9 Biz Lessons from a Veteran Designer
After more than a decade in business (she launched her first Brooklyn shop wayyyyy back in 2005), In God We Trust’s Shana Tabor is a posterchild for savvy entrepreneurs everywhere. She’s grown what started as a small, handmade collection of shirts, dresses, and jewelry into a mini empire with three shops (and a fourth coming in Portland later this year!) and a booming line of understated clothing and angular jewelry—and she’s learned a whole library’s worth of lessons along the way. Check a few of her tried-and-trues.
1. DON’T RUSH YOUR NEXT STEP.
“When I opened the first store on Wythe Avenue, I was just figuring it out as I went and hoping I could make a living doing what I loved. But as I watched friends who owned other small business, restaurants and retail, opening new locations, I remember thinking ‘Is that something I’m supposed to want—to make this bigger?’ And originally I was just happy to keep it on a small scale. I started that first location with $5,000 and was kind of winging it—and when I eventually did open a Manhattan location—and I had to take out a business loan—the stakes became much higher.”
2. KEEP SOME OF THE FUN STUFF FOR YOURSELF.
“A lot of my time is spent answering emails and dealing with whatever fire is burning the hottest at that moment. But there have been certain points during this run when I realized I’ve hired people to do all the things that I want to be doing. So, yes, I had time to do all my emails, but then they’re the ones who are getting to draw and design. So that was a lesson—that I need to find ways to stay in touch with the parts I love.”
3. KEEP LOOKING FOR THAT COMPROMISE.
“As creative person and a business owner, it’s a constant struggle to balance being sincere and honest with your art and the financial side of things. Sometimes you really believe in an idea and fight the good fight, and you look at the numbers and it just didn’t work. You have to learn to let it go. Hard work goes a long way, but unfortunately, just because you’re putting the effort out there doesn’t always mean it’s going to pay your bills. So you have to keep trying to make those two things meet in the middle.”
4. POUND THAT PAVEMENT.
“When I did start looking for a second store location in Manhattan, X-Girl had just closed on Lafayette Street, and that stretch was just a cool spot to go shopping. I knew if I was going to open anywhere in the city, it had to be there. I handwrote a letter to the owner and slipped it through the gate. And he actually called me! That landlord and I have had the most amazing relationship for years, but even now, he picks on me for it. He says ‘It was so insane that I had to call you.’ It’s always worth a shot.”
5. INVEST IN SMALL THINGS TO SAVE YOUR SANITY.
“Buy good tools—no matter what business you’re in. Sure, you can go to the dollar store and buy a paintbrush, but it’s going to suck. It’s going to take longer, the bristles are going to come out, and it’s going to perpetuate this feeling of frustration. And you might have to buy a couple of them over your lifetime, when you could have just bought the more expensive one upfront and had a tool that will last you forever. I’m fully aware that sometimes people don’t have the option to get the more expensive thing—I’ve definitely been there. But it was a breakthrough for me to realize that if you buy better stuff in the first place, you can break that cycle of everything feeling so hard, all the time.”
6. TRUST YOUR CREW.
“Believe in and build a strong community around yourself, and then try not to be competitive with them. I’ve been fortunate to have a plethora of other jewelry and clothing designers I can go to if my factory is screwing up and I need help, and they know they can come to me too. There are a lot of people out there who are very secretive about their resources and things like that, but I think you get what you give. I’m not trying to be their company, they’re not trying to be my company, and we can get farther with support.”
7. AND HIRE MULTITASKERS, TOO.
“I don’t run this show by myself at all. In choices big and small, I very much take to heart the opinions of the people I work with. And I think for any small business to be successful, everyone has to wear a million different hats. You might be hired as the social-media director, but you still may need to sit in the store one day or run to the Garment District. I’m really fortunate to work with other amazing people that get that. There’s a reason why everyone is here and why we work well together, and it’s because they’re as ambitious and motivated as I am.”
8. USE SHAREABLE SOFTWARE WHENEVER YOU CAN.
“I’m a crazy list-maker, but I discovered my flaw was picking up notebooks and starting a list—and then writing a new one somewhere else. So a couple of years ago, I started only using the reminders feature on my iPhone. I live by it, it’s my bible. My one complaint about that was you couldn’t share them with people, but they changed that—so now other people can see them or add tasks. I also don’t think our company could survive without Google Drive. It’s easy, and it’s free—and everything is already shared. And Dropbox is also just incredible—when I’m waiting for the bus, I can pull up the images from our most recent photoshoot on my phone.”
9. JUST PICK UP THE DAMN PHONE!
“I have a (gentle) conversation with people who start here about the quality of information and efficiency that comes from making a telephone call. It sounds silly, but I just don’t think people call each other anymore! Like, if a bulk order comes and something is missing, you might wait days for an email back from the warehouse about it—but I can pretty much guarantee if you call them, someone will be there, and you’ll have an answer in five minutes. And you’re also building a relationship with the person you’re talking to in a way that you just can’t with an email.”