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How I Broke Free From the Status Quo of The Fashion Business

4min read
Business

After years of experience working for other brands, in the pre-digital stone age (before the advent of Instagram - gasp!) I launched my handmade-in-Italy evening bag business. It was Fashion Week of February 2008, and was immediately followed by the Great Recession - a total economic downturn and complete shift in the retail environment. What had traditionally been the standard operating procedure for a fashion business no longer applied, but everyone was still trying to put that old square peg in this new round hole.


The expectations of brands and designers changed into something that would be untenable even to Hercules. The expectations and structure made no sense, and was by no means a sustainable situation. From the start of the recession, I knew in my gut that this couldn't possibly work for any period of time - drastic changes were going to need to take place in how business was done. Retail couldn't keep trying to put this square peg in that round hole. Nonetheless, for years, I tried to "play the game" and do things as the rest of the fashion pack was doing them in order to fit in and get ahead. In my gut, I knew that what we needed was a revolution.

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My name is Amanda Pearl Brotman: founder, designer, and all around bosslady of AMANDA PEARL - a small, women-run, New York City based accessories company known for sustainably and ethically made jewelry and clutches that are designed to empower. I'm not some retail genius, and don't have a fancy MBA. But I can see when A plus B is never going to equal C. It took me a while to learn to listen to my gut, but that's exactly what I finally did, revolutionizing my business both for myself and my customers.

Entrepreneurship always felt pre-destined for me. It started young - from a wee tot decorating rocks and selling them door-to-door in our neighborhood (Yikes. No, I don't know where my parents were…), or beading jewelry to sell street-side in lieu of lemonade. I have always had a passion for creating and trying to make a business of it. But I wasn't dumb and certainly not hasty. I knew I needed to learn the ropes and have experience before trying to do it myself in any real way. I'd received a BA in art history and visual arts, but knew that not even an MBA could properly prepare me for what it was to run a business like this - I needed to get experience on the job, in the real world. I needed to learn about all of the aspects that needed to fit together to make a business like this work. I needed to learn how it was done.

For 5 years I had the incredible opportunity to work for some well known brands where I got to jump in and see first-hand the ins and outs and learn the "formula for success", really seeing how this type of business worked. I was incredibly lucky, as my first job out of college was with Marc Jacobs - a relatively big, hot, successful company that happened to be run by a small-ish team. This meant I really got to get in there and get my hands dirty and be privy to all that went on. My roles there allowed me to work between design, development, merchandising, sales, and production, learning how to manage the manufacturing of goods all over the globe. I later became "collection director" for another small brand, liaising between all of the teams (pattern makers, sample makers, production, etc.), again, running through the standard series of steps. It was pretty straightforward. This is how the fashion business went - this is how you were supposed to do it.

By now I felt ready to take the plunge on my own. I gave notice at my job, and got to work, launching AMANDA PEARL in February of 2008. I set up and ran my business the way you were "supposed to", and that meant multiple collections, inventory, and expensive presentations. The recipe that I'd followed in my previous jobs was how I rolled. I began to get some wholesale accounts, stylists started consistently pulling the collection, and celebrities were wearing my accessories on all the red carpets. I'd played by the rules and checked all of the boxes, but I still wasn't making any money. By pre-recession standards, we should have made it, we should have been rolling in customers. But the landscape had completely changed. What worked then didn't work now. Getting into a magazine didn't mean you'd get sales. Having celebrities wearing your things didn't mean you were successful. Having retail accounts didn't mean you were making money. This new landscape was an alternate reality.

Following the recession in 2008, retail turned inside out. The shopping habits of consumers changed and retailers no longer wanted the responsibility of owning inventory (read: they wanted everything on consignment, which meant that as a brand, you had to shoulder the burden of their inventory "investments" and bad decisions). Online was becoming a big thing. Influencers and celebrities were becoming brands. Customers were not paying full "retail price" anymore. They had been trained to wait for a sale (there would always be a sale!) and so what did these retail prices mean anyway?

This gnawed at me. This retail structure whereby you had to inflate retail prices to include margin not only for your production cost and overhead, but padding for the retailer's fancy stores, advertising, infrastructure, and for their own series of eventual, hefty discounts. People no longer had any idea of the true value of the goods we were creating. How could they? Like some sort of sorcery, we were churning out gobs of collections throughout the year, just for the sake of keeping up and having something new new new. To turn that over, the previous collections were marked down down down. From a creative and company resources perspective, from an environmental perspective, and from an industry perspective, I knew that I/we couldn't keep doing this. It was unsustainable from every angle.

In retrospect, I can't believe it took me so long to come around. (That's not entirely true… I stopped offering a zillion collections each year early on, and shied away from training my customers to shop on sale, rarely discounting anything.) I saw what was going on, but perhaps didn't think as a lone small business that I could be such a rebel and forge a new path? Somehow, I struggled and slogged through like this into 2018, to only finally have the epiphany that I'm an adult. I'm in charge of my business. I can do what I want. I realized that I had the power to structure things the way I saw fit - I didn't have to do things the way everyone else did them - I needed to make it work for me.

So, I cut out everything that wasn't serving us. I set things up to be sustainable for me - given our size, independent nature, and goals for who, what, and how we wanted AMANDA PEARL to be. I didn't want to be just another run-of-the-mill accessories brand - I wanted my brand to DO something. I let my wholesale accounts sell through, and did what my gut had been telling me to do. In January of 2019, I relaunched as a direct-to-consumer brand.

