Welcome to the first in a series of "How I'm Getting Ahead..." interviews with every day people sharing the ups, downs and detours they've taken on the road to getting ahead at work and in life. We hope that you discover something here to guide and inspire you on your journey. Read on and keep moving forward!
Leslie Zeanah has spent her career as a shopping center leasing agent for one of the leading real estate developers in the southeastern U.S. But this wife and mom has a new gig that’s taking off in a big way. Good Work Sense asked her how she's making it as a newcomer in the children's clothing business. We found out that timing really is everything.
GWS: How did you pick the name "Izzy and Ollie" and why did you start the business?
Leslie: Well my daughter's name is Izzy (short for Isabella) and our very dear friends have a son named Ollie. Izzy is 2 and a half now, but when she was born I struggled to find unique items I wanted for her in terms of clothing. I realized there was something missing from the market so it just took off from there. We started with children's clothing but it's funny how you expand and grow as you go. We plan to add a women's clothing line for Spring 2016, plus a few gift items
GWS: Once you realized what was missing, what was your next step?
Leslie: I started with a tremendous amount of research on products and manufacturing as well as learning how the process works. I majored in fashion at the University of Alabama so I had a background in what I wanted to do, but that was a long time ago and things have changed a lot since I was in school. I probably did a year of research before I started submitting designs to manufacturers for my first samples.
GWS: Did it take a lot of money to get started?
Leslie: Yes! It really does. Much more than you would ever anticipate needing. I strongly suggest building a nest egg while you are researching or working with partners or investors. [GWS: So do your research, people.]
GWS: So what was your biggest challenge?
Leslie: As many people with small businesses discover, you learn as you go. Unfortunately, you often learn things the hard way. One of the hardest things I've had to deal with is over coming language barriers while sourcing some of our products out of country. I was born and raised in the South and have come to realize our language is unique with many “southernisms” that simply don’t translate into other languages. Another challenge has been getting in sync with my manufacturers timing. Everything seems to take longer in the clothing industry. I’ve recently started designing my own fabrics so I’m planning at least one year to one and a half years out as opposed to 6 months when I first started.
GWS: Do you have a mentor? Who helped you figure this stuff out?
Leslie: I have recently connected with a friend of a friend who has a very successful jewelry accessories business based in Gulf Shores, Alabama called Beach Belles. She been a tremendous resource, especially in the past few months while working with manufacturers. Beach Belle’s is currently featured in two showrooms (Dallas and Los Angeles) and her brand was recently featured in People Magazine’s Style Watch. She played a big part in pushing me to get into a showroom, which has been exciting and beneficial for Izzy & Ollie.
GWS: How did you find her?
Leslie: Actually, we met through my mother-in-law.
GWS: So that's why it's always a good idea to share with people around you what you are trying to do, right?
Leslie: Yes! Talk about it...
GWS: ...because you never know who those conversations will spread out to, or who's going to be able to make something happen that you've really been hoping for.
GWS: What do you wish you could do differently if you had it to do over again?
Leslie: While I truly believe the best lessons are learned from mistakes, I would have to say planning in advance with my manufacturer. As I mentioned, when I first started, I was planning 6 months out and my inventory would arrive within a few weeks before a specific date that it had to be available to sell. Sometimes the manufacturer was a little late, or it took us a bit longer than I anticipated to get the samples back, rushing through initial fittings and photography-- you just run out of time. I was already scheduled for shows, we had customer orders, different commitments so we just had to adapt. Ultimately, I wish someone had told me that you must schedule so far in advance. Now I'm sitting on a lot of product that will be great for Halloween and Thanksgiving this year, but was rushed to sell last year.
GWS: So you got it right this year?
GWS: What are the biggest rewards of being an entrepreneur?
Leslie: This is a great industry to be in, it’s always exciting. Just recently we’ve gotten Izzy and Ollie into a showroom in Americas Mart in Atlanta [where buyers look for new items to order and carry in their stores] and for me to be so small...it's very exciting. By far, the biggest reward is hearing from our customers. They love sharing pictures of their kids wearing our products which has evolved into a page on our website featuring our “Little Cuties”. Seeing those adorable faces and reading the sweet notes from other moms is so rewarding. It’s also a great reminder of why we started Izzy & Ollie, to fill a missing link.
GWS: What do you see happening with your business within the next couple of years?
Leslie: I think we are at a pivotal point now. As of today we have 15 stores that carry our line, mostly in Alabama, Georgia and Louisiana. I'm very excited about our growth so far, and know we will continue to get a lot more exposure from our showrooms in Atlanta and Dallas. We have exciting plans for the future including the addition of our women’s line. My hope is that we will continue to grow and adapt to this ever changing market.
Find out more about Izzy and Ollie here. Tell us your comments and stories, or questions for Leslie about starting off in the clothing industry.