Outside The Comfort Zone: 5 Learning Curves Of Starting My Own Business

Building a clothing business and brand is challenging even for the savviest of industry insiders. Armed with a degree in fashion design & merchandising, along with a few years of retail merchandising and marketing experience, I eagerly took the plunge to create my own fashion business, Lucy & Leo. I had a clear vision: to create a line of children’s clothing that is both organic and made in the USA. At that time there was nothing else like it on the market.  I believed I could make my brand come to life, but I honestly had no idea how to precisely make my vision become reality.

So, what did I do?  Everything. I moved back in with my parents and devoted my energy to the business.  I designed, sourced, developed, tested the market, and repeated this process until the look and feel of the brand was aligned with my desired aesthetic. As with most entrepreneurial ventures, the first few years were by far the most challenging and educational. Here is what I learned:

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Get comfortable with being uncomfortable

There is a massive learning curve when you first start a business, and you’re constantly pushed out of your comfort zone.  While I love owning my own business because of the endless challenge and excitement, being pushed out of my comfort zone is still one of the hardest parts. But, knowing that being uncomfortable is a constant has somehow kept me grounded.  The stress and anxiety of unfamiliar business situations is natural, and I have managed to even make it fun by reminding myself that it is a normal part of the process.

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Surround yourself with support

Being an entrepreneur comes with a unique set of challenges, so make it a priority to surround yourself with other supportive entrepreneurs. The daily grind when starting my business was far from routine, and each day brought new obstacles and frustrations.  Eventually I learned about Savor the Success, a women’s entrepreneurship group, and joined immediately.  While I had supportive friends and family, I really needed more interaction with other entrepreneurs going through similar everyday challenges.  Savor the Success members have provided me with much-needed support and feedback, especially during difficult times. I only wish I would have joined the group sooner, as such support was much-needed during the first few years of business.

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Always look for new sources

This is an ongoing process, but is really important to keep in mind when first starting a fashion business.  I am constantly researching and connecting with alternate sources, because I never know when I’ll need to utilize another vendor, supplier, manufacturer, etc. For example, this past season of production my fabric vendor ran out of a certain fabric that I used in two different styles in my line.  Thankfully, I knew of another fabric vendor that could provide a similar fabric right away and I didn’t have to delay production.  Also, being knowledgeable about alternate sources assists me greatly with negotiating competitive vendor pricing and controlling costs. Luckily there is Maker’s Row, which provides a plethora of valuable sourcing and manufacturing information.  I also recommend going to trade shows and networking with vendors, factories, peers, etc., in order to establish some type of connection and learn industry information.

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Stay true to your passion, and your “why”

Why did you start your business?  This is an important question to ask yourself because I believe your answer correlates directly with both your passion and motivation.  If you started a business solely for monetary reasons, then you are going to have a hard time growing and making decisions.  For some entrepreneurs your “why” might be because you want an outlet for your creative energy, or because you want to change the world.  Whatever your reason, make sure it is clear.  I started Lucy & Leo because I truly want people to think before they shop.  I also want to support ethical business practices by producing my line in America to ensure the safe and fair treatment of factory workers.  Moreover, I am passionate about using organic fabrics and materials in order to have a low impact on the environment and prevent chemicals from being absorbed into the skin of children.  A daily reminder of my “why” helps me stay true to myself and my long-term business goals, and to avoid any partners who are not aligned with my vision.

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Set goals and accomplish them

Plan ahead and be flexible.  Each week I make a list of to –do’s, then break them down into actionable steps and schedule out my week.  Having a huge list can be overwhelming, but if you set goals, prioritize, and work backwards, it makes your work much more manageable. I even schedule personal things like gym and shower, which helps keep me disciplined with following my schedule and healthy too! Business can be unpredictable, and I often need to make time for an important meeting or call on the fly, so don’t forget to be flexible when needed.  Also, don’t forget to celebrate when you hit a big goal, otherwise you will just keep going and forget to give yourself any credit.

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