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The Runway to Success: Fashion & Beauty Founders

Food, fashion & beauty, oh my!

Women love to launch businesses in those categories. They are colorful and sometimes glamorous and ever-changing industries and we are passionate about and comfortable with them (because we consume those products ourselves). Of course they are fun to work on and in. But are they always profitable? As I like to say, P&L doesn’t stand for purses and lipsticks. It stands for profit & loss — the key measure of any business. To build a successful business from your passion takes a great idea, an understanding of your customer, and a keen sense of business management (or a partnership with someone who possesses the skills you need).

We recently profiled a few women of the food world — at various stages. This week we’re turning our focus to what we wear and put on our bodies and faces.

Who are some of the women power players we admire (besides Coco Chanel, of course)? Sarah Blakely of Spanx started her brand with only $5k. Rosalia Mera is the co-founder of Inditex (the parent company of Zara). She dropped out of school at 11. These are women with a dream AND an ability to evolve.

We are closely watching the next move for Birchbox, the women-led company that practically invented the subscription box category. But the company has struggled a bit with what to do for an encore, proving that one big idea is often not enough to sustain and grow a brand. We’re cheering for you as you enter this next phase!

Here are the tales of some smaller (but no less mighty!) brands.

  • Lynne Lambert launched NYC Subway Line about two decades ago, growing her line from tee shirts to hats, bags, tech sleeves, placemats and (soon) to home products. A former voiceover actress, Lynn has built a company that sold more than $11 million in products to Macy’s, the Apple stores, Urban Outfitters, and other retailers. Her tenacity and creativity (including persuading the MTA to give her the license for subway symbols) have helped her weather the curves and bumps of the entrepreneurial ride.
  • The fashion and beauty industry is a fickle one, and many consumers like to change up their style on a regular basis without spending a fortune. Donya and Alex Ditowitz founded beauty company Condition Culture in 2010. Now a multi-brand company the company introduced Colorsmash, a way to easily accent hair color without damage or salon expense.
  • Also in the “bring it home” category is DERMAFLASH, the brainchild of Dara Levy. A spa owner, she was able to expand her market (and $$) by “exporting” her product to the home care consumer. Her product can now be found on QVC and Nordstroms.
  • Tapping into the opportunity in the Plus Size market, Nadia Boujarwah from Dia & Co. delivers style and convenience for the shopper who wears a size 14+. She’s tapping into a shopping style in an consumer base that’s rapidly expanding.
Jessa Moore is the owner of Jessa Moore Media and a former writer at BeautyNewsNYC. She offers up these three tips for aspiring beauty/fashion brands:
  • “Your product is king” (or should we say queen or princess?) You would be amazed by how many people in beauty think a marketing campaign is more important than the actual product.
  • “Know the business.” The beauty and fashion businesses are very competitive and specific.
  • “Create a budget.” You can’t really launch a fashion or beauty brand out of your basement. No matter how many stories you’ve read, this is the exception rather than the rule. Figure out funding BEFORE you launch.

Adds Lynne Lambert, “”Trust your gut, but verify.  No matter how strongly you feel about a new design or product, start with a small quantity. Let the marketplace tell you if you are right. You can always make more, but won’t be stuck with tons of them if it doesn’t work out!”

Have a successful fashion or beauty business or story you’d like to share? Feel free to comment below with your wisdom and questions!