(ORIGINALLY POSTED ON ELEGANT ENTREPRENEUR BLOG)
It’s the first Female Founder Friday of 2017, and I am incredibly excited to profile a phenomenal woman entrepreneur in the fashion industry, Laura Lee Williams. I first met Laura at a book launch event for Elegant Entrepreneur, and we immediately hit it off. She has an infectious energy and joie de vivre!
Laura Lee is the founder of Laura Lee Designs. Her handmade handbags are a fusion of cultures, fabrics and trimmings discovered during Laura Lee’s travels abroad. Stylishly appealing and refreshingly chic, each handbag is adorned with Nepalese fabrics, high quality satins and swirling patterns of Japanese beads. Colorful snakeskin compliments the intricate beading, adding a functional elegance to every handbag.
LL’s candid and thoughtful answers to my questions are below. If you’re an aspiring or fledgling female founder with a fashion business concept, this interview is particularly important for you to draw inspiration and courage.
What inspired you to create your company?
I was living between Asia and the U.S. and saw all the name brands with labels/initials on the outside of luxury bags and it made me realize something: Women were being identified not by their own creativity but by someone else’s brand and that resulted in a status symbol for themselves (I was guilty of this too-no brands will be mentioned!). I had been traveling all over the world collecting interesting things such as embellishments, leathers as well as fun, odd handbags that were unique. I pieced together a pencil drawing and came up with, what I thought, a unique handbag that would be utilized from morning to night: A classy makeup bag inside of a briefcase can then be pulled out for a dinner meeting or event. Once the inception and creation came to fruition, samples were made and focus groups ensued. Needless to say, I never, ever thought I was going to embark as a business. I was working full time and the thought of leaving to do something entrepreneurial was not even a thought. Most importantly, I promised myself I would never put my name on the outside of my product. The line is to showcase you as an individual and how you create and design your look and feel is all up to you. The line just helps you get the motivation and sass to think and dress outside the box!
What was your biggest obstacle and failure in going from idea to business?
Obstacle: Getting it planted in my head that this truly could be a business.
Spectacular Failure/Lessons Learned: Hiring a PR Agency in NYC and realizing that (after a lot of hand-wringing) my team and I could do more and better internally than the Agency. I just needed to have the confidence to get ‘out of my own way’ and let the team take control. The month after I closed the contract with the PR Agency, we got into the NY Times.
First up: We have been asked to do the Inaugural Ball Pre-Dinner and the actual Ball itself. Since we (proudly!) make 100% of the product in the USA, we are thrilled that the Inaugural Ball Committee has recognized this and want us showcased there in January. We have been asked to come back to Paris and be in the Premiere Classe Show again in 2017. We’ve recently been asked to do Private Label bags in Japan, New Orleans and Texas. International is our focus for 2017, and we are pushing to be in all the Ritz Carlton’s by end of Q2/2017.
Please share your best piece of advice for aspiring female founders.
“Get comfortable with being uncomfortable,” and “Success starts at the end of your comfort zone-Just because you made that first step.”
If you had a theme song what would it be?
“Almost Like Being In Love” by Nat King Cole. This always is a pick-up/happy-go-lucky song whether the day has been challenging or exceptional! I love it because it truly speaks to the fact that I have the choice to make the day a ‘Lessons Learned” day or a ‘Celebration’ day. I choose to be happy and learn from every aspect of this business, challenges, stubbed toes, sucker punches—Bring them on – I can only learn and be better at what I do because of them. Celebrations and success is the icing on the cake!!