CEO Entrepreneurship Panel 2012: Demystifying Fashion Startups

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CEO Entrepreneurship Panel 2012: Demystifying Fashion Startups

From left to right: Elizabeth Kott, owner of Closet Rich; Amy Levin, CEO and founder of College Fashionista; Olga Vidisheva, CEO and founder of Shoptiques

Wednesday night, three 20-somethings descended on Wharton Retail Club’s annual entrepreneurship panel to discuss their experiences spearheading fashion startups in the tech space. The well-dressed panel included Olga Vidisheva of Shoptiques, Amy Levin of College Fashionista and Elizabeth Kott of Closet Rich. Professor Barbara Khan, Director of the Jay H. Baker Retailing Center, moderated the nighttime discussion.

Shoptiques partners with hand-picked boutiques to provide customers with a one-stop shopping experience. Vidisheva explained the question that first motivated the creation of Shoptiques: “Why, in the 21st century, do I have to buy a plane ticket to have good shoes?” Shoptiques enables buyers to purchase the best items of each country from the comfort of their home computer.

Kott’s venture, Closet Rich, curates pieces from chic closets and then sells them, simplifying the shopping experience for its customers. Kott’s virtual thrift shop model has received attention from Refinery 29 and Lucky.

Levin launched College Fashionista in her senior year, when she noticed a “need to start something for people in college.” Levin’s startup launched with twelve writers at five universities across the nation. College Fashionista now covers over two-hundred campuses in North America, including thirteen in Canada.

From left to right: Closet Rich, College Fashionista, and Shoptiques

Each panelist discussed her path towards success. “I owe everything to my internships,” Levin said in an interview during the event’s brief reception. She worked at PR firms around the country. Levin’s experiences, she notes, familiarized her with each facet of the industry.

Vidisheva, a graduate of Wellesley College and Harvard Business School, worked at Goldman Sachs in its Technology, Media and Telecom division. “Finance prepares your work ethic,” she noted, adding that her background was “really helpful coming into a startup, because it’s no longer scary to work to two or five [AM].” Vidisheva also suggested that her modeling experience gave her “a base to know how the industry works and how to manage talent.” Kott also shed light on her background in fashion: she worked for Hollywood stylist Rachel Zoe to develop the social media strategy of The Zoe Report, the stylist’s online base.

Levin spoke frankly, warning students against pigeonholing themselves while interning. “OK, great, you graduate college, and you don’t get that job as a fashion assistant, [but] you don’t have a skill set for anything else,” Levin said. Responding to Professor Khan’s question on keeping a startup afloat, Vidisheva commented, “Cash is king. If you’re going to start a business, you need to know how to fund it.” Christian Cortes W’15 prompted the panel to elaborate on the challenges of funding as a college student. In response, Vidisheva reemphasized the necessity of fundraising, saying that “financing shows if your business is worth starting.”

Fitting of the panel’s 21st century provenance, the discussion also incorporated online questions that were collected via Google+. When asked by an online participant about how to build an audience, Levin suggested that young entrepreneurs “use existing communities to support” their business ambitions. “Finding those students who were in fashion clubs, in Greek life, and in photography clubs really helped me,” Levin said.

The WALK got a chance to catch up with students for their takeaway on the night’s panel. Arjan Singh W’16 complimented the panel on their honest discussion of the difficulties associated with startups. “Starting a business can be fun, but there’s a lot of gritty work involved,” Singh said. Organizer and WRC’s Vice President of External Communications, Daniel Ortiz, W’13, agreed, explaining that “getting a base of knowledge from people that have been through college [is] very valuable for our members.”

Each of the panelists ended the discussion with her key piece of advice to students. Kott talked about the necessity of confidence, recommending students to “find a way to rid [themselves] of self-doubt.” Levin stated that her most valuable skill was self-belief.

Vidisheva chimed in with the night’s notable final comment on whether to delve into fashion entrepreneurship. “Ask yourself, ‘If I had to clean the floors every day because it moved the business forward, would I?’ If the answer is yes, do it.”

 

-Erich Kessel

 Image courtesy of Jinny Kim

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