Did you find buyers cared about things like your initial followings and that it seriously mattered?

Parisa:  I think just by being persistent and posting often. There’s many ways to gain followers whether by partner, with influencers, or having an offline event that’s back to the B2C question. You build a relationship with these customers. A lot of my followers are how I gained through the offline events. They celebrate with you every little win and your growth along the way. That’s so precious and is really amazing.

Nicole: Just to build on that a bit, if you don’t have a product yet and you’re trying to build something it’s really about thinking who you think this customer is. What else is going on in her life or his life that you could share on social media that would attract them before you have anything to sell? I’ve seen brands who had a very clear vision of who this woman was. I use this example a lot, but there’s a brand called Negative Underwear. I have interviewed one of the founders and before they knew they even had a product they knew exactly who this woman was. Their Instagram feed was so inspirational with quotes that identified with whoever she was. So they were collecting followers before they had anything to sell and then they had people following them and when they had a product to put out, they have those people to tell about it.

The best possible thing you can do is be doing that before you have a product to sell with a call to action to get those people on your email list so you’ve got them in an email when you’re ready to launch something. Don’t rely on social media as the way you’re going to stay connected to your customer because you don’t own it. 

The second half of her question was did you find buyers cared about things like your social following?

Parisa: I know a lot of buyers found me through Instagram so I think that’s a big tip. I didn’t know that before and sometimes I would ask these buyers how did you hear about us and they would tell me I saw this on Instagram or walking by a store window.

Audience Question: What does a day look like for you for design versus the rest of your tasks? Where do you see yourself as a business in five years?

Parisa: I think I give 30% of my time to design and 70% of time to marketing. I am very passionate about womenswear so I hope that in five years I can get into the womenswear category and expand my product from handbags to dresses.

Audience: When you talked about having worked after school, having worked with major designers, how long did you work with these designers and did you learn something? Is it absolutely necessary to work with major designers for awhile before you go out into having your own business?

Parisa: I worked about 3 years for major designers. I think I did learn a lot, in a bigger company it’s tough to see the whole business model because you are oftentimes being categorized in a specific department. But for a smaller company you are able to see the whole cycle and how the season works. I was in charge of the designing perspective including production. So we worked hands on with the product manager to bring these items to life and scheduled appointments with the buyers and the press and PR to have them come in to look at these lines. I think it’s definitely very valid. You can avoid a lot of mistakes by learning from your employer.

Audience: How did you find your production manufacturer and what made you feel like you were ready to trust them?

Parisa: I visited a lot of factories, Europe as well, and found my current one through my previous employer. I think just judging from the quality of the work, I think the best work comes from this particular country, Hong Kong so I go for that one. It’s also if I can speak fluent there so I think it’s also an advantage to be able to talk and communicate with them. You can test out the product by seeing example rounds of that product and see whether this is something you envisioned.

Nicole: What was that conversation like when you first went to see them? Did you think “ok this might be the production program for me?” What kinds of questions were you asking them? Were you looking to take a tour of were they open to that? What was that like to help you feel like ok this might be the production partner for me?

Parisa: I think this goes back to my work experience background since I came from that company and they had some trust. At first I just told them I want to see the factory and have a tour of how it works. As a designer, when you tell your factory you want to see how the process works they are very happy about it and thrilled to introduce you how it works…this is the pattern making room, this is where have the samples, this is where the laser cutting area is. So I think introducing yourself as the designer and I think you will find the factory is very supportive as well.

Audience Question: Can you talk a little bit about support structure and mentorship. Did you start your brand with mentors or people who were in the industry?

Parisa: Yes, I think once you start working with a company you will meet people with like minds and mentors along the way. You’re lucky to call them a mentor and meet these people and they are essential. You can dive deep into a topic about marketing, Facebook advertising, where your normal friends would think you’re crazy. I think along the way you will meet a lot of like minded people by attending events like this. Starting off on the same stage or going to a speaker event. I still go to a lot of speaker events and it’s valuable to me.

Nicole: What I like about what you said is that I think too often people think of mentors and it feels like this big grand person who may have accomplished all of these things. That’s one form of mentor, but there’s also this idea that you can meet people who are in a similar place as you and maybe it’s half mentor, half accountability, whatever it is.  But just getting out from behind the computer or out from under the sewing machine and really start talking to people. You never know who you’re going to meet and what kind of mentor they could be even if they aren’t someone at your day job. There’s so much to learn from everyone. I think that’s a really valid point. Go to events and be open minded about what the definition of mentor actually has to be or is.

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Nicole is the founder of StartUp FASHION, an online community and support system for independent designers around the world. She’s a traveler, a weaver, and a foodie. A deep love for the craft of fashion pared with an adamant belief that success is defined by the individual, led her to found StartUp FASHION were she helps independent designers and makers screw the traditional fashion business rules, create their own paths, and build businesses they truly love. More than anything else, she’s in the business of encouragement and works every day to remind makers and designers that they have something special to offer the world and that they can, in fact, do this thing!

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