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How She Got There: Sheila Nazarian & Laura Darrah, Co-Founders of She + Lo

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Name: Sheila Nazarian
Age: 35
Job Title and Description: Co-Creative Director
College/Major: USD/Bachelor of Arts
Website: www.sheandlo.com 
Twitter Handle:
@SheandLo

Name: Laura Darrah
Age: 36
Job Title and Description: Co-Creative Director
College/Major: USD/Business Administration
Website: www.sheandlo.com 
Twitter Handle:
@SheandLo

What does your current job entail? Is there such a thing as a typical day?

Sheila Nazarian: Each day is very different. Much of what I do on a daily basis is creative – designing new pieces, shepherding photo shoots, sourcing materials, talking to bloggers – but Laura and I also both deal with business aspects like overseeing the production and sales teams. One of the things I love most is that it’s so diverse, and there is no typical day.

Laura Darrah: No such thing! Being co-creative directors of She + Lo, we are involved in all creative aspects of our brand on a daily basis. Our days include anything from designing our collections, to producing our campaigns, directing our product shoots, sourcing materials, blogging, working on social media direction, [attending] PR meetings, [attending] PR events and traveling to present the line to customers.

What is the best part of your job?

SN: I love the diversity of each day, and the creativity I can bring to so many aspects [of the work].  I also love the research process: traveling all over the world, looking at the latest fashions on runways and in stores. It’s exciting to look for new ideas, to find inspiration and bring it into our product. However, the challenge of starting up a new company is the most exciting part of everyday.

LD: I love that every day is different from the next, but is always filled with creativity. Designing new product is definitely the best part, but I also love the challenge of pioneering a new brand and the strategic marketing involved. 

What was your first entry-level job in your field and how did you get it?

SN: I worked for Estée Lauder, learning marketing, how to work in a corporate environment [and] how to work your way up the ladder. Then I went to work for my parents’ company and became a buyer. I traveled quite a lot, especially to Paris. I went to a lot of runway shows and really started to develop some confidence in myself and my fashion instincts.

LD: All during college and grad school I worked for a marketing firm that I found through an ad. I loved marketing, but [the experience] assured [me that] I wanted to have my own business. After getting my M.B.A., I decided to travel instead of meeting recruiters like most of my graduating class. It was the best decision, as I found my love for unique accessories and wrote my business plan on the beach in Bali. I spent a good amount of my college savings importing and wholesaling the handbags out of my home to earn capital.

Luckily, I soon met Sheila, who was already working in the fashion industry, and we formed a great partnership. Within six months, we began designing our own collections and launched Treesje in 2005. We sold Treesje in 2011 and launched Joelle Hawkens in 2012. Then we partnered with another company to start She + Lo. It has been such a great journey so far!

What is one thing you wish you knew about your industry when you first started out that you know now?

SN: I wish we had known we needed more money to get off the ground properly. Laura and I each put a thousand dollars into our first handbag line, Treesje, and we grew the business organically, but it took quite a long time. As part of that, I wish we had had a mentor, like a CPA, to hold our hands and teach us how to build a proper structure. We were so young and didn’t know how to think ahead, so a financial mentor would have really helped.

LD: First, how quickly the fashion industry moves! You really have to be two seasons ahead to make sure you are delivering fresh and innovative designs. And second, just how expensive it is to successfully maintain and brand a fashion company.

At the beginning, Sheila and I wore all hats of the business, so it was incredibly hard to catch up each season, especially financially. Looking back, I wish we had spent some more time raising capital for our initial launch. Sheila and I grew the business very organically with the initial capital we made from re-selling our imports. Thus, most of our capital was spent on financing our production orders. With more capital, I think we could have grown the business and brand a lot quicker.

Who is one person who changed your professional life for the better?

SN: My mother. She [became] a fashion designer [when] I was two or three years old. She was a role model for being a working mom. She taught me a love for working, being on your own as a woman, and being able to work and be a mom at the same time. She also taught me that you’ve got to go after what you love. It’s okay if you fail, but you’ve got to try.

LD: My father. I grew up as an entrepreneur’s daughter, so I watched him succeed big and fail big several times! He had such tenacity and determination with all his different companies. He definitely gave me the confidence and encouragement to start my own business. To this day, he is the first person I call when I need help with a business decision.  

What is one mistake you made along the way and what did you learn from it?

SN: As I mentioned, not having a professional accountant or bookkeeper. It was a huge mistake, both financially and emotionally.  We learned that it is best to subcontract out all areas that do not include designing and marketing.

LD: Not listening to advice we received when we first started our company to hire a professional bookkeeper! Much like several young companies, we were struggling with cash flow, so we handled the books ourselves. This ended up being a much more costly mistake years later to clean everything up. In fact, it taught us to outsource all departments that neither of us had experience with.  

What has been the most surreal moment of your career thus far?

SN: I think, for me, it was when we started getting approached to sell Treesje. It took us seven years to build the brand, and I couldn’t believe someone actually wanted to buy it! After that milestone, it was also a little surreal being solicited to launch She + Lo.

LD: I’d have to say that having the opportunity to launch She + Lo has been the most surreal. This is our third brand launch, and it has already been picked up by Bloomingdales, Nordstrom, Henri Bendel and several specialty stores in our first season. Even without a household brand name, it was unbelievable to have such a successful response to our collection.  

What do you look for when considering hiring someone?

SN: Because I feel that details are really important – all the small things that make a business successful – I look for people who are really detail-oriented. I also appreciate people who are creative and self-motivated. We’re not micromanaging bosses. We want someone who can grasp an idea and run with it.

LD: Entrepreneurial spirit.  I look for employees who have the confidence and tenacity to make decisions as if it was their own company. Entrepreneurs also have an unlimited work ethic and don’t “check out” at 5:00 p.m. every day. Our minds are always thinking about how to grow the business and strengthen the brand.

What advice would you give to a 20-something with similar aspirations?

SN: If you have a passion for starting your own company, whether in the fashion world or otherwise, go for it! Start with internships, learn the ropes [and] get your foot in the door. But go after that, dream. Life’s too short to wonder what you could have accomplished.

LD: Go for it! If you are in your twenties, then this is the best time to take risks as you have less responsibility and more time (before kids, mortgage, the works!). The fashion industry in particular is quite daunting, but if you have the right amount of confidence and work ethic, you will achieve your goals. The best experience for me was real experience. Starting small allowed me to make small mistakes and gain confidence to take bigger and bigger risks.

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