Ever since I became a mother in December 2013, I wanted to find work that would allow me to be there for my babies in those early days and to support my husband in his medical career. When my second son Julian was born in March 2017, I left my corporate job and got serious about launching a collection of breastfeeding-friendly basics. The MLM brand was born out of nap time and post bed time hustle in May 2017.
Nearly two years later, I’m sitting in my living room reviewing the latest pattern adjustments and putting the final touches on this blog post. I wanted to share a look behind the scenes and a handful of unexpected lessons I’ve learned trying to launch an independent fashion label in Chicago. It doesn’t matter what kind of entrepreneur you are or what your dream is—working for yourself while raising a family is hard. It takes determination, an ability to multitask, a mix of dry shampoo, french fries and rosé, and a good support system. Although I’m just getting started, I’d like to share a few things I’ve learned as a mother and a business owner.
Find yourself a copy of the yellow pages. Just kidding, but not really. While you may think everything is on the internet, that’s not the case with fabric vendors, seamstresses and garment factories (or at least not all of them). Trade and fashion shows are where I’ve met people who truly shaped my journey as a fashion entrepreneur. That’s where I met my first fabric vendor who turned out to be a gold mine for everything fashion-related. He was the one who introduced me to my first pattern maker which in turn led me to the next contact who would grade and digitize my patterns. When I look back at this period, I remember a lot of phone calls, cold emailing, and sourcing young creatives via LinkedIn.
It’ll (probably) break your bank. It costs a lot of money to launch a fashion label, especially if you are like me and have no experience in fashion design other than having a passion for incorporating fashion into motherhood. Believe me when I say I planned. Believe me when I say I saved up over 5K for this project. But I still ran out of money (everyone will tell you product development is the most costly step in the process). And even though running out of cash means I currently ponder going back to work just to continue to fund my business, it’s all part of the entrepreneurial journey. It would be easy to think of this as failure, but I chose to look at it as just another step on this whirlwind motherhood/entrepreneur journey.
When something is too good to be true, it probably is. One of the most challenging aspects of wanting to launch a fashion label and lacking the needed expertise is working with individual entrepreneurs or freelancers in the fashion industry. Don’t even get me started on the logistical challenges of wrangling your kids with an oversized paper pattern in hand to a studio located on the third floor of a building with no elevator. So when I found a newly launched studio that basically offered all of the services in-house — including small batch production — I was literally jumping up and down! I really thought it would put an end to a lot of the logistical hurdles I had faced, and that my project would finally regain its momentum. Needless to say, after the first samples were sewn, I stopped receiving emails and subsequently learned they went through staff changes. As with all relationships in life — professional or personal — if someone makes you feel like they don’t care about you, or your business, they probably don’t and it’s time to move on. And so I did. A few months later I was able to connect with a woman who made the launch of my first line possible.
The grass is greener on the other side. I looked up local fashion designers and entrepreneurs, and followed their work on social media. I felt inspired by their work but I also wanted to learn how they were able to figure it all out while I struggled because the pattern maker hadn’t replied for two weeks, the pattern hadn’t been graded correctly, and the factory samples were visibly off target (yet again). I reached out to many and connected with a few. These connections taught me that powerful women empower other women and share their wisdom. That someone else’s success doesn’t take away from their own sparkle. In my own journey I always choose community over competition because I believe this is how we build meaningful connections and lift each other up.
Mentors are kind of like unicorns. Everyone talks about them but few meet them in person. People who find a good mentor are lucky. Throughout my experience, I’ve been blessed with individuals with whom I forged a mentorship-like relationship at various points of this fashion journey, and with different levels of connection. One thing I always made sure to do was to learn and soak up as much as I could. I would read, take courses on skillshare, watch tutorials, listen to podcasts—you name it. So don’t waste your days searching for a unicorn mentor. Instead take notes every day and focus on doing something — even if it seems very small — to move your project forward.
Seek help and guidance if you can afford it. One last thought. At the very beginning, due to my financial situation, I made a decision not to work with a fashion consulting agency. I’ve had a few ad hoc meetings with fashion design consultants whenever I had specific questions about the next steps in the process, but I’ve mostly worked alone (well, with my two little boyfriends in tow). In hindsight (and, if I had more financial capital), I would have definitely turned to a fashion design agency for guidance, at least for the first production run. It would have saved me a lot of headaches, money and time.
Launching a fashion label was and still is my dream. Becoming a mother was like gaining a super power—it made me feel like I could be or do anything. I’m not sure where this journey is going to take me; whether it’s the final destination or a stepping stone to a different lesson. So yes, I might have 27 (or more:)) dresses hanging in my closet, but I would do it all over again in a heartbeat. And if you have yet to begin, my advice is to go ahead and take that first step, even if you don’t think you are ready. Throwing yourself into unknown territory is and should be scary, otherwise everyone would do it.