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Building a Business One Wednesday at a Time

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There was never a question in my mind that I would have a career in fashion. At six years old, I was designing and sewing clothes for my American Girl dolls.  From there, I started sketching all the time – hundreds of sketches of people, outfits, and accessories.  Throughout high school, I thought constantly about trends, why people were wearing them, and what made people gravitate toward certain styles. I focused on art classes and attended pre-college summer programs focused on fashion. I made almost every decision with my goal of working in the fashion industry in mind.

I attended Syracuse University and majored in fashion design. I graduated in 2006, searched for a job, freelanced, and a year-and-a-half later found myself at a large, well-respected fashion house. My boss was great, my team supportive. On paper, it would seem as though I had arrived. I would leave my job at night and live the typical 20-something New Yorker existence: happy hours, concerts, parties, and restaurants I could just barely afford now and again. Each night, on the 6 train or in the back of a cab on the way home, my mind would wander to those vintage buckles in my bottom drawer that were just sitting there or the three extra yards of olive silk from my senior thesis collection that were wasting away at the bottom of my closet. I would get dressed to go out and think my simple outfit would look better with a belt or great piece of jewelry that only existed in my head.

“It finally hit me that if did not carve out real space in my life to pursue my dreams, they would be exactly that: only dreams. Leaps not taken.”

For months, I would think to myself, “After this date, then I’ll start my own line.” It was always, “next Sunday somewhere between brunch, the gym, and the opening of that new restaurant, I’ll start.” I started seeing other women my age start their own lines and run successful fashion businesses. It finally hit me that if did not carve out real space in my life to pursue my dreams, they would be exactly that: only dreams. Leaps not taken.

The guilt of having this creative idea and energy for my own line and not doing anything about it was eating away at me. Quitting my day job was not an option. I still had rent to pay and enjoyed having good health insurance. On top of that, I enjoyed my job and worked for a great company.

Getting started is the hardest part of any new endeavor. There is nothing more challenging that living up to your own expectations. When I began, I was plagued by doubt and fear. What if I was wasting my time? What if I made a product no one wanted to buy? What if I couldn’t dedicate the enough time and my efforts fell short? Luckily, louder than all of these voices was my need to be creative and be a part of the fashion conversation and contribute. I wasn’t going to quit my day job, but I knew designing an accessory line and building a business would need above all else, TIME. I realized a no-nonsense measure needed to be taken. I decided one night a week, no excuses, no New York nights out. Wednesday nights I would work.

“If you think to yourself: ‘I can’t do this because no one my age/in my area/with my circumstances has done this before,’ don’t think of these reasons as obstacles. Think instead, ‘Now you can be the first.’”

When I got discouraged, I thought about a saying my Dad had framed in our playroom growing up. Behind stacks of Super Nintendo Games, Scrabble and class pictures, was a saying printed on newsprint: “If you think it can’t be done, you’re right, YOU can’t do it.” I still think back on that quote all the time. The hardest part of starting a project like this is drowning out negativity. If you think to yourself: “I can’t do this because no one my age/in my area/with my circumstances has done this before,” don’t think of these reasons as obstacles. Think instead, “Now you can be the first.”

A few months later, I had my first trunk show. A few months after that, I got my line into my first boutique. A year later, I made it into my first department store. Four years into the project, there are still major ups and downs. I still have the same doubts, but luckily I still think back to the same quote. No one is going to make this project successful but me.

There are days that I’m exhausted. I’m still at my job and from 9 to 6, my time is theirs.  But my late nights and weekends belong to Nona E Rose. There are days I look at other lines and fashion blogs and get frustrated that I haven’t hit certain benchmarks. One of the best pieces of advice I’ve been given is that there are no finish lines. There is no point where you say, ok, I’ve arrived now, I’m done. It’s a continual process with hardships and triumphs. It took me long time to realize that this doesn’t have to be Michael Kors or Giorgio Armani. It just has to be work that l am proud of and a product that is beautiful.

 

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Rachel Sax is a Reporter for The Shriver Report.
Rachel Sax is the founder and designer of Nona E Rose Accessories. She currently lives in downtown Manhattan and produces the entire collection locally.
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