Fashion Entrepreneurship Lessons

Last night in Raleigh, North Carolina, there was a great convergence of people interested in fashion and design with others interested in fostering entrepreneurship. The Raleigh Emerging Designers Innovation Incubator (REDii) Launch Party was held at Solas restaurant and lounge on Glenwood South. Approximately 300 people turned out for the three hour event, which featured Kitty Kinin from local radio station 100.7, the River, as emcee. During the course of the gala, there was a fashion show with over 20 designers featuring their work, a silent auction for a live painting of the event, and much power networking to be enjoyed. The goal of the evening was to raise money for the support of the new REDii space at 131 S Wilmington St and its participants.

EntreDot, the not-for-profit who is responsible for the event and the incubator, seeks to supply retail display space for emerging designers locally in the apparel, jewelry, handbag, and related category niche(s) with a caveat: the designers will be more successful if enrolled in some educational courses on entrepreneurial best practices and paired with a mentor. Accordingly, as is mentioned on the website:, those who are approved to exhibit their designs are required to sign up for assistance. The intent is to wed right brain and left brain competencies and mindsets to create something wonderful and, in the process, become a catalyst in the establishment of a Fashion District in Raleigh which, while it may not be as tight geographically as some of the fashion destinations across the country, will unite the community around great design elements and the opportunity to both buy local and support talent that may otherwise migrate elsewhere.

Brigid Sweeney, writing last month in Crain’s Chicago Business, featured the story of the Gilt Groupe and some lessons learned by its founders, Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson. Sweeney describes their story as follows:

The two young women, who met as Harvard University undergrads and reconnected at Harvard Business School in 2002, launched Gilt Groupe in 2007 as a way to bring designer sample sales online. In the process, they upended the way women shop and made 11 a.m. Central time (the moment new merchandise goes up daily) a witching hour for corporate women, who click over from Excel sheets and status reports to snag pieces from Carolina Herrera, Dolce & Gabbana, Zac Posen, et al. Ms. Maybank and Ms. Wilson also created a New York-based company that’s now valued at $1 billion, has more than 1,000 employees and runs sales in 36 cities in 14 countries.

In the course of her interview with Ms. Wilson, Sweeney was able to tease out some words of wisdom from her. Wilson feels the lessons below are important to any start-up business, but especially a fashion one:

  1. Relationships matter,
  2. Take calculated risks,
  3. Seek mentors who can help you recognize whether you have the right idea at the right time, and
  4. Seek out partners with complementary, not necessarily similar, personalities.

The folks at EntreDot are attempting to reinforce these principles with the REDii target crowd. During the event, it was noted that not enough well-heeled investor-types were present to maximize either the fundraising effort or the introductions to talented designers who, upon completion of their training, will need access to capital in most cases.  In our community, angel and venture capital has been raised successfully for life science and technology companies. it will be a wonderful day to witness when the same can be said of the local fashion and design entrepreneurship niche! Please support this effort through introductions, volunteering as a mentor or instructor, or sponsorship as you are able.


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