How Neeshe New York Carved Out Their Own Space in the Women's Market
When it comes to starting your own fashion company, there is so much pre-planning and major hurdles to overcome before you even go to market.
We loved hearing the behind-the-scenes story about where the idea of Neeshe came from and how they've quickly gotten their company up and running. By differentiating themselves and ultimately carving out a new category among the crowded women's space, the leggings based brand is slowly becoming the go-to brand for a "legging-centric lifestyle collection".
Co-founder and designer Jessica Mintz is the ultimate creative and driven entrepreneur who has worked for many contemporary brands in NYC before she finally took the leap into being her own boss. Her own struggle to find the perfectly priced, and quality legging made her realize there was a gap in the market.
As she explains in our interview below, "We created a category for ourselves because we couldn't fit into any of the existing options. Contemporary is too broad, athleisure is too casual and work-out focused; none of the terms the industry is familiar with applied to us. So we started referring to Neeshe as luxe-leisure."
While most brands will highlight this trend within their own collection with a few pieces, Neeshe believes that there is a need and demand that women want to dress like this on a daily basis.
Read on to view the entire interview as Jessica goes into more detail about her journey so far, some big wins, and what you can expect from Neeshe in the near future!
TSC: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your background
"It's a bit of a cliche, and probably true of most of us, but I have been designing, drawing, crafting, creating for as long as I can remember. My interest in art, design, fashion, and style is one of the earliest memories I have. My favorite birthday and holiday gifts growing up have always been, and still are, art and drawing supplies.
Growing up, I spent my weekends taking sewing lessons from a professional leather handbag professor out of her home. This was part of the process of developing my interest in art and style into a real, persistent love of fashion. Studying fashion design in college was an easy decision (although my mom would highly disagree!) and my first internship at Nanette Lepore confirmed that this was the path I wanted to take. After college, I immediately went to work in the garment district in NYC, designing for other contemporary labels."
TSC: We know that you started Neeshe from a lack of affordable luxury leggings, but elaborate about this a bit more. When did you have an "a-ha" moment?
"I had the idea for Neeshe New York since college, I only wish I started it sooner! The work on my college senior collection included a good amount of trend and market research. I knew I wanted to incorporate legging-centric dressing into my collection but truly struggled to find the trends to draw inspiration from. I knew right then and there I wanted to start the company that brought contemporary leggings to the mainstream. It took a few years of working in fashion to get the momentum going, but now we are up and running!
I myself am an avid legging enthusiast, and I find myself wearing a different pair of leggings nearly every day, not to mention planning the rest of my outfit around my leggings. I am constantly shopping for a great legging (and obviously the perfect tops to pair with them) and have consistently been unsuccessful. Leather leggings are upwards of $1000. Collections have a plain black legging added to them for around $100 that I could seemingly purchase on Amazon for $20. The cheaper leggings get holes in them easily. Athletic leggings have become too mass market - who isn't wearing these? Bold prints and spandex aren't quite the aesthetic we are looking to pursue. All of this leaves a very wide open gap for a legging-centric dressing lifestyle line."
TSC: Tell us more about the Neeshe brand. Why is it so unique?
"We have had many long conversations about how to describe Neeshe New York. The difficulty comes from the fact that there are not many similar brands out there. We created a category for ourselves because we couldn't fit into any of the existing options. Contemporary is too broad, athleisure is too casual and work-out focused; none of the terms the industry is familiar with applied to us. So we started referring to Neeshe as "luxe-leisure".
Season to season, higher end contemporary brands touch on this trend, such as Tibi sending an e-mail blast of casual leisure dressing, but this needs to be addressed more as a way to dress on a daily basis.
Our version of luxe-leisure consists of more relaxed fashion pieces, rather than workout gear, for the woman on the go. Neeshe designs were made for working women and their versatility is only matched by their style.
The designs are formal enough to be styled for the office with heels and a blazer, but also casual and comfortable enough that they can be styled for weekends and after-hours relaxation. The pieces are so interchangeable for multiple settings and purposes; they can even take the busy woman from day to night seamlessly!"
TSC: How were you able to get the company up and running so quickly?
"I was able to get Neeshe up and running as quickly as I did because I had already formed a number of the designs and ideas and just had to put them to paper. My experience and connections in the fashion industry also allowed us to hit the ground running with fabric sourcing, sample-making, fittings, and more.
I quickly recruited a friend who was able to learn about the fundamentals around starting a business. Although this was his first foray into owning a business, he did the research, and set up our legal structure, tax documents, organizational framework, website, etc. All of the things that were outside of my expertise!
A number of other friends and connections helped out with photography, graphic design, and more! As we are still a small company and team, we are quite nimble, allowing us to meet requests with short lead times and satisfy each and every customer!"
