I began my small business, Lauren Nevada, like many owners: working a full-time job during the day and developing my business in the evenings and on the weekends. At the time, I was living in a tiny apartment in SoHo so I found the least expensive studio space I could rent on the fifth floor of an empty Tribeca warehouse. It had no heat, hot water or lighting -- except for several ancient, leaky but enormous skylights. My first products were party dresses for friends and myself -- more of a hobby than an actual job. I was simply enjoying the process of creating and sewing.
I got my first large order in 2009. While still working a day job, I sold some samples of vests I had made to Barneys New York. Receiving an order from an established company made me realize that I needed to become more established myself. I then started Lauren Nevada as a business, incorporating it and beginning a new chapter.
Small business organizations in New York were most helpful during this period. I scheduled sessions with the local SCORE (Service Corps Of Retired Executives) and my local branch of the SBA (U.S. Small Business Administration). Both ended up being life-savers because they introduced me to the nitty-gritty aspects of creating a business. I could never have started my business without their mentorship.
With more interest in my designs and orders coming in, I needed to find a functional working space -- at least one with lights and heating. I moved into a studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn. It was more expensive than my old space, but I was surrounded by other artists of all types and, perhaps best of all, it was warm in the winter!
My increased rental costs prompted me to find another artist to share my studio -- something I was initially against. However, I have realized over the years that we both benefit from the creative synergy that happens from working in the same space.
At first, I did my sample-making and production in New York. But in 2010 I found an opportunity to produce my line in Tunisia, North Africa, using individual seamstresses that I hired personally. I spent a month in Tunisia that year vetting seamstresses and producing samples with them. While getting down into the details of production often takes precious time away from design, it's a necessary balancing act: hiring my own production team and working with them proved to be a key foundation for Lauren Nevada. In particular, it gave me a higher degree of control over the final product and gave my business a certain institutional flexibility . I found it significant for my small business to seek partners that can accept change and work in smaller quantities. Once your small business grows into large quantities, resources are readily available.
The success of Lauren Nevada, and small businesses in general, depends in large part on third parties such as photographers, art directors, other artists and artisans, so establishing relations with these types of creatives has been paramount for me. One of the best parts of these relationships is that we are essentially working toward the same goal, so by combining our creative energies, we both benefit professionally and artistically. Of course, the key to this is finding the right people to work with.
Generating brand recognition and gaining exposure is difficult, if exciting, work for any company. Smaller businesses, especially, have fewer employees and conventional resources than larger companies. In order for Lauren Nevada to remain relevant, I constantly engage my customer and educate them about my brand. This is not easy, but it can definitely be more invigorating than sewing. Once again, figuring out how to balance (or perhaps juggle) my roles as designer and businesswoman has been key.
Another good business decision has been to cultivate links with like-minded businesses. For example, my company has created dresses and other textile products with the Fort Makers, an artist collective based in Brooklyn. Lauren Nevada and the Fort Makers have shown our work together in Paris and New York. We support each other in publicity and as creative people. This pushes us to grow creatively and also contributes to our sales.
While every small business has its own set of challenges and solutions, Lauren Nevada has always been focused on seeking new opportunities, growing creatively and collaborating with the best and brightest. As we grow, I hope to extend these networks in order to keep synthesizing new artistic influences as well as business innovations.
DailyCandy, the original trusted source for handpicked discoveries of fashion, food, and fun has acted as a launching pad for new small businesses since 2000; Lauren Nevada is a 2012 winner of the DailyCandy Start Small, Go Big program. For more small business tips and stories, visit www.startsmallgobig.com