This meant that we didn't have to answer to our retailers and their calendar of "seasons" that they had to have new product for. I had control over the development schedule, and could choose how often we rolled out new products. (I'm the boss! I can do what I want. No really! I can do whatever I want!) Who needs 8 seasons worth of accessories to choose from each year? (Answer: no one.) Maybe we'll just launch a few pieces every couple months!

I restructured the pricing so that we could pass on all of that extra markup savings to our customers, offering real, true prices on our products every day of the year. Without the traditional 10x markup, it meant that there was no room for sales and discounts - we were always offering the best possible prices and so our customers could feel confident in their purchases whenever they made them. There would never be a "Black Friday" sale again.

We were already using recycled gold, but since I was high on doing and building exactly what I wanted, I went all in on the sustainability factor. Eschewing the old guard, I switched 100% to ethical, un-mined diamonds. This meant we could create jewelry without the huge environmental and social impact that traditional diamond jewelry carries with it. To top it off, I included a 10% philanthropic element so that giving back to causes we believe in could be a part of how we did business.

I finally felt really proud of what I was building. The pieces were finally falling into place. AMANDA PEARL wasn't just another accessories brand. We were creating beautiful things that made women feel strong, and that had a positive impact beyond the product - that brought attention to the environmental ramifications of our consumption, that rallied community around issues, and helped to support organizations in need. When I first started out all those years ago, I never could have imagined I would have the power to create something so beautiful…

Our newsletter that womansplains the week
3min read
Self

It’s Time for Women to Stop Worrying About Being “Too Much”

We are living in a time when women are rising to new heights which means they are regularly being confronted with the fear of being "too much". For women in business this is pervasive and costly.

A few ways women can be perceived as "too much" are:

Speaking up about their successes and achievements.

Sharing one too many photos of their cute kids.

Telling one too many people about that date night.

Looking a little too good in that swimsuit.

These can lead to being publicly attacked on social media or privately slandered which in turn leads to women dimming their light and walking on egg shells in hopes of avoiding conflict and judgement.

The minute a woman feels it's unsafe to shine she will begin to overthink, worry, and fear how she shows up in the world.

Forgetting to announce the book is done and the interview is live.

Choosing to focus on what's still on the to-do list rather than what's been checked off.

Many female entrepreneurs are subconsciously altering their behavior in an attempt to not attract too much attention to themselves, rather than focusing on allowing authenticity and magnetism to attract their ideal clients and community.

Women are afraid of being criticized, ostracized, and abandoned by other women for simply being who they are. This leads to quite the quantum when being who you are is simplest way to accelerate the growth of your business.

New research shows men are far more comfortable with self promotion than women are. Researchers found that men rate their own performance 33 percent higher than equally performing women. What we know is that self promotion pays off and this is where women are missing the boat.

The world needs more women to step into leadership roles and no longer be intimidated about creating six and seven figure careers.

Here are five ways to release the fear of being "too much":

1. Approve of yourself.

While it feels good to receive outside validation it will never be enough if you don't first appreciate yourself. The key to having a healthy support system is to make sure you are part of it. Being your biggest critic is what your mother's generation did. It's now time to be your biggest cheerleader. Becoming aware of self talk will reveal what belief is ready to be re-wired. Create a simply mantra that affirms how incredible capable you are.

2. Connect deeply to those you serve.

One powerful way to shift out of people pleasing behavior is to get clear on who actually matters to the wellbeing and success of your life and business. Leadership is not about being the most popular, instead it's a decision to be brave for those who can't be. Take a few minutes each day to visualize and meditate on those your business serves and supports. See your future clients moving toward you every time you choose to stand in your power and use your authentic voice.

3. Remember the legacy you wish to leave.

Having your life purpose and legacy in writing is one of the most transformational exercises you can do. Reading this often will keep you focused on what matters. Knowing what you wish to leave in the hearts of those you love most is incredibly grounding. You didn't come here to keep your mouth shut, dilute your truth, or dim your light-you came here to make a difference.

4. Forgive those who have been unsupportive in the past.

The past has a way of informing the future in a negative way when there is unresolved pain. Take a few minutes to get quiet and ask yourself who you have unforgiveness towards or maybe their name came to mind as you read this article. Listening to a forgiveness meditation or writing a letter to the person you are ready to forgive are both simple and effective ways to process and heal.

5. Be part a community of bright, successful women.

Meaningful relationships with others who have similar aspirations is what will keep you out of isolation and playing small. These connections can happen in a networking group, online community or a local Meetup. Thriving in every area of life is depend on you knowing where you belong and being celebrated there. Don't wait to be invited, go actively seek out people and places that support your dreams and desires.

6. Accept you can have it all.


Women have been fed a lie for generations that says, you can have love or money. Decide you can have it all and allow it to flow to you. You can have a successful career and an amazing mother. You can balance motherhood and loving marriage. Don't let anyone write the rules for you. This is the time to create the life you desire on your terms.

7. Celebrate everything!

The fastest way to leave the haters in the dust is to celebrate everything! At the end of each day lay in bed and recall the best moments. At the end of each week, publicly acknowledge and celebrate what's good in your life. Once a month, have a celebration dinner and share it with those who have helped you in the journey. If there's something good happening, talk about it with everyone who will listen!

May you be a woman who chooses to shine so that others may be reminded of all they can be and do.