In our long-running series, "How I'm Making It," we talk to people making a living in the fashion industry about how they broke in and found success.
When Baublebar started five years ago, Amy Jain and Daniella Yacobovsky founded the brand for the same reason most startups launch: To fill a hole in the market. In their case, it was to provide trendy jewelry at accessible price points via e-commerce and at a fast fashion pace. "That was an opportunity that Baublebar could really own that nobody was doing," says Yacobovsky. And while the brand's end goal has not wavered over time, the duo have been adaptable when it comes to the steps they take to get there.
From 2011, the Baublebar team has grown from two co-founders to 150 employees, now split between two offices. Its fulfillment, website and retail partners, as well as some jewelry production has moved from the Manhattan HQ to Brooklyn's Sunset Park in a fashion-focused waterfront complex called Industry City. "About 15 percent of sales are manufactured out of Brooklyn," says Jain. "It's a big milestone that we’ve been able to figure out with our production cycle." That cycle and supply chain, which keeps a majority of processes in-house, is the key to Baublebar’s success. And it’s caught the attention of investors, as the company's total funding amounts to $35.6 million.
One of Baublebar’s investors, Christopher Burch, also serves as an advisor to the founding duo. "Our favorite thing is to have an hour with no agenda and just hear him think, and it's super fun and entertaining," says Yacobovsky. "He's such a creative genius that some of the ideas that come out, it's at such a different level." Burch's expertise in retail and manufacturing will certainly help with Jain and Yacobovsky's focus for 2016, which entails building Baublebar's offline presence with outside retailers like Bloomingdale's and Anthropologie.
We spoke to Jain and Yacobovsky about how they keep up with their fast-paced e-commerce cycle, their advice for fashion startups and how a banana is the perfect example of their relationship.
Can you go into detail about Baublebar's e-commerce cycle? What's involved and how do you determine what to offer in such a short amount of time?
AJ: We want our customers to open up their Instagram or email and realize, 'How did they know that we needed that?' We have to understand her. She shares a lot of information with our brand as she searches for items and when she's reading certain media outlets. We need to know what content she's consuming and what's going to get her excited. We built an internal tool that allows us to gather this information in real time and we use that to refine our designs.
Also, at the beginning of the season, we have a team that's doing trend forecasting based on the runway shows, but we also do in-season forecasting based on what's trending and then we kind of pare that back. We ask ourselves, "Is this something that can be taken into jewelry and in a way that's accessible?" So we use our data sources to understand, then we have a team of designers who have that figured out — what works and what doesn't work when it comes to fast fashion design around these concepts. If we're designing against a couple of trends, we can easily produce 50 to 100-plus designs in a day to push through the supply chain. Within four to 12 weeks, the designs are up and available on the website.
Have you come across any challenges working at such a fast pace?
AJ: It sits well with our personalities. We're two people who like to just go and I think that's why this opportunity was so exciting. The pace didn't scare us. Prioritize and juggle a number of different projects is the first thing you have to do at a startup, especially for a fast fashion startup. For ourselves and our team, we also value time away from the office. It makes you really efficient because you have to be. When you leave the office, you can turn off your phone and spend time with your family.
The "see now, buy now" model is something that a lot of brands in the fashion industry are starting to experiment with. What are your thoughts on this?
DY: One of the biggest shifts in the fashion space is how consumers find product. Before, I got my monthly magazine to find product. Now, I'm learning a lot of stuff through social media. We've seen classic fashion houses get comfortable with being innovative in the digital space, even if it hasn't hit their design practices yet. Burberry has been innovative in their digital experience. Balmain has hit on this digital influencers opportunity. Many houses have experimented with the H&Ms and Targets of the world to bring their products to the public. We're going to start to see classic designers rethink how they approach the regular consumer and how they get her engaging and interacting on a more consistent basis, and they will do that with being thoughtful to design.
AJ: But the one thing that we hope doesn't go away is that there's something really inspiring and romantic about runway shows. If it becomes "buy now, wear now" and selling product, we're going to lose a lot of of what drives the industry. It's inspiration for this love of fashion and that's the piece that we hope stays really balanced as this industry starts to shift. If everything becomes transactional, we're going to lose the voice as to why we're doing this.
How do you manage to run a company together while maintaining a healthy working relationship?
DY: We joke that the thing that Amy is really good at, I run away from and vice versa. There's a clear division of what we focus on. But most importantly, we're best friends. We've known each other from work, so we know how to support each other in a high-stress environment. We are divided but we respect each other's opinions and we make sure that it's a really collaborative relationship.
AJ: Tell her the banana story.
DY: When we were first meeting with potential advisors, we were with someone who was pretty senior, held really impressive roles and was well-known in the industry. We met him for lunch and Amy does not like to open her bananas. This is just something that I've known for many years, so I usually open Amy's bananas for her. We were sitting and talking to this person and, earlier, Amy had ordered a banana. As I was explaining something fairly high level, in the corner of my eye, I could see Amy passing her banana to me. So I took it, opened it and passed it back to her. It's a silly story but highlights our relationship. It's so seamless and we really understand one another.
AJ: It's funny because a lot of our team members comment on our dynamic as very unspoken and deeply understanding. I can look at Daniella's shoes and know what kind of day she's having. When you're in such a high, fast-paced environment, it's critical that our success and our team's success is our happiness. It gets intense, so you have to love and trust the people that you work with.
What advice would you give to other fashion startups?
DY: Do not be afraid to fail. When you've just started and you want it to be this absolute perfect vision, you're never going to hit it. The perfect vision is a moving target. People have pretty short memories, so it's okay to put something out that, again, perhaps isn't your perfect vision. Then you can start collecting that feedback and make quick changes.
AJ: Anyone who is thinking of starting a business, try and take an accounting class or finance class and really understand the financial impact of the decisions you make. We learned in business school that cash is king and it's really true. Everything you do, make sure you're spending your money wisely.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
Update: This article has been corrected and removed Baublebar's plans to open any stand-alone stores in 2016.