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Carly Ann Beck Schools Us on Taking Big-Brand Experience to a Small One

BY lindsay o'rourke 02/26/2016

 

If you worked as some sort of all-star recruiter, Carly Ann Beck would be your dream candidate. Her resumé includes making business magic happen for titans like Diane von Furstenberg and Steven Alan. But she is so not for hire: She took all that invaluable experience she got working for the big guys and applied it to her own bootstrapped line of minimalist bags, called C.A.B. Here’s her guide to making a similar transition—though these hard-won tips apply to pretty much any industry.

 

YOUR FELLOW INTERN MIGHT BE YOUR MENTOR ONE DAY

“I started as an intern at DVF and worked my way up to account executive, selling the collection to specialty and department stores. I worked with basically all other women. Diane emphasized the importance on working together and supporting one another, so thankfully there was no cattiness. My co-workers from that time were such a strong group—they have gone on to do some incredible and inspiring things. I’ve remained friends with a lot of them, and they’ve been a great resource in helping me develop my company. Oh, and while I was there, I also learned how to properly tie a wrap dress.”

 

DON'T BE A SLAVE TO TRENDS...BUT DON'T IGNORE THEM, EITHER

“After DVF, I went on to work as the director of sales for Yaya, which was Yael Aflalo’s brand before she started Reformation. She started Yaya when she was very young and saw lots of growth and success with her brand over a decade. She started before online shopping and social media—so before people could see trends come together so quickly—and she still could put something together and know would be popular a year later. So I learned that it’s important to not give up on something you believe in. Just keep re-interpreting your style, as Yael did, and don’t give up on what you and your brand are about.”

 

YOU CAN WORK WITHIN A TIGHT BUDGET, BUT YOU CAN'T DO IT ALONE

After working for Yael, I moved on to be the brand director for Steven Alan, working closely with Steven and his design team planning the merchandise for his retail stores. I learned so much about independent designers and how to put together a collection on a budget. Tap into your network, and don’t be afraid to ask someone for a favor because you’d be surprised how many people are willing to help out a friend.”

 

IT'S COOL TO CHANGE YOUR MIND

“In 2010, I started Sedgwick with my good friend Ashley Baker. Sedgwick was an amazing learning experience, and from that I realized that I didn’t want to follow the traditional fashion calendar. I wanted to create small, limited-edition collections monthly in order to deliver to my stores on a consistent basis and to give the consumer lots of choices in styles and colors. With C.A.B., I’m able to source exactly what I need for each bag and to make exclusive handbags for my stores and my site. It takes a lot more time and planning, but it’s worth it.”

 

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DON'T UNDERESTIMATE HOW HARD IT IS TO BE YOUR OWN BOSS

“My experiences working in fashion formed how I wanted to structure my company. I use what I learned from DVF, Steven Alan, and Yaya constantly, and I don’t think I would have been able to do all of this otherwise. But I love that I’m able to have the flexibility to constantly evolve my brand. If something’s not working, I can change it. But you also have to be prepared to have to do it all yourself. I like the fact that I have my hands in every aspect of the company—I know exactly what works and what doesn’t. But I’m also always the one on call. ”

 

START SOMEWHERE ELSE...AND THEN START SMALL

My advice to anyone wanting to start their own fashion brand is to work for someone else first. Do your research—figure out what you’re good at and what you really want to do. When you’re ready, create a quality product, reach out to your network, and build relationships with stores you think would be a good fit. If it’s only ten stores that would make sense—fine. It’s all about partnering with the right people. But start small.”

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