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Take Inspiration from these 6 Female Fashion Designers Who Started Small and Built Their Way to Success

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Fashion is a form of expression and has always been influenced by women in society.

For centuries, women are shaping the fashion industry with their creative and chic styles. 

If we talk about the 1920s, it was not common for women worldwide to walk around in pants and shirts, but since the time women have stepped their feet in the workplace, everything turned into glamorous and aesthetic.

Coco-Chanel, Iris Apfel, Ritu Kumar, Ambika Anand are the faces who have given the fashion industry a vintage and exquisite face. So, if you are also looking to build up your career in the fashion industry, take some advice from these successful female entrepreneurs who are lifting other women entrepreneurs to work towards constructing their dreams into reality.

These women have achieved success with their brilliant ideas, learned from their ups and downs, went sleepless nights for their brand, and stand as an inspiration for other women. 

Hats off!! To all these women. We have summed up the 6 female fashion designers, talking about what struggles and challenges they have faced and what advice they would like to offer to young millennials who want to mark their footsteps in the fashion industry. 

Malaika Haaning, Founder of Malaika NY 

She says, “Sustainable fashion should be cool and fun, not bland.”

Malaika Haaning, a mom of two, founded Malaika NY while attending Parsons in 2014. She is Danish Born and loves architecture, which can be seen in her designs too.

Her love for creating stylish and classy designs from zero-waste concepts was admired, a lot; today, she had opened her stores at multiple locations on the East & West Coast of the USA. Her goal with Malaika New York is to give women the opportunity to feel comfortable yet modern wearing sustainable fashion.

Malaika Boysen Haaning

The top 3 skills needed to be a successful fashion designer.

  • Construction (sewing, pattern making & draping) It’s very important to know how to make garments. Outsourcing costs a lot of money, but it’s also important to know how a garment will work on the body, the kind of fabric that works for the silhouette you are creating, and so much more!
  • Marketing savvy. You need to know how to reach your audience and how to talk to them. Know what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t, you will waste money because you didn’t know better been there done that. I don’t recommend it.
  • Business knowledge. Owning your own brand is 98% business, so if you don’t have any business experience, don’t start.

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  • Build a following before you start to build the know, like, and trust factor. You need to have a crowd of people that will support you when you start selling.
  • You only spend 2% of your time designing. The rest of your time is spent running a business. 
  • Find a factory that you trust, and that has a high standard because you are only as good as they are.
  • It’s okay to be different. Don’t try to do what others do. 
  • It’s going to be the hardest thing you have ever done, and it’s going to be a lonely road. Expect to work around the clock without pay for the first couple of years.

What valuable advice would you like to give to new fashion entrepreneurs starting out?

Start small and go seasonless. Many companies start with large collections. They follow the seasons, and most companies go bankrupt within the first 2 years; even less make it to 3 years. Test your market and find something that people are looking for or something you can see that doesn’t exist, and make it your job to fill that gap. Release small collections of 3-4 pieces and no more than 10-15 pieces per style. 

Where were you when you came up with the idea for your business or discovered what you wanted to do? 

I was interning in LA at a large fashion company, and I was on inspiration shopping on Melrose Avenue. And then one day, I went into a trendy boutique, and just as I entered the door, the owner said, “stop what are you wearing”! I was wearing my then-school project (today’s bestseller). Before I left, the store owner had placed an order with me, and I didn’t even have a company yet, so that’s how I knew. The piece that I was wearing was a school project I had designed in my construction class, a zero-waste project at Parsons. We weren’t allowed to cut or sew, so the class pushed us outside our comfort zone, and that’s how I found my way to becoming a zero-waste designer and founding what you today know as Malaika New York, a zero-waste fashion company.

Nancy Volpe Beringer, Founder of Couture Brand Nancy Volpe Beringer  

Nancy’s goal is to promote sustainability and to meet the needs of the disabled community with an adaptive line is taking hold.

At the age of 58, in 2016, Nancy founded her brand, that is specialized in one-of-a-kind wearable art. Her designs have also been featured in the New York Times, and her red carpet look at the 61st Annual Grammy Awards for Philadelphia Grammy Nominee Rapper Tierra Whack went viral. Philadelphia Magazine named Nancy as “Best in Philly Fashion Designer for Artsy Dresses” in their annual “Best in Philly” awards.

Nancy Volpe Beringer

What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business? 

Starting a business requires laser focus and countless hours, and of course, sacrifices are made. My three-year master’s in fashion design program necessitated 80 to 100-hour weeks, 7 days a week. I felt that every hour spent equated to a higher skill level. 

