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.


How Raleigh Can Learn From Chile

In the May issue of Entrepreneur Country, Joe Haslam of Stratemic Capital enlightens readers about the start-up scene in Chile. Most Americans know Chile for its rich produce, not its economic strength in South America, and definitely not for the ecosystem that has been created for entrepreneurship that is paying off handsomely.

Going back to the 1970s, Chile has taken a progressive stance on key economic decisions. Milton Friedman and a number of his associates from the University of Chicago inspired free market systems that have been customized by local conditions. Nicolas Shea and Vivek Wadhwa in the past decade have sought to make Chile a destination for entrepreneurship. Shea attended Stanford University and set about to do a Southern hemisphere version of Silicon Valley. Wadhwa challenged the start-up model of some groups who provide office space near a university and hope for something wonderful to happen. Instead, he advocates a people-centered approach:

To create a tech center like Silicon Valley, you need to first attract smart entrepreneurs from all over the world. Then you have to create entrepreneurial networks; instill a spirit of risk-taking and openness; and build mentoring systems. You also need to provide seed financing to start-ups. The money is easy; everything else requires a change in culture that usually takes decades.

Wadhwa and Shea launched Start-Up Chile at the beginning of 2011. Here’s the concept:

  1. Anyone from anywhere can apply
  2. Winners would be required to move to Santiago, Chile
  3. A one-year visa is provided to facilitate entrepreneurship
  4. $40,000 in seed capital is offered as a prize
  5. The Chilean government would NOT take an equity stake

When Haslam met with the director of Start-Up Chile and a representative from CORFO, the government agency tasked with improving competitiveness in global markets, he asked a lot of questions about how the program was put together. They admitted that bureaucracy had to give way in recognition of results.

  • The website for the contest received more attention than the official national tourism site. 
  • Visitors of the program spent about as much in tourism dollars as the awards themselves.
  • Well-known entrepreneurial icons are “dropping in” on the Chilean scene these days.
  • 1600 applications from 70 countries.
  • 220 foreign start-ups in Chile now, employing 180 locals and 143 abroad.
  • $8 million in VC money has been raised by the first batch of award winners.

Chile has realized some important economic development principles. Notably:

  1. Start-ups are a strong job creation tool.
  2. Large companies are more costly to attract and retain.
  3. Diverse populations experience economic growth.

Earlier this past week, we blogged about Pittsburgh’s Experienced Dreamer contest to attract entrepreneurs to town.  Whether the locale is Santiago, Pittsburgh, or Raleigh, the principles work. We need to do all that we can to foster entrepreneurship–it just may be the key to a healthier world economy!

On a purely local note, Innovate Raleigh has followed some of the steps in the blueprint. We need help from Raleigh Wake Economic Development, mentoring organizations like EntreDot, and fresh sources of seed capital. Additionally, more collaborative workspaces like some of the incubators in our area (Cary Innovation Center being an example) will help foster the natural network nurture necessary. We can do this–but it requires “all hands on deck!”



Raleigh Needs Experienced Dreamers

This week, I became aware of a very unique contest held in Pittsburgh that recently concluded. The Experienced Dreamers contest was born out of a survey taken by residents in 2009 that indicated that the city must rely on young residents to drive growth. The recommendation of the survey team was that, if the city could attract 1250 entrepreneurs who are 45 and over to move to the area and start a business, the economic impact over the next two decades would be $2.5 BILLION!

Here were the rules:

  1. The applicant must be 45 or older as of the date of application,
  2. The applicant may not have lived with 100 miles of the city for the past 10 years, and
  3. The applicant must be a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident as of the application date.

The applicants were charged with locating a new business, philanthropy, or artistic endeavor in Pittsburgh upon award of $50,000 in cash and an additional $50,000 in charitable trust in the recipient’s name. This year’s winner is Tess Almendarez Lojacono, a 55-year-old artist who has been living in East Aurora, NY. Her proposal was to move and enlarge Fine Art Miracles, a five-year-old company she started that teaches fine art classes to residents of assisted living facilities and nursing homes. Lojacono has  a stated objective to provide intellectual stimulation for older people and to help them tap their creativity.

