How do you start your own business? Well, if you
are anything like me, you just wake up one day and
say "Enough of this, today is the day I start
my own business." So in the words of a very wise
sneaker company, "Just do it."
Six years ago I was a fashion designer at a sweater
company that was a little demented. I was constantly
booking appointments with models and photographers
for our publicity shots, then being told to cancel
them at the last minute. One day, however, I just
didn’t cancel the shoot. I actually went to bed that
night knowing that there would be a photographer,
a photographer’s assistant, and a very expensive model
waiting for me at a very expensive studio in Manhattan.
I didn’t admit it that night, but when I woke up in
the morning, I called the photographer and said, "Today’s
shoot is for me, not the company I was working for.
Today I start my own company – uh, do you take credit
cards?". He laughed and miraculously said ‘ok’.
After I called in sick to work, I dug into my closet
full of designs that I loved but that had been cut
from previous lines, and went to the shoot with my
sweaters tucked under my arm. We photographed them,
and that was the first day of Elana Carello Sweaters.
After that, I asked a friend to design a logo, and
only then informed my husband of my plans. Being the
conservative one, he took the news rather well – he
only called me ‘crazy’ once or twice. But he was on
board very soon, figuring out how to obtain credit
lines, and working with banks and lawyers to set up
a corporation. I then took a few more days off from
work, and went through the yellow pages looking for
Sales Reps. Soon, I was taking every lunch hour in
meetings with potential showrooms for my line, finally
settling on a Designer’s Representative who had a
beautiful showroom off of Seventh Avenue. Two days
later I had an order from Neiman Marcus.
One year later, Kathie Lee Gifford wore our sweater
on her Christmas show, and we had our biggest season
to date. We were suddenly on the map -- we had the
most 'knocked-off' sweater in the industry that year
- (and we made a lot of money in copyright lawsuits!).
Everyone knew me in the industry as 'the mitten sweater
girl', since I had popularized a sweater with mitten
From then on, I was hooked and so was my husband.
Getting money to produce the sweaters was our first
problem, so we did whatever we had to do to get it–
we got loans from credit cards, friends, relatives,
third cousins of distant aunts and uncles – whoever
was willing to send money, we were willing to oblige.
Things didn't go as smoothly after that, and they
never will. We had to change reps after the first
month, when the showroom decided to move the office
to Atlanta. We also had to contend with production
delays, money woes, and a constant struggle to just
find the time to get everything done. We spent our
next two 'vacations' working in Hong Kong and China
in hot factories, putting together the new lines or
inspecting production. Also, from then on I had to
decide whether to share the information that I had
a company with whomever was employing me at the time.
I was fired from my next job after they saw my sweaters
in Saks, and they gave me an ultimatum. After that,
I told my next employer and they actually used it
to their advantage, as a sort of PR tool, since many
of the buyers owned my sweaters.
The one most important thing I have learned as a business
owner is to listen to your instincts and always go
for the light. That's what separates the men from
the boys, in my experience. No matter how dismal or
insurmountable a problem might seem, there is light
and if you look for it, you will find it. We've only
been in Neiman Marcus two more times in the seven
years we've been in business, but we have opened lots
of new stores, such as Saks and Macy's, and we've
moved on and changed our look, pricing, factories,
and sales people, as needed. When I first searched
for a showroom, everyone I saw told me this was the
worst time to start a business, that the economy was
poor, and that millions of start-ups fail every year.
If I had listened to those people, instead of arguing
with them, I would never have taken the risk. I'm
glad I did.