Puttin' on the Glitz

Dreaming of starting a glamorous business? Take a behind-the-scenes look at what it's really like to be a fashion designer, a restaurateur and more.

It's all champagne, glitter, sparkle and photographs. It's famous clients and magazine covers. It's people wanting to meet the proprietor. It's drinks and models and A-list parties. It's your dream to run a glamorous business, to open a restaurant and bar where the elite and powerful mingle. Or maybe you'd like to run a fashion label that the stars proudly wear on the red carpet. Perhaps you dream of coining the next hot cosmetics craze and seeing your products worn on faces all around the world.

The good news is that it is possible to live the glamorous life. The not-so-great news? It's not all glamour all the time. Like any worthwhile endeavor, it's sweat, it's hard work, it's trying, it's drama-but if you take heed from the successful entrepreneurs we talked to, it's one hell of a ride.

Sanford Bryant, for instance, has designed his own line of high-fashion menswear that graces the frames of celebrities, including a well-known late-night talk show host. Todd Gray and Ellen Kassoff-Gray host Washington, DC's VIP decision-makers in their elegant restaurant. Toni Ko spends her days selecting the hottest cosmetics colors to share with the public. Read on as we unravel the mystery of these glamorous businesses-and see if you want to get in on the magic.

Fashion Forward

Sanford Bryant spent a lot of time learning the not-so-glamorous side of the fashion business before he decided to go into business for himself with the Sanford Bryant Co. A veteran of a large Italian design house, Bryant traveled the fashion world under someone else's wing, but, he says, "The objective was always to get to a point where I could do it in the first person and have it be about my own aesthetic as opposed to adopting somebody else's."

He struck out in the fall of 1999 to design his own collection of tailored and casual menswear. "It was a great time in some respects and a horrible time in others," says Bryant, 42. After all, a big part of his business was tailored high-fashion suits, yet he emerged at a time when casual dress was becoming the norm for many workplaces.

His experience in the fashion world helped him, though; not only with industry knowledge, but also with connections. Bryant was even able to secure startup funding from a company he'd consulted with in the past. "One of the benefits at the startup point in 1999 was continuing to consult for other people to create a positive cash flow while still at the stage of developing the concept," he says. "One of the difficult things about design, selling and distribution is how long it takes. From the first idea to the time you've delivered it in a store-it's kind of a contradiction to the word 'fashion,' because you've had to execute that idea so far in advance."

The long cycle between trend creation and distribution varies from 18 to 24 months, says Jennie S. Bev, editor in chief of StyleCareer.com, an online resource for fashion and image careers. "You will need plenty of cash at hand to keep the product line running before getting paid by retailers," she says. "Make sure to have plenty of reserve funding, especially if you release seasonal lines."

And let it be known-all that time is not spent at fashion shows rubbing elbows with Heidi Klum or Tyra Banks. To get a new fashion label off the ground, notes Bryant, it's literally about pounding the pavement. He recalls his early days when he'd cart a rolling rack with his designs all over Manhattan to attract clientele. "You've got to do things that everybody else does to get into people's faces," he says.

Since he launched his line, Sanford Bryant Custom, Bryant has succeeded in getting his fashions on celebs like talk show host Craig Kilborn and WNBC New York news anchor Maurice DuBois, to name a few. In late 2003, he shifted his focus to affordable, custom-made luxury clothing for average consumers. Though the company is based in New York City, where Bryant has a showroom, he mostly sells his custom suits (from $895 to $1,295) through one-on-one consultations with clients in Los Angeles, New York City and other cities soon to come. The strategy is working, as annual sales now surpass $1 million.

Still, Bryant waxes poetic about the dichotomy of running a so-called "glamorous business." "From one side, I'm doing design and development, and [people] think 'Oh, you get to travel the world, and you're in Italy,'" he says. "And [I think], I go to a factory in the middle of nowhere. You're in a room with five guys, and everybody's smoking, and it's 9:30 at night-and then you have to get up and drive 200 miles to the next factory. It's beautiful countryside in between-but you're not just in Paris seeing the shows."

Hot for Couture?
If you want to be the next Donna Karan or Ralph Lauren, take the advice of Jennie S. Bev, editor in chief of StyleCareer.com, an e-publisher specializing in resources for job-seekers in the fashion industry:
  • Find your niche. Fashion encompasses a huge market-women's casual, men's formal, plus size and so on-so narrow it down.
  • Study the competition. Learn about their niches, why they stand out and how they market. Can you effectively compete?
  • Find out which retailers accept new designers. Secure your manufacturing or CMT (cut, make and trim) needs now.
  • Have ample startup cash. You'll need cash flow for at least two and a half years, since the fashion cycle is from 18 to 24 months between design and retail.
  • Think creative but wearable. "If they are too bold or cumbersome to wear," says Bev, "nobody will want them even if they are fairly priced."
  • Get your name out there. Start with a good label that speaks to your niche. Participate in fashion trade shows. Get fashion media attention for your line. Persistence is the only way to attract buyers.
  • Put on your business hat. "Being a successful fashion entrepreneur requires 90 percent business skills and only 10 percent artistic skills," says Bev. "Many new designers fail because they have impressive artistic skills but very limited business skills."
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This article was originally published in the April 2004 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: Puttin' on the Glitz.

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