In her own words, “I like to show people that they’re still able to create.” “We’re offering something a little more intellectually challenging for them than painting between the lines, and a lot of them really like that. We have older gentlemen who sign up for our classes who wouldn’t do crafts.”

An article at told a little more of her story:

She incorporates art history and a lot of visual aids into her classes. After showing participants reproductions of Georgia O’Keefe’s floral portraits, for example, she invites them to create their own versions on black art paper. She’ll provide as little or as much assistance as her students need.

“We find that even people in their eighties and nineties are interested in learning something new,” Lojacono says. “I’ve developed a lot of respect for their intellects.”

Part of her job is helping people who haven’t previously tried making art to get over their perception that it’s an activity only for a creative elite. “They’ll say, I can’t draw a line with a ruler,” she says. “I’ll say, ‘that’s great. I don’t want any straight lines in here.’ We start with a blank sheet of paper. What I find, though, is that when I help them to draw, pretty soon they’re sitting up straight and smiling.”

The amazing thing that occurs to me is “why aren’t more cities doing this?” Raleigh, North Carolina, where I live, is a top-rated city and part of the Research Triangle Park region, known to be a hotbed of entrepreneurship, but with little emphasis on attracting “boomerpreneurs.” Clearly, experience counts in running a business. Older start-up founders are seemingly more likely to have more capital than their younger counterparts. Since under-capitalization is the bane of many new businesses, an effort to attract entrepreneurs with greater net worth would make good sense as part of an economic development strategy.

Innovate Raleigh has identified a number of initiatives to foster greater cross-institutional cooperation for the betterment of the local economy. While we need to continue to foster business start-ups coming out of the education of our young students, we should also have a strategy for the bigger demographic of “Experienced Dreamers!”


Want to Check Out Posh Raleigh?

(Reblogged from

Raleigh is a hotbed of fashion activity. Did you know that North Carolina State University (NCSU) has one of the best textile colleges in the world? Not to be outdone, NCSU’s College of Design has programs that help students become fashion designers. Both of these institutions graduate dozens and dozens of innovative fashion design professionals every year. Wow, what a resource we have to create some of the most highly educated and creative fashion design entrepreneurs.

You can meet many of these creative people in all the fashion venues around town, from downtown Raleigh, to Cameron Village, Crabtree Valley Mall, Triangle Town Center, North Hills and many other shopping centers. Next time you are in one of these places, take a look around and you will see them dispersed throughout these retail centers.

It is possible that you don’t know of all the fashion events that occur in our area. NCSU is the most current with its international fashion event held at the University, where some of the most influential fashion professionals are meeting and showing the latest fashion trends. Watch the blogs and news outlets for events like FashionSparkTriangle Fashion Week, and Redress Raleigh. Look for the advertising of fashion events occurring throughout downtown Raleigh at restaurants and other venues. Hmmm, seems to be a fashion happening place.

Have you ever visited Cotton, IncSpoonflower or TC2 where new innovations in fashion as well as wonderful supportive resources that support the fashion community exist? Some of these are new, but others have been in town for over 30 years. Did you know that?

These and many other fashion facts are what EntreDot® found when it did its research to justify putting a fashion innovation center in downtown Raleigh. We found that Raleigh indeed has a fashion district but it just doesn’t look like the one in New York or Los Angeles. Of course it is much smaller. However, it is substantial, innovative and enthusiastic, but spread out all over town. That’s the way it is and probably always will be. So, we need to do some special things to tie it all together as a community, make it obvious that we are a fashion destination and celebrate the fact.

This is where REDii comes in. REDii is the first fashion design innovation center, and part of Innovate Raleigh’s innovation center concept. This will be one of many innovation centers supporting many industries that will be emerging throughout Raleigh. REDii will start the buzz about the fashion community in Raleigh, with much more to come.

Would you like to explore what REDii will be about? Come out to Solas on May 23 for a big Launch Party event. You are now invited; here’s the link–