Less than two weeks after showing their fall collection at Milk, Vena Cava’s Lisa Mayock and Sophie Buhai took center stage at the fashion week hub once again as part of Fashion Group International and consultant Karen Harvey’s panel on entrepreneurship. The Vena Cava girls, along with Rent the Runway co-founders Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss, and Opening Ceremony's Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, came together to share their own “How I’m Making It” stories.
The editors, designers, and consultants who circled back to Milk to hear them speak last night were well-rewarded, not with swag or a tote bag or any of the other requisite fashion event handouts, but with proof that while Milan may be the center of fashion news this week, these determined and ambitious New Yorkers have a lot of knowledge to drop if you're looking to make your way in the fashion industry. Like how to find a factory, how to tap your customer base as an invaluable (and free!) resource, and why you should trust your gut instincts.
The take-home lessons: The Vena Cava girls pounded the pavement, literally.
During their first trunk show, Sophie and Lisa sold $10,000 worth of merchandise, but while they were confident in their design abilities, when it came production, they said they "only knew that [they] had no idea what [they] were doing”. Desperate to produce the clothes in the time they promised, Lisa stalked the Garment District, walking into every building on 8th Avenue that even looked like it was big enough to house a factory, poking around like a door-to-door salesman. Ultimately, she found not one but two suitable outlets. But without that resolve to “just figure it out”, as Lisa said, nothing would’ve been accomplished, and we’d have to turn to someone else for those perfect little dresses with cutouts and hardware detailing.
Rent the Runway listens to its customers, really, really well.
Jenny Fleiss and Jenn Hyman are full of good ideas--their company Rent the Runway is just fifteen months old and already boasts 800,000 members. But the solution for solving the gown length dilemma (you know, since not every size 6 is the same height) didn't come from either of the Jennifers, but from a customer, who suggested that they cut all the gowns into three universal, pre-determined lengths, then send two of the lengths out to renters to ensure a good fit. That's exactly what Jenn and Jenny did, and it's that openness to outside ideas and willingness to listen that helps explain their rapid growth and rabid fan base. (Including Leah, who is totally into their bridesmaid rental option).
Opening Ceremony goes with their gut (even when staffers are sorta confused).
Humberto Leon and Carol Lim were always raiding thrift stores for Pendleton wares as undergrads at Berkeley, so the Pendleton x Opening Ceremony collaboration only seemed natural to them. While their younger staffers were pretty confused by their bosses' attraction to a brand they were largely unfamiliar with, Carol and Humberto believed that their enthusiasm would show through in an honest, fresh product. And they were right. Just as Opening Ceremony imported the very first Havianas into the US and sparked a craze, their spotlight on Pendleton is largely responsible for the brand's renaissance, and perhaps its forthcoming collection, too.
A few other takeaways? Keep your team happy: Carol and Humberto were thrilled to report they just got everyone on their staff 401k. Get a mentor: Sophie and Lisa had Andrew Rosen take them under his wing--for free. Oh, and get a business partner. Because even the most successful of entrepreneurs has a bad idea sometimes, and needs someone to give them a "hey, that's a really weird idea" reality check, as Sophie would say.