TSC: We know that being an entrepreneur is hard work, so let's take a moment to think about some of your biggest struggles, but also some of your biggest WINS?
"One of the major difficulties of entrepreneurship is the seemingly infinite number of directions I am pulled in. I would love to focus solely on design and fabric (and merchandising and production). But I also need to focus on sales, our social media presence, inventory, expenses, and so much more. I hope eventually we grow to the point where I can hire people for all of these things, but for now it is just me and my partner!
Another issue we face regularly occurs when we purchase sample fabric. Production minimums are usually upwards of 50 yards. Even if I'm using a single fabric for multiple samples, I rarely need more than 10. Sometimes I have to choose between available fabrics, colors, etc, or purchasing more than I need and trying to find more uses. Balancing all of this within our sampling budget can be quite tricky!
Selling the line to boutiques is another one of the major struggles. The continuous calling, waiting, and crickets you hear from boutique owners and buyers is nothing less than discouraging when you don't have a pre-existing connection with them. I have spoken to many other start-ups going through the same process. It's a bit discouraging!
We have had a number of medium-sized wins so far, in terms of picking up wholesale accounts. One accomplishment we're really proud of is making it into the January issue of STAR magazine. We were also contacted recently by a celebrity stylist who loves our designs and shot our pieces for a major magazine that we can't disclose just yet! We are very excited to start working with her more and helping to dress her clients."
TSC: What's one piece of advice you'd give to someone wanting to start a fashion brand?
"My advice to potential entrepreneurs is to set up a LOT of groundwork before jumping in. Know the following: who is your sample maker, who is your fabric supplier, your fit model, your sales channels, your web developer, your photographer, and have a marketing plan in tact.
You should also be prepared from day 1 to talk about what sets your brand apart from the rest of the industry. Everything fashion insiders can think of already exists; you need to be able to explain why the industry NEEDS your brand because you will be asked this every step of the way.
You also need to show that there is a desire from the industry for your product, via press or a big social media following, etc.
You also need to realize the process takes much longer than you want it to has many hidden and often times, sunk costs. You wont be profitable on your first delivery and it is easy to get discouraged. But if your brand is truly unique and you can reach your audience and stick to your plan the successes are extremely rewarding!
Your design process is also extremely important, focus groups can be great for deciding which designs to make into samples or which samples to produce in bulk.
TSC: What have you learned so far along your entrepreneurial journey?
"It's okay to make mistakes! Just learn from them and try not to make irreversible ones. I botched our first sales call, but it was with a boutique I knew wasn't likely to be a customer in the first place. I learned from that mistake and have improved our process for calling boutiques!
We've switched fabric vendors, sample makers, etc. As long as you have the patience and perseverance, you can find all of the choices for your brand.
I also learned that networking is more important than I realized initially and although I work 24/7, it's important as an entrepreneur to get out there any talk to people both in and out of the industry."
TSC: So what's next for Neeshe? Any goals?
"We are excited to announce that for 2017 we are expanding our product line into legging-centric dressing! Neeshe started with just leggings but will now include tops, jackets, blazers, sports bras, and sweaters. One of our biggest medium-term goals is to pickup a major department store like Bloomingdales or Saks. We can't wait to see what the future holds!"
TSC: As we all know, as an entrepreneur you wear a ton of hats. How do you stay focused on productivity? Share how you plan out your work day/week.
"We have weekly meetings, sometimes more frequently so that everyone knows exactly what the short term projects and goals are.
We also keep a design calendar so that we know we are hitting our deadlines for samples, photoshoots, production, delivery, etc.
A lot of unforeseen events take place very often, so we have to be able to drop what we are doing immediately and tend to those needs.
For example, a celebrity requested a legging that we had just sold out of. I literally had to run home, get my extra fabric, run and get trims, and then run to my sample maker and beg her to sew the legging in a single day!"
TSC: Describe yourself in three words:
"independent, creative, driven"
How would your friends/family describe yourself?
"My friends/family would say a different version of the same. They might say I'm stubborn instead of independent - but sometimes things need to be done a very specific way and I won't settle for anything less! They also would say I'm hard-working. When you're running your own business - working until 3am becomes the norm."
What is the best thing about running your own company?
"Having the freedom to design to my own aesthetic and preferences is definitely the best part. Not having a boss is also great."
"Who is the most inspirational person in your life and why?"
My former boss who runs her own small business has been a great inspiration. She manages to raise her children while working 70+ hours a week, all in heels! I learned a lot from working with her and we still speak to each other regularly. She is one of our biggest fans.
To learn more about Neeshe and do some shopping click here
all photos courtesy of Neeshe