Creating a business is hard, especially when you are a woman. There are many obstacles that one can face, both internal, such as insecurity, and external, such as trouble getting a loan. I was able to talk to a few women who turned their passions into successful businesses about their history, as well as how they managed obstacles. However, their lessons/advice also apply to everyday life.
Many people love fashion, and women in particular are behind some of the biggest fashion changes in History. It is no surprise that the Victorian era is styled after Queen Victoria of England. Amelia Bloomer spearheaded more than just voting rights for women in England, but dress reform as well, leading to bloomers being named after her! Haleh Mashian is an artist who also owns an art gallery. Some people may not see the connection between art and fashion, but she did. She took her art and did what many inspired her to do, which was to make her own fashion line, which you can find here!
Q: Why did you decide to start your own fashion company from the art gallery?
HM: “I’m a visual person. I’m always interested in how aesthetics affect our moods and behavior and how visual implications contribute to a sense of self and others. During a time where we are constantly bombarded by harsh news, one may need a little inspiration on a daily basis to combat that. I decided to create the MASH City fashion line as an addition to my painting practice to bring a sense of artistic adventure, color, and joy to our daily lives via fashion.”
Q: You have men’s sizes and go up to a 2X in women–why did you decide to include some plus sizes?
HM: “Creativity does not stop with how young or old you are, what size or shape you are, what gender you are, what color you are. Everyone is entitled to be and feel connected to creativity. MASH City was designed to be an inclusive brand for all.”
Q: What, if any, hurdles did you come across in the fashion industry?
HM: “Unfortunately or fortunately, like anything else it’s who you know versus the quality of the product. The product’s integrity or ingenuity may not always be the deciding factor of a successful line.”
Q: What hurdles did you come across in the art industry?
HM: “The art industry can be snobbish and cliquey. If you’re not famous, you must not be good. And if you are famous, you must be. I don’t think any of these two statements are rooted in reality. Sometimes famous equals garbage. To stay authentic can be challenging, but I have always remained true in my vision for MASH and in my art.”
Q: Any advice for women wanting to start their own company or those that are pursuing art careers?
HM: “Always go to the unknown. That’s where growth and evolution blossom. We all have fear, but so what? In the beginning, there is not much of a difference between a courageous person and a coward. But the courageous person moves forward despite the fear. You can never lose that way.”
Q: Anything else you’d like to add?
HM: “Always pursue what your inner voice whispers. Because that is what loving yourself means. You leave a blessing to you and to whoever is around you.”
Creating a business can have it’s struggles. Baked by Melissa‘s founder, Melissa Ben-Ishay is a successful business woman with various stores in the tristate area, however, when she was just starting out, not all of her days were as good as her chocolate macaroons (seriously, I’m obsessed with them), but bad days aren’t a forecast for a bad business. So, she has some words of advice for when you run into those bad days: “There are SO many challenges when starting your own business. You must make it your top priority over everything else, and you have to be willing to put in the hours and make sacrifices. For me, having the self confidence that it was even possible was a big challenge. There were moments at the beginning in which I wanted to give up! In the first few weeks, I was sitting on the foot of my bed saying, ‘Hi, this is Melissa from Baked By Melissa. I’d love to bring you a free tasting of my cupcakes.’ I felt like a fraud. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who love you, support you and can pick you up when you can’t necessarily pick yourself up. When I was having those moments in the beginning, my brother’s and my parents’ support made all the difference. I would call my dad and he’d remind me that I am smart and capable and can do anything I set my mind to (just like you can). He would always say, ‘What makes steel so strong? Extreme heat!’”
If you are thinking of starting your own business, Melissa has this advice for you: “YOU CAN DO ANYTHING. Look at every challenge as an opportunity and stay optimistic. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Recognize what your strengths are but also recognize what your weaknesses are and find people who have the skills you lack. It’s important to be able to remember that tomorrow is a new day and nothing is the end of the world.”
The 7 Virtues is a fragrance brand that you might have seen at Sephora. According to their website, this brand “is a social enterprise that makes natural perfumes that are hypoallergenic, cruelty-free and vegan”. The saying “make perfume, not war” is associated with them as well! However, there is a lot more to this brand than that. Founder Barb Stegemann was able to answer questions for me on various topics, including her movie Perfume War, and how one woman really can make a difference:
Q: Why did you decide to start the brand?
BS: “After my mentor and best friend Captain Trevor Greene was attacked and severely injured in Afghanistan while in a peaceful shura, I promised him in the hospital that I would carry on his mission of peace and realized I didn’t have a way. I’m not a brave soldier, I’m not a world leader, but then I realized women own the buying power and the voting power and thought if we could harness those powers to reverse issues of war and poverty at the root, then I would be able to carry on his mission of peace. I wrote the book The 7 Virtues of a Philosopher Queen, A woman’s guide to living & leading in an Illogical World. Women have read this book and launched companies, ended bullying and run for office.”
Q: What, if any, issues or roadblocks did you run into and how did you resolve them?
BS: “It was next to impossible to get the banks to loan me money for my idea. Back then we didn’t have a word for social enterprise so my business plan didn’t fit the cookie cutter idea of a business. I ended up launching out of my garage on my visa card. Nothing was stopping me! Then I went on CBC’s Dragons’ Den (just like Shark Tank and Kevin O’Leary was on our show back then) and I got a deal and became the first woman from my region to get a deal. It gave my neighbors courage to take more risks.”
Q: What steps does it take to create a fragrance?
BS: “First the country, we work with fair wage suppliers and do our due diligence through the NGO or government embassy for Canada. Then our chemists in London, UK at CPL aromas need to ensure they pass inspection. Then we engage with our merchants at Sephora who have really taken us under their wing, giving us the best guidance I could never afford anywhere else. It’s such a blessing to have that relationship! Everything is relationships. Then, the incredible chemists and perfumers at CPL aromas go back and forth and back and forth with us, sometimes taking up to 35 versions to get to excellence. Everyone is really patient with us and so helpful. We feel like we are one big family with our Sephora merchants and CPL aromas.”
Q: What key things did you change to help stop your son, who is asthmatic, to not react badly to this perfume?
BS: “Excellent question! I knew we could not make a scent with any of the harmful chemicals that would cause him to react. We ensured there are no phthalates, parabens, sulfates, Formaldehyde or UV inhibitors (hormone inhibitors).”
Q: In Perfume War, your friend (Captain Greene) was injured and the movie tells us about his story, what do you hope injured or disabled people take from his story/the movie?
BS: “I love your questions. I hope they know that you can defy all the odds. The body, mind, soul are connected in ways we will never fully understand. And that if you trust your instincts and have supportive friends and family, you can live and lead in ways no one may have ever expected of you. Captain Greene was not supposed to make it through the night after the attack. Now he has gone on to get married and stood to take his wedding vows (I was his best ma’am). He and his angel wife Debbie wrote a best-selling book and they welcomed their son Noah into their lives. Trevor is a miracle and has the most mapped brain in the world. He continues to work on himself and he inspires us all to push beyond our boundaries.”
Q: Were you ever worried about going into another part of the world and getting involved somewhere it was extremely dangerous?
BS: “Not really. I always travel with NGOs or government groups, so I always feel very safe. I respect the Canadian protocol office and their guidelines for travel.”
Q: Any advice for young entrepreneurs who want to get into the beauty/fragrance industry?
BS: “Follow your instincts, not the crowd. Find something that is not being done and go do it. Find a problem out there and fix it. If you fix people’s problems, that’s the core of sales.”