SHOP TALK: A Big Talk on Small Businesses

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Oh the things you can learn from attending a FGI-Houston event, especially their recent one titled; SHOP TALK: A Big Talk on Small Businesses. This was one of their best events to date! FGI, for those of you who don't know, stands for Fashion Group International. I believe the mother ship organization was created in New York (surprised? Fashion?), but now there are branches of FGI all around the country and of course FGI-Houston is the Houston branch. I've been supporting FGI-Houston for years, and once again attended this event as press. Everything about the event was fab, from the venue, to the crowd, to the speakers and the information.  The event was hosted by new cafe/restaurant space Tout Suite in EaDo (We call East of downtown Houston, EaDo) which opened specifically for this event because they are not yet open to the public! FGI-Houston members and non-members (with a fee) were privy to a panel of successful small business owners in Houston led by moderator Sarah Gabbart, Fashion Editor for Houstonia Magazine. Sydney Dao, the 2014 Director of FGI-Houston kicked off the event by introducing Sarah, and Sarah proceeded to introduce the panelists:

Jenny Morgan - Settlement Goods - A women's and men's boutique co-founded by Jenny that showcases designs solely manufactured in the USA
Cheryl Schulke - Stash Co - Cheryl has been designing hand bags for 6 years out of her family space and recently opened up a flagship store in Houston's West Ave
Brandi Garcia - Do or Dye TX - Brandi is part owner of Do or Dye Salon.  She's inspired by her US travels when it comes to hair care and trends. 
Davina Tweedy - Langford Market- Davina is the brand manager for all the AA Concept stores: Langford Market, DuO, Wish, & Addison.
Jackie Adams - Melodrama Boutique - Starting her career off as buyer and wardrobe consultant, Jackie decided to open her own clothing and accessories boutique.
FGI-Houston Director Sydney Dao kicks off the event!
I learned so much from this event  that I want to start a business just to apply these tips! Ha! However, a lot of the tips shared with the audience could be used for anything that one is passionate about, especially never giving up, staying the course, and knowing when something isn't right or not working. 

Kicking off the discussion, each panelist told a little about themselves and their stores. Cheryl, with Stash Co, was quick to tell us that having a business isn't always about trends. She creates bags from an artist perspective instead of trends. "I don't tend to follow trends. I tend to follow the art of the leather in the bag. I make bags, handbags of all kinds. I have more than 100 designs that I make myself and that I'm teaching other people to make. We also do aprons for restaurants locally and around the country."
From Left to Right: Sarah, Jenny, Cheryl, Brandi, Davina, and Jackie
What about having partners? Sometimes you don't have to co-own a business, but just co-own the brick & mortar and then work independently. That's what Brandi Garcia did with her 4 salon partners. "Me and my friend Grace opened it up together with 3 other people. We all worked for ourselves, independently renting space, and you can never find the perfect space to work in, so Grace and I were hunting to find the perfect spot and we said if we couldn't find it, we should just make it.  We went into business together in 2011 and built a space where everyone can be their own boss"

In Jackie's case, you can discover your passion even after pursuing a different career. "I've had my boutique for 12 years. My background is in Science. My degree is in Physics and my Master's in Atmospheric Science. But I had a love and a passion for fashion."

The crowd for the event!
Jackie, originally from Detroit, had spent some time working for a company as a buyer when she decided to focus on 'What is it that I'm really supposed to be doing?'.  Jackie always wanted to have her own business and in her twenties she created her first organization; Global Empower. Global Empower was a non-profit geared towards positive images in Fashion, Art & Entertainment. After a plethora of styling gigs with Global Empower, Jackie sought the boutique ownership world. "I really wanted to be somewhere where I could make a difference and stand out", when referencing her shop location in Houston, "and I was willing to learn from the bottom, up."  Setting out to prove her friends wrong that she would have to move to New York or LA to learn the ropes of being a buyer, Jackie picked up a job right here in Texas. "I was right here living in Houston, and working for a Texas company. Everyone kept telling me I had to move to New York or LA to do it, but I didn't, I did it right here". As far as the name Melodrama, "I had all these names and my cousin said why don't you name it Melodrama since you always melo drama". At first Jacking was offended but after sleeping on it, decided she loved the name and 12 years later it's still Melodrama Boutique.
Davina and Jackie
"The owner of AA Concepts started out designing his own line. He was on the wholesale side of the business. He decided that he wasn't fulfilled in his clothing adventures and decided to open up boutiques. Each boutique concept caters towards a specific customer." ~Davina, Brand Manager for AA Concepts.

Sometimes your friends can help you come up with the name! Brandi and her partners couldn't come agree upon a name, so, Susan, a mutual friend came up with Do or Dye and they loved it.  They named it Do or Dye TX because other Do or Dyes exist around the country. It's important to research your name. 
Fashion Designer Natalie Harris and FGI-Houston Member asking questions.
Cheryl's Stash Co name is a result of a nickname given to her by her father, after he attempted to help her and her husband mover.  After a week of still moving, he realized she had stashed stuff everywhere and called her Stash.  After leaving her techie life behind to start a family, Cheryl created a blog called Stash Studios and envisioned a future career as a photographer and writer for the blog. This all changed after Cheryl received a cowhide as payment for a photography session.  Cheryl, who had sewn and made clothes for her kids, created a handbag out of the hide, and at her next gig sold it right off of her body! This continued to happen, and Cheryl still in denial and convinced that her career was in photojournalism, allowed her husband to purchase an industrial sewing machine and the rest is history.  
Spotted: Houstonia Magazine Writer and Fashion Blogger Sarah Pendley
For the name Settlement Goods, Jenny explained that the name is based on history. Jenny, her husband, and their third partner, Melissa, an interior designer took a retreat to brainstorm on the concept and the name. They had tons of ideas, but really wanted the location to be a community that fostered conversation and elevated the design aesthetic in Houston.  "My husband's a writer, I'm in art, Melissa's an interior designer. What is it about Houston, that's so amazing that can foster these kinds of creatives but there's not necessarily a lot of outlet for them?" They started thinking about what were the beginnings of the United States.  What are the beginnings of any sort of community? How can we get people from all different places to work together in one space...aha! "A settlement, we'll just state our independence with a settlement with all these ideas."

Other topics discussed were on branding, use of social media, finding the right partners, starting small and more. In addition to the wealth of information, we received yummy treats from the Tout Suite kitchen and Cointreau was on site with yummy cocktails.  I even spoke to the group of fashion entrepreneurs briefly on working with bloggers.  All in all it was a great event and it's always fun to run into industry friends, Heather Petrey, Sarah Gabbart, Maurielle Balczon, Sydney Dao, Andrea Bonner, & Sarah Pendley, 

Uh...can we say fashionable shoes? Lookin' good ladies!
Admiring Heather's fascinator! My seat was right next to hers
Full house for this event! These men and women were definitely leaving with valuable information.

The huge floor to ceiling windows with the nighttime lighting in Tout Suite, make for a perfect ambience near the end of the event. 
Basked in yellow light!
I don't think you're allowed to smoke in here! LOL
The co-owners of Tout Suite! They also own Sweet in City Centre.

FGI-Houston Board members helping out with the event!

For more photos from the event, check out my FACEBOOK ALBUM.

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