This same relentless work schedule carried through upon graduation at age 61 when I started building my reputation and business as a relevant fashion designer. It wasn’t until the pandemic hit and work and opportunities vanished, did I realize that my personal relationships suffered due to my lack of time and effort. Post pandemic, my goal is to find the balance between my professional and personal life.

What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut? 

I would never have thought so, but social media, specifically Instagram, has played a key role in keeping me inspired. Following my successful time on Project Runway, I gained a reputation as an authentic and caring person. All I have to do is go on Instagram Live or make a post, and I get immediate positive feedback, encouragement, and gratitude. 

Secondly, my creative juices skyrocket when I pick up an intriguing piece of fabric and start playing and draping with it. The fabric and I go on a journey to find out what it wants to become.  

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out? 

Fashion designing is extremely physically demanding. I wish I had been better prepared physically. I believe my onset of chronic arthritis in my neck while at school is a result of not only my age but also the physical demands of designing. 

Cat LaCohie, Founder of Vixen Deville

From Burlesque to Coach, she offers an eclectic perspective that speaks to many. 

She designs her own burlesque costumes and has had so much success with her business. 

Cat LaCohie

As Vixen DeVille, she has traveled and won many awards. From full venues to private events for people like Neil Patrick Harris, Vixen has put on amazing shows that leave you stunned. As Cat, she has motivated and enriched the very same. With her own story, Cat takes her audiences through the journey of motivation and self-appreciation.

What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?

Change up the norm and go wander with an open mind. I’ll usually only go shopping to the fashion district when there a specific project I’m working on, but that means if I wait for inspiration, then I’ll put off making the trip. Instead, when I’m stuck, I decide to go with an open mind and visit the stores that aren’t usually on my “to go” list. If I can just wander the stores looking at the fabrics and trims with an open mind and no agenda, I’ll usually find something amazing that will spark off my seeds of creativity. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?

​I would have taken more risks without worrying about what others thought. There’s always a voice in the back of your head that gives you excuses to put things off and wait until a certain benchmark has been met before starting something or trying something. For example, “When I lose x amount of weight… when I make x amount of money… when I’ve moved house… etc. THEN I’ll do the thing.”. There is no perfect time to start ‘doing the thing.’ If it’s something you want to pursue, start NOW, and don’t let the haters get to you. 

Where were you when you came up with the idea for your business or discovered what you wanted to do?

I had been working for another company in the same arena, and I realised the service I was providing was not the service that I would want to receive. Then, I decided that rather than working for another company that I was not aligned with, I could start my own and start providing a service I was proud to offer. I, myself, would subscribe to as a consumer. 

What does success mean to you?

Having the freedom to fully focus on doing what you love. Having what you love to provide you with the income with no need for a ‘day job’ or ‘side hussle.’ Having enough people know and love what you do that you are the go-to for people looking for your service so that you have a steady stream of clients seeking you out rather than having to constantly promote or search for clients. 

Any tips for beginner fashion designers.

I have lost the love of this work most when creating ideas on spec, to the specification of the client. I can be creating a project that doesn’t fire me up, which may never meet the client’s standards. Also, I much prefer creating my own projects and have clients purchase the creations I have already made. For people starting out – make sure to always have a project that you’re working on just for you to explore your own joy and creativity. Make sure to play against the norm and allow time for exploration away from the restraints of following a strict pattern perfectly or following the ‘rules of how things are done; you can be messy and imperfect, and therein lies discovery and invention. 

Arpi Khachatryan, Founder Luli Bebé 

“If you want to get something done, ask a mom.” That ethos is the perfect description for one mom who gets things done.

The Monaco Diaper Bag is the perfect gift for the new mom or mom with little ones who will appreciate the subtle and elegant design that is practical and gorgeous, all at once.

Arpi Khachatryan

As CEO and lead designer at Luli Bebé, her inspiration for this new line of diaper bags and accessories comes from her own experience as a new mother. The Diaper bags are made up of the soft vegan faux leather texture that is gorgeous and easy to care for. It can also be worn as a backpack or a shoulder/crossbody bag, with clips provided to attach to it to a stroller; this diaper bag is versatile and beautiful.

After just three months of selling the imported bags, I decided to design my own unique diaper bag where I would be able to fine-tune the necessities that I knew I wanted in a backpack-style diaper bag as well as be able to choose the materials and colors. After a lot of research and time spent finding manufacturers, the Monaco Diaper Bag was born. The name Monaco was chosen because I lived in Spain for over 10 years and visited Monaco frequently, and it was a place that was near and dear to my heart.

How did you come up with a business idea?

