Starting a Clothing Design Business

Interview with Elizabeth Nill, President and Founder of Shibui Designs

"I have nothing to wear." It's a complaint common to many women, but Elizabeth Nill used her frustration with not finding suitable clothes to start her own design business.

Interview with Elizabeth Nill, President and Founder of Shibui Designs.

Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?

At Shibui Designs, we handcraft custom made classically styled dresses for women over 50. We service a niche market in a growing demographic of primarily urban, professional, active, affluent older women who are seeking fit, classic style and elegant design.

We've been in business since October of 2009 and have our atelier in Cape Cod.

How did you come up with your business idea?

As a professional woman with a considerable travel schedule and multiple audiences to work with, I tired of the lack of elegant and classic clothing that I could find. I had an image of how I wanted to look, and couldn't do it with available ready to wear clothing. So, decided to create my own business that would cater to women just like me. I did some market research, some prototyping, and jumped in.

What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?

I am a professional with a management background. Most recently I was a partner in a startup management consulting company with Harvard University faculty.

Did you operate your business from your home? What were the challenges and benefits to this strategy?

Initially, yes. We graduated to an atelier/shop with a public retail presence in order to provide credibility and support the brand.

Temporary labor can be a great asset to an entrepreneur. Have you ever hired temps or contractors? Would you suggest this as a strategy for new business owners?

Temporarily/contract labor is vital to providing the flexibility that a start up requires. I strongly support this strategy for the short term, until the company has footing and can engage employees with a high degree of security.

Did you write a business plan?

Initially, no. I proceeded on instinct and experience. But once I began to encounter having to make decisions on how to best expend limited resources, I developed a business plan as a road map/guide to making decisions and assessing progress. It's a very useful tool.

Who did you hire to help you? Bookkeeper, Accountants, Lawyers ...? Would you suggest others do the same?

I engaged professional services on a contractual basis to help with the basics - and to keep me clear to focus on the marketing and business development. They are a critical resource.

What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?

Be patient, tenacious, focus, strategic and committed. Be clear about your objectives, your market and your service and don't get pulled off in another direction. Protect your brand.

Great advice, Elizabeth. Thanks for your time.

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