How can a love of fashion translate into a successful career? How do the skills that undergraduates learn in school prepare students for the retail world? These and other questions were addressed Monday evening at the Fashion and Entrepreneurship Panel hosted by D2S as part of Penn’s Fashion Week. Representatives of both business and design aspects of the industry gathered to share their experiences in the fashion industry.
The panel included Jennifer Carter Fleiss, President and co-founder of Rent the Runway. Fleiss described her company as the “Netflix for fashion.” Through the company’s website, users can log on, pick a dress, and rent the dress for up to four days. This allows consumers to try before they buy.
Fleiss spoke about how the economy influenced her decision to start her company. She saw her company as filling the new market of individuals focused on what she called the “cost-per-wear mentality, wondering ‘How many times can I wear this dress?’”
With help from initial investors who were strongly supportive, Fleiss began to cold-call designers and was lucky enough to secure a meeting with Diane Von Furstenberg.
Jewelry designer Rachel Leigh shared a similar story explaining that passion and persistence will help fashion entrepreneurs to go far. Before starting her own jewelry line Rachel worked at Yves Saint Laurent. In a meeting with magazine editors her homemade ring caught their eye and they decided to run a story on her designs. From there, her company and brand has grown and is sold in over 500 stores worldwide. She recalled, “I never planed it, I sort of fell into the design world but have been able to learn the ropes with very little knowledge.”
The fashion world is an industry that rewards talent, as evidenced by the success of Andy Oshrin, President and CEO of Milly, and his wife Michelle, head designer of the brand. The pair launched the brand in 2000, hoping to start a business that would “have a nice return, but would still be small.” They were happily surprised as the global distribution increased to 1,000 stores worldwide. Oshrin and Smith started with an idea and a lot of hard work and have created an international success.
David Bruno, director of sales for SPURR, spoke of how important dedication is to a fashion entrepreneur. When SPURR was founded in 2006 it was only denim. Bruno assured students, “You can start small.” As long as the people are passionate and willing to work hard, they will find success in their efforts.
Rachel Leigh encouraged students to find what type of pursuits worked best for them, but to ultimately just get involved any way they can. “You could jump in head first,” she said. “However, it’s about comfort level. I wanted to grow my company with baby steps. And that’s ok.”
-Jennifer Mindrum ’13