An Introduction to the Behind the Seams Interview Series…
The fashion industry is no doubt glamorous – from the catwalks to the apparel that graces the glossy pages of magazines to the well-dressed bodies of Hollywood’s finest – but in my opinion, the stories about what must happen in order to get to those moments is much more interesting, and we’re going to tell it! Often, just as beautiful and inspiring as the apparel they create, are the stories of the businesses and entrepreneurs behind then, and in this interview series we’ll share them with you. You’ll get to know designers, hear what inspires them, empowers them, and even scares and challenges them. It’s my hope that the insight into their passion, perseverance and dedication they share in these interviews ignites the same feelings in you.
Let’s face it: Social media doesn’t tell the whole story. Sure, it’s glamorous, but when we talk about the real story – as designers in this series will – you’ll learn more about what’s happening behind-the-scenes and seams with some of the fashion industries best and brightest.
We kick-off the Behind the Seams series with Uyo Okebie-Eichelberger, the founder of You! Lingerie and Preggo Leggings, and a mother of two, who birthed her idea for her first “business baby” as she calls it, from she was professionally nowhere near the fashion industry: she was a Georgia Tech engineer and brand manager at Kraft Foods.
The success story that Uyo wrote as founder of two fashion companies aimed at the maternity and motherhood market illustrates two of my favorite life and business lessons: First, that it’s never too late to start over, and do what you truly believe you’re meant to do, and second, that with good old-fashioned hard work, boot-strapping, and okay, Google, you can build a thriving business and life!
Read on, to discover how both those lessons played out in Uyo’s own businesses and life…
SK: Though you had a background in business and branding, your own lingerie line was your first official foray into fashion. What was the biggest surprise? Biggest challenge?
UO-E: My biggest surprise was how much time it took to be a designer – from sketch to samples to finished product. I often say I traded my long days as a Brand Manager at Kraft Foods for even longer days and nights as a designer and entrepreneur. It took me one full year from idea inception to the launch of You! Lingerie.
For me, my biggest challenge in the beginning was finding my rhythm as a new mother and creating work life balance. With bootstrapping my business, I had to learn to grow my business with limited dollars and make the most of my resources by finding the most efficient way to drive revenue with the lowest cost possible. I am really good at sketching but I didn’t have a design background. So I taught myself how everything I knew about designing a great nursing bra while bringing all of my fashion sense to it. Google became my bestie. I also wore several hats, I was fashion designer, mom, wife, CEO, marketing manager, sales manager, operations and fulfillment, customer service…you name it, I was it. I was working like crazy especially because I was in the details of it all until I adopted the Pareto’s principle where I focused only on the things that drove the most value for me. Hard at first when you are just starting out but absolutely 1000% necessary if you don’t want to be performing real life acrobatics worthy of the Cirque Du Soleil, haha!
SH: Motherhood is 100% tied to your business – in fact it was the inspiration for it. So tell us, what’s it really like being a mother and an entrepreneur?
UO-E: Motherhood forged the path to entrepreneurship for me. It was in fact the main inspiration to launching my first startup, You! Lingerie six years ago, as a first time breastfeeding mom who searched high and low for pretty nursing bras and was unable to.
I’ve since launched a second brand, Preggo Leggings and have also birth my second child. The journey through motherhood and entrepreneurship has been a balancing act as one can imagine with 2 real-life children and 2 business babies. You won’t really understand the true meaning of the word HUSTLE until you try to do anything while taking care of children. For starters, I am constantly re-evaluating my time and priorities. Time is my most valuable asset, not money. I am very big on Pareto’s 80/20 Principle where I’m able to focus only on high impact activities both in my personal life and business and I outsource everything else like getting a virtual assistant, accounting, doing a million loads of laundry or cleaning my home. I’d rather spend my down time hanging out with my kids or go on a date with my husband than doing the laundry or cleaning my home. This allows me to be more effective and drive real tangible positive results without sweating the small stuff.
Motherhood has taught me a great deal too about being a great designer and businesswoman. I have learned to ditch perfectionism (as best as I can) and that “good enough” is good enough which you learn quickly when you are a mom. You know that extra 10% that wasn’t done? That marketing ad with that upper case P that wasn’t meant to be there, no-one else will probably notice. That product, website or design that is not 100% perfect and needs more tweaks, get it to market, gather feedback and then work on making it better. I have learned to adopt the lean startup mindset even with a perfectionist personality. It’s how how I was able to launch and grow the Preggo Leggings brand so quickly. Three words: Minimum Viable Product (MVP). Get your product out there!
SH: How important is it to you that you use your position as a designer and entrepreneur to shine a light on causes that matter to you? If it is important to you, what causes currently have your attention? What messages do you feel called to support?
UO-E: Inspiring and mentoring other up-and-coming designers/entrepreneurs is very important to me. In fact, I started my blog (www.UyoOkebieEichelberger.com) for that very purpose. If sharing my journey/business tips that I’ve learned along the way inspires at least one person to follow their dream and have a lot of fun while doing so, that is fulfilling to me.
SH: Bravest moment in business to date, where you had to face down your fears in order to keep moving:
UO-E: I look at all of my decisions to date and bar none, leaving a six-figure income and a cushy career in brand management to go into the unknown world of fashion and entrepreneurship was my bravest moment. Was I scared? Abso-freaking-lutely! I had no idea what I was getting into. But I also knew the regret I’d feel if I didn’t heed my burning desire to pursue THIS THING that I felt strongly passionate about. Honestly, I psyched myself up to muster up the courage to push forward with the mindset of a “so what if I fail and fall flat on my face, I’m a pretty smart girl with great work experiences, I can always get another job!”. So I did it, best decision ever!
SH: What are you most excited about for You! Lingerie as we move into 2017?
UO-E: I’m most excited about You! Lingerie becoming more focused on the retail part of the business and less on wholesale. I am so excited to offer our customers more options beyond nursing/maternity undergarments. So many amazing things in the works!
Lightning Round – Quick Questions, Short Answers:
SH: What would your younger self have to say about the woman and designer you have grown up to become? Would she be surprised?
UO-E: She’d say, “You’ve got this, relax babe!”
SH: What is one strategy, tip, or action step you use to bust through fear or mental obstacles?
UO-E: It’s actually more of a quote, but my absolute favorite that I refer to quite often in my journey is by Winston Churchill, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” This is so simple yet so powerful when you need help to burst through your fears.
SH: Besides yourself, what fashion designer/s inspire you?
UO-E: I love, love, Conna Walker, owner/designer of House of CB, London. Her work and her story inspires me, how she went after her dream and passion at such a young age and is totally killing it.
Follow Uyo’s collections and entrepreneurial journey, and get even more peeks behind the scene and seams of her business and life:
[image via designer]