#SWAAYthenarrative

Why This Entrepreneur Is Innovating Traditional Undies

People

There are people who accept things as they are, as they “should” be. Then, there are people, like Helya Mohammadian, who not only challenge things as they are, but they also try to add alternatives. Mohammadian is challenging how we look at underwear, starting with women. Before you say that there are plenty of innovators in underwear and that I should know this because I just wrote about one, hold on. First of all, there’s room for more than one innovator per industry. Secondly, Mohammadian found yet another gap that still needed to be filled, and she filled it.


Helya Mohammadian

"I we wanted to make their lives just a little easier by introducing underwear for women who live life on the go." - Helya Mohammadian, Founder of Slick Chicks

Mohammadian founded Slick Chicks as a solution to a problem that she had, realizing that this problem isn’t unique to her by any means: putting on and removing traditional underwear is inconvenient at best and dangerous at worst. It’s annoying enough for people without physical constraints to do it, but for anyone else, it’s a legitimate safety hazard. And yet, it doesn’t have to be. Putting on Slick Chicks underwear should be familiar because it’s the same process as putting on a bra: simply snap the pieces together.

What truly sets Mohammadian apart from other entrepreneurs is that she wasn’t going into the endeavor as a “blissfully ignorant” ingenue; she knew exactly what she was doing every step of the way into scaling her business. Mohammadian used the technical skills she developed while at FIT to create the first prototype of the product. Once she found her manufacturers, which was a time-consuming and arduous process in itself, she knew specifically which questions to ask them.

Additionally, knowing her product intimately and having an understanding of the current supply chain proved to be another advantage for Mohammadian, who chose to have a direct-to-consumer business model. As a vertical retailer, she acknowledges that “building an online-only business has cost and distribution advantages, as opposed to brick and mortar,” but Mohammadian would ultimately “like to license and/or create partnerships with larger, well known brands.”

www.slickchicksonline.com

Beyond the product being innovative, it is empowering. Undergarments are personal. They cover what are known as our “private parts.” That’s why they’re also called “intimates.” Being able to change in and out of said “intimates” should be a “private” moment, and “it is a huge burden on one’s pride when you cannot even change your own intimates.” Slick Chicks further empowers women by working with the Homeless Period Project to support homeless women who are struggling when dealing with menstruation.

www.slickchicksonline.com

Mohammadian has a point: of the many challenges women – and people, in general – face on a daily basis, changing in and out of underwear shouldn’t be one of them. Can you imagine? Not having to take your tights off to change your underwear? Umm, why would you imagine when so many people loved the solution that they pledged more than Slick Chicks’ goal on Kickstarter?

Being able to change in and out of said “intimates” should be a “private” moment, and “it is a huge burden on one’s pride when you cannot even change your own intimates.”

(Our Full Interview with Helya Mohammadian is available here)

3 Min Read
Business

Five Essential Lessons to Keep in Mind When You're Starting Your Own Business

"How did you ever get into a business like that?" people ask me. They're confounded to hear that my product is industrial baler wire—a very unfeminine pursuit, especially in 1975 when I founded my company in the midst of a machismo man's world. It's a long story, but I'll try to shorten it.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up—even if it involved a non-glamorous product. I'd been fired from my previous job working to become a ladies' clothing buyer and was told at my dismissal, "You just aren't management or corporate material." My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Over the years, I've learned quite a few tough lessons about how to successfully run a business. Below are five essential elements to keep in mind, as well as my story on how I learned them.

Find A Need And Fill It

I gradually became successful at selling various products, which unfortunately weren't profitable enough to get me off the ground, so I asked people what they needed that they couldn't seem to get. One man said, "Honey, I need baler wire. Even the farmers can't get it." I saw happy dollar signs as he talked on and dedicated myself to figuring out the baler wire industry.

I'd never been interested to enter the "man's" world of business, but when I discovered a lucrative opportunity to become my own boss, I couldn't pass it up.

Now forty-five years later, I'm proud to be the founder of Vulcan Wire, Inc., an industrial baler wire company with $10 million of annual sales.

Have Working Capital And Credit

There were many pitfalls along the way to my eventual success. My daughters and I were subsisting from my unemployment checks, erratic alimony and child-support payments, and food stamps. I had no money stashed up to start up a business.

I paid for the first wire with a check for which I had no funds, an illegal act, but I thought it wouldn't matter as long as I made a deposit to cover the deficit before the bank received the check. My expectation was that I'd receive payment immediately upon delivery, for which I used a rented truck.

Little did I know that this Fortune 500 company's modus operandi was to pay all bills thirty or more days after receipts. My customer initially refused to pay on the spot. I told him I would consequently have to return the wire, so he reluctantly decided to call corporate headquarters for this unusual request.

My stomach was in knots the whole time he was gone, because he said it was iffy that corporate would come through. Fifty minutes later, however, he emerged with a check in hand, resentful of the time away from his busy schedule. Stressed, he told me to never again expect another C.O.D. and that any future sale must be on credit. Luckily, I made it to the bank with a few minutes to spare.

Know Your Product Thoroughly

I received a disheartening phone call shortly thereafter: my wire was breaking. This horrible news fueled the fire of my fears. Would I have to reimburse my customer? Would my vendor refuse to reimburse me?

My customer told me to come over and take samples of his good wire to see if I might duplicate it. I did that and educated myself on the necessary qualities.

My primary goal then was to find a career in which nobody had the power to fire me and that provided a comfortable living for my two little girls and myself.

Voila! I found another wire supplier that had the right specifications. By then, I was savvy enough to act as though they would naturally give me thirty-day terms. They did!

More good news: My customer merely threw away all the bad wire I'd sold him, and the new wire worked perfectly; he then gave me leads and a good endorsement. I rapidly gained more wire customers.

Anticipate The Dangers Of Exponential Growth

I had made a depressing discovery. My working capital was inadequate. After I purchased the wire, I had to wait ten to thirty days for a fabricator to get it reconfigured, which became a looming problem. It meant that to maintain a good credit standing, I had to pay for the wire ten to thirty days before my customers paid me.

I was successful on paper but was incredibly cash deprived. In other words, my exponentially growing business was about to implode due to too many sales. Eventually, my increasing sales grew at a slower rate, solving my cash flow problem.

Delegate From The Bottom Up

I learned how to delegate and eventually delegated myself out of the top jobs of CEO, President, CFO, and Vice President of Finance. Now, at seventy-eight years old, I've sold all but a third of Vulcan's stock and am semi-retired with my only job currently serving as Vice President of Stock and Consultant.

In the interim, I survived many obstacles and learned many other lessons, but hopefully these five will get you started and help prevent some of you from having the same struggles that I did. And in the end, I figured it all out, just like you will.