Luli Bebe’ was founded in 2017 after I had my first baby (Lucy). The name Luli Bebé is the combination of my daughter’s name Lucy and my little niece Lily. As a new mom, I found myself searching for the perfect diaper bag and began importing bags from Spain. I was able to market them in the US and had successful sales, but I realized that although the bags were beautiful, consumers seemed to be in search of a bag that functioned more like a fashionable backpack. 

I started getting the word out by contacting influencers on Instagram, reaching out to major mommy/baby influencers, and the momentum started to build. Within a year, we already had about 100k followers. I am most proud of is that our customer base was grown organically, by word of mouth. 

What challenges did you face at the start of your business?

Many mompreneurs struggle with bringing the best of themselves to every aspect of their lives, and I’m no exception. Having an incredible support system makes all the difference. I have been fortunate in that both my mom and my husband have supported me in such amazing ways, both with the business and with my kids, so that I can truly enjoy both my kids and business milestones. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?

Honestly, nothing, my journey has led Luli Bebe to where it is now, and I learned a lot, even from or maybe especially from my mistakes. And that knowledge helps me make better business decisions now. 

In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?

I’m not afraid of falling down and getting back up. I always keep the faith, give 100% every day and believe that everything is possible if I continue to put my heart into it. I don’t give up if things don’t work out at first, and I understand that I have to be ready for failure at times. And that I might fail many many times, but by continuing to believe in and not give up on my dream and by persevering, I will achieve it. 

What does success mean to you?

First and foremost, success to me means that my family is happy. Without them, I’m nothing!

Renée Greenstein, Founder and Designer of Women With Control 

Renée Greenstein, a mother, and Nene, is the founder of top-selling fashion lines that have been featured in QVC, USA, and UK. Her passion for designing makes her won the 2010 Product Concept, Apparel Award, and QVC’s Q Star 2012 Award for QVC Rising Star and won the 2011Q Star Award for QVC Product Concept in Apparel. 

Renée Greenstein

Along with the famous fashion designer, Renee is also an active member donor to the Central Park Conservancy, The Public Theatre, Rock, and Rule Women’s Empowerment, Hattitude for Education, and WIN; “Women in Need.” 

What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut?: 

My creative juices are always flowing. Typically, If I am not able to travel ( My favorite way to get inspired), I make sure to take the time to go somewhere and walk. Nature, colors, sounds, and people watching can be very inspiring creatively. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out?  

I would not have put myself on the line as much as I did financially. I was so eager to jump headfirst into the business of fashion; Also, I wish I would have taken a moment to pause and consider the financial ramifications. 

What is the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting or running your business?  

Lack of sleep, the business is your spouse, and everything runs around that. It’s not easy. However, you learn how to balance life/work; however, I wouldn’t have it any other way; the rewards are many. 

I also adore self-pampering. It includes- spa sessions, manicures & pedicures.

Megha Rao, Designer & Founder of holiCHIC

Megha was inspired by the beautiful and vibrant culture of Mumbai and America and decided to fill the fashion gap by mixing the Tinkelts, bangles, and lehengas, with her western outfits. With her brand holiCHIC, she creates a new standard of modern opulence for conventional Indian fashion. Megha is a New York City-born designer, curator, and former model.

Megha Rao

Megha’s dream is to create a shop that allows you to buy Indo-Western dresses which you can wear season after season.

In a moment of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up? 

This is another area where having a team and support system is invaluable. Like all businesses, we’ve had our fair set of challenges but having each other to lean on is the #1 reason we’ve been able to pick ourselves back up in times of self-doubt and adversity. For example, when the pandemic hit in early 2020, our business was hit hard, forcing our entire team to think outside the box to sustain the business.

What is your no-fail go-to when you need inspiration or to get out of a creative rut? 

Inspiration truly comes from everywhere! For me personally, traveling to different cities is where I tend to draw inspiration. Given recent travel constraints, my go-to place when I’m in a creative rut is walking around the vibrant streets of New York City. 

Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently when you were first starting out? 

Ride the waves and trust the process! Every business has highs and lows; it is easy to get discouraged and sidetracked when things aren’t going according to plan. But that’s the beauty of running a business, you learn, you evolve, and you grow with everything that comes at you. 

We had two goals in mind:

  • Help frontline workers who were risking their lives for others and
  • Bring people joy while they were at home quarantining. The first idea we came up with as a team was to create masks using upcycled fabrics that were no longer in use for wedding/event attire. And second, we started doing challenges at home that others could join in on (i.e., the sari denim challenge, dupatta challenge) to inspire creativity during a time where there was a lot of uncertainty and unknowns. 

What does success mean to you? 

It’s seeing other people feeling proud to Be in our clothing. It’s one thing for us to be happy with how a design turns out, but when we see our clients in our designs, sending us feedback about how powerful and beautiful they felt in the piece…. that’s a success. 

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