How to run an ethical fashion business in New York as a mom, without credit or investment
by Celine Semaan Vernon
I am 3 days away from going into labor with my second child. Three years ago, shortly after giving birth to my first child in 2012, I started Slow Factory; an online design boutique that creates limited edition silk scarves with digital prints of NASA images. I had been rejected from all the design schools I applied to, from Paris to Montreal because I was considered “too artsy, too fine-arts”. After I graduated from Cyber-Arts and Computation Arts at Concordia in Montreal, I realized that being coined (labeled) as “too artsy, too fine arts,” was actually a blessing in disguise. It meant that I understood one or two secrets in this world;
1) L’art c’est la vie - Art is life.
2) You can be anything when you believe it (this I learned from my performance and video art days).
I ended up as a successful self-made interaction designer and user-experience designer for HUGE Inc. in Brooklyn, New York and thereafter, onto start my own consultancy Le Design Team inc.
I started working as a designer and used Google to figure out anything I didn’t know, from fonts to typography, layout, interaction design and documented everything on a personal blog that got me to be discovered for this new job in New York at HUGE inc. in 2008. Later on that same blog got me to become a UX Design instructor at General Assembly for two years. I taught students and professionals such as an entire department at Condé Nast, Trip Advisor, and AXA France (I am fluent in French so that was easy). I went from an interaction designer to a fashion design entrepreneur while still keeping my clients and working on Slow Factory during my free moments (evenings mostly). I did this for two and a half years and up until recently, I have shifted my efforts towards Slow Factory full-time since June of this year.
Slow Factory was a young company, when I moved back to New York from Montreal, and because I am Canadian, I didn’t yet have any credit history, so couldn’t really get myself a credit card or a line of credit. The 3 C’s, that I am sharing below helped me save money, focus and use my time wisely and my creativity to get my company off the ground. In a year our products were sold at the MoMA Store, worn by style icons that I admire such as Nadia Abulhosn, TK and Ciprianna Quann, and Samar Serqui de Buttafaco, featured in Vogue and closed a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to help preserve our oceans.
The 3 C’s that inspire me:Cook.
Cooking can be therapeutic and help you save a lot of money!
I learned to cook from my mother who cooked throughout my childhood despite the fact that she was a young immigrant with three children and working full-time at her own restaurant. We had homemade Lebanese food 24/7. At the time we always complained, us kids wanted to eat out or eat regular food like the others, but looking back I am so grateful I grew up far from my country, Lebanon but yet, very close to it through the taste of my mother’s daily authentic Lebanese food. So cooking has become a big part of who I am, and part of my child’s life in New York while running a company with very little budget.
Curate your life, your closet, the kind of food you eat, the people you hang out with. Curate to enjoy life better.
Have you read the book ‘The life-Changing Magic of Tidying up’? This book teaches you how to keep less than 30 items in your closet that bring you joy. Apply this rule to everything else: books, music, objects you keep around, and even food! When you feel good about it, keep it, eat it, hang out with it. Curating, is the art of making collections, telling stories and better defining who you are.
In the online open-knowledge culture, we say that curating and dj-ing are pretty much the same thing. The time when you used to create a mixtape cassette for your friend or your crush: that was curating 101! Moving back to New York after Montreal with a one year-old was a big deal! I had to curate our life’s inventory to fit a New York sized apartment. All the lessons I’ve learned curating my new life and embracing minimalism, I applied to my business. The “less is more” mantra can be relevant to running your business too. For example, when deciding on the upcoming collections, (aside from having constraints like wanting to use eco-friendly dye and material, fair-trade production, materials with minimal impact on the environment, and quality) I also had strict constraints about the meaning and the story of the product itself. I am very mindful of a product's ecosystem. From its inception through its life-cycle. While in Paris, studying in art school I quickly learned: “Knowing when to stop” is a valuable insight and in Brooklyn, as a designer at a major design firm I quickly learned that “self-imposing constraints” is something I have control over. Good design is knowing how to gracefully navigate constraints and come up with a delightful experience and product. Define and create your own constraints, whatever values you have, that can help you better create products that will bring you joy.
Channeling your insecurities, fears, creativity is key in maintaining a productive rhythm as an entrepreneur
Make up your own rules, do what you need to do to find what’s best for you, but the goal is that you must channel positive and negative emotions in a constructive way. First lesson I learned is don’t take anything personal! It’s easy to when you get a bad attitude from a sales rep, or someone hanging up in your face. Perhaps it’s also the kind of wisdom you acquire when raising a two year old. These emotions are tourists; they come, they go and they shouldn't leave a trace, shouldn’t pollute your well-being. Let it go.
Fear. Fear is your friend. If you try to push fear away, fear will become this needy annoying creepy friend that will keep calling you and drive you to the verge of a nervous breakdown. Talk to fear, sit down with it over coffee, have a chat like in a David Lynch movie. Fear is complex. It comes in many forms. Sometimes it can be in the form of a voice recorded in your brain (the brain is an amazing recording machine!). Listen to the message. Accept it. It’s shining a light on something you must deal with from within. Rumi comes to mind here, “The wound is where the light enters”. I find myself talking to fear so many times a week, and out loud sometimes too. “Hey okay, I heard you! Thank you! But I’m going to jump anyway because I am more afraid not to jump then to actually go for it, so I appreciate your input there, Fear, but I’m okay.” And Fear understands. Mindful meditation helps.
Creativity. Hi Creativity! What an awesome idea! I’m so excited! I can feel it working! I know exactly how to make this work except we don’t have the budget for it! OMG Fear just heard me! Okay Okay, let’s break it down together and see how we can work it out. I’ll go for a walk.
These are some of my experimental methods dealing with channeling these genies into productive work and I am nowhere close to having found the holy grail. I feel that we all go through these emotions and talking about it with peers and sharing our own homemade remedies can be very inspiring and helpful.
These are the three C’s that make it possible for me to run an online company from a studio in Brooklyn. Building my network of trusted collaborators and peers, creating collections that both raise awareness and funds to support causes that are important to me and raise my little family with the culture that I come from despite the fact that we are millions of miles away.
I really wanted to share the 3 C’s with you and somehow as a message in a bottle to my future self, the one who will try to figure out how to balance life again after giving birth to a second child. I’m hoping this will help me in the future focus, laugh, and keep on keeping on growing Slow Factory into a sustainable - slow and steady - online business that creates a bigger and bigger impact each year.