Chic To Chic

Turn style into sales with a clothing-design company.

Of course, there are the horror stories. Like the times New York-based swimwear designer Malia Mills and her business partner, Julia Stern, spent long nights mixing kettles of fabric dye in Mills' studio apartment because they couldn't afford colored cloth. Or the time a factory breakdown forced them to construct 100 bathing suits by hand in two days.

Let's not forget the rejection. At the start of her career, Mills, now 32, offered to work for a top designer for free and was turned down.

And did we mention the money problems? Mills worked as a waitress while trying to get her business, Malia Mills Swim Wear, off the ground but wound up with $100,000 in personal debt anyway. She's still paying that off.

If tales like these don't scare you away--and you have a truly unique idea--you might be ready to start your own fashion-design company. But don't expect it to be all martinis and feather boas, honey.

The fashion industry demands penance from its novices. Count on long, stress-filled days; a battalion of competitors; and, at least in the beginning, very little payback in an entrepreneur's favorite shade: green. In fact, starting a fashion-design firm from scratch, with limited capital, is a lot like boot camp for your soul. Still, despite the many challenges--and sometimes because of them--a growing number of young entrepreneurs, equipped with little more than a sewing machine and a dream, are launching their own fashion lines.

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This article was originally published in the December 1999 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Chic To Chic.

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