On a Shoestring

Clothing/Accessories Businesses

Many of the country's most innovative designers got their starts by making inexpensive clothing and accessories for friends and working from home. Granted, there's a lot of sweat equity involved in this type of business-hours can be long, clients don't immediately stampede to your door and, at least at first, almost every task you can think of is done by the boss (aka you).

Upscale swimwear designer Malia Mills spent long nights mixing pasta kettles filled with fabric dye in her tiny apartment because she couldn't afford colored cloth. Jewelry designer Dary Reese, president of Dary Reese Co. in North Miami Beach, Florida, sold jewelry she made from tin foil on the streets of New York City before her jewelry and home-accessory business took off. And sportswear designer Elle Hamm, president of Rudwear in Irvine, California, started business by sewing hair scrunchies for friends.

But cash-challenged entrepreneurs who are creative and ambitious will find a huge market for fresh ideas and designs. Kids between 12 and 19, especially girls, have an endless appetite for fun, new fashion and beauty products, which has made the teen market red hot for clothing and accessory designers like 28-year-old Greg Herman. The president of Greg Herman Los Angeles was virtually homeless when he started his handbag company in January 1997. He maxed out his credit cards and got $4,000 from an angel investor to make samples, which he then took to New York City. "I put 40 handbags in rolling suitcases and literally walked up and down the streets, stopping at showrooms," he recalls.

Priscilla Y. Huff knows a number of people who have started their own shoe design and production businesses on a shoestring. In her book, 101 Best Home-Based Businesses for Women, she writes about two friends who shared a love of horseback riding and decided to design and make specialty riding boots; another woman who suffered foot problems now designs shoes for people with disabilities. Yet another woman owns a company that makes new shoes from the recycled parts of old shoes.

Start-up clothing and accessory designers usually use low-cost methods to sell: Web sites, mall carts or kiosks, press releases, personal letters or visits to buyers.

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This article was originally published in the August 2000 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: On a Shoestring.

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