The business of fashion is one of money, success, fame and glamour, that much is true. However, it can be a challenge to make it big, let alone make it at all. And let’s not forget that fashion is fleeting, that one grave error is all it takes to send all of one’s work into the dustbin of history.
This week is devoted to business owners from the world of fashion and related industries. If you ever wanted to have an idea of what it takes to make it in fashion, no matter if you’re a designer, a retailer, a blogger et al, then this week is for you.
My second interview for this special week is with Wendy Brandes of Wendy Brandes Jewelry. From the time Brandes entered the high-end jewelry business in the mid-2000s, she and her royalty-inspired jewelry has been on the hands, wrists and ears of everyone from Britney Spears to Kim Cattrall, as well as featured in InStyle magazine, NBC Miami and The Washington Post. Brandes is also a nominee in the 2011 Fashion Group International Rising Star Awards. Make the jump to see my profile on Wendy Brandes.
Name: Wendy Brandes
Name of business: Wendy Brandes Jewelry
Date of founding: 2008
Your elevator pitch: Medieval-meets-modern fine jewelry with a lot of attitude and an element of surprise.
You worked as a vice president at Lehman Brothers before you started making and selling high-end jewelry. What events occurred in your life that prompted this change in career/starting your jewelry empire?
Brandes: The job at Lehman Brothers was actually my first career change. Before that, I’d been a journalist for 11 years — at the Wall Street Journal, CNN and People Magazine. I was in business news till 1999, when I got my dream job as the managing editor of People’s website. Then, in 2000, People’s parent company, Time Warner, was sold to AOL. That’s gone down as the worst corporate deal in history. Having already had experience with AOL due to my People job, I knew the deal was a bad move.At that time, investment banks that were starting or redeveloping their websites were headhunting online journalists. I was so disappointed by my supposed dream job — five bosses in one year, then the sale of the company — that I took a job as Lehman’s managing editor for e-commerce just to get out and make some money. I always figured I’d go back to journalism or do something entrepreneurial/artistic. After five years at Lehman, it seemed boring to go back to what I’d already done, so I opted for a new direction.
What sort of paperwork/red tape did you need to go through before establishing your empire?
Brandes: Before my current business, I had a jewelry business under a different name with a business partner. We had a partnership contract. I would tell anyone in that situation to also get life insurance on your business partner.
What else did you have to do to get your empire off the ground (investors, loans, materials et al)?
Brandes: It’s all my own money. It’s very challenging to get start-up funds for a fashion business and fine jewelry is worse, in my opinion. Most fine jewelry is sold in stores on consignment, meaning the store doesn’t buy it. It just pays you when it sells a piece. So there’s no guaranteed revenue to borrow against, like there is when a clothing designer gets a store order.
What was the best/worse/weirdest/funniest aspect/moment during the time you’ve been a business owner?
Brandes: The worst thing was the death of my original business partner, who hadn’t shared with me key information I needed to continue the business without her. I had to start from scratch. On the positive side, a few people stepped up to help me when I really needed it. I always remember that and try to assist other people in turn. That’s why you don’t see me spreading negativity on or about other people’s blogs, when a blog is such an important part of my business. I’ve seen how easy it is to make things worse for people. That behavior doesn’t impress me. People lending a helping hand DOES impress me.
Any advice for someone wanting to become an owner of their own business?
Brandes: Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst.
Your closing statement: Buy my jewelry, bitches!
Photo credits: Committee to Protect Journalists (upper image) and Wendy Brandes (lower image).