Booting Your Dreams into Gear: Entrepreneurship in Fashion and Retail

By Katie Riegel

October 16, 2013

On Saturday Oct. 5, young entrepreneurs attended Dominican University’s Entrepreneur’s Boot Camp, sponsored by the Brennan School of Business. Since 2005, the Brennan School of Business has hosted the boot camp in order to provide the Dominican, Oak Park and River Forest communities with opportunities to learn the ins and outs of being an entrepreneur.

This year, the camp started with keynote speakers, after which the participants separated into breakout sessions devoted to their specialties. Among the sessions offered to attendees included those exploring the food industry, social entrepreneurship and the fashion and retail world.

Several students from both the fashion design and fashion merchandising majors attended the event, learning what it takes to turn their fashion industry goals into a startup business.

Junior Angelica Rubino lives for fashion and dreams of one day being a buyer for a high-end retail brand store like Von Maur. She says she is one step closer now to achieving that goal after hearing the speakers at the event.

“I loved attending the boot camp because I can network and use the entrepreneurial tips the speakers gave as I start to apply for internships and plan my future,” Rubino said. “The tips are useful no matter if I decide I want to work for a small business or in a corporate setting.”

The session titled Entrepreneurship in Fashion and Retail featured four panelists who have created their own fashion businesses, including Tracey Tarantino, owner of the Chicago fashion show production company Zzazz Productions, Heather Anderson, owner of Muse Boutique in Oak Park, Lisa Hopkins Newell, a Dominican professor and the creative force of the Dirt Body Care products from Erthe Beaute LLC, and Shelby Steiner, a contemporary women’s wear designer who is in residence at the Chicago Fashion Incubator program at Macy’s on State Street.

The fashion panel focused on leveraging one’s creative goals with what is realistic to create a profitable business.

“The key to developing a startup is to find a niche in the marketplace,” Newell said.

Newell started her business with an idea to create a natural body scrub. She first researched the market for two years to see if people would accept her niche and then invested time and money towards making her dream a reality.

Similarly, Tarantino emphasized the need to be cautious with initial investments.

“To build a successful business, it is crucial to keep a great relationship with your bank because they can keep an eye out for you as your business grows,” Tarantino said.

Anderson explained the importance of tracking finances when starting out a business. Anderson had to use her own money to rent her boutique and buy inventory when she first opened Muse. Overtime, she established a record of paying for her products on time, which led to her suppliers giving her credit. Now, she is able to receive products and pay for the product when it is more comfortable for her using Net 60 and Net 30 business accounts.  Creating positive relationships ultimately helped her business grow.

“I am thankful that I have been able to do what I love and I am always looking to help young entrepreneurs in any way that I can,” Anderson said.

Rubino hopes to cultivate similar relationships and noted that many of the speakers emphasized the need for entrepreneurs to create a personal brand.

“You need to live your persona around the clock,” Tarantino said. “You must look like a business woman.”

Associate Professor of marketing David Aron helped organize the boot camp. Because fashion students were very interested in entrepreneurship, the organizers moved the annual event from the spring, when it conflicted with the annual Dominican Fashion Show along with other university events, to the fall, which led to more fashion students attending.

Aron felt the fashion students’ entrepreneurial, creative spirit complemented the boot camp’s atmosphere.

“I hope the boot camp exposes students to people who get their hands dirty and reap the benefits of hard work,” he said.

Approximately 50 students attended the fashion panel and all were intrigued with the speakers’ stories and career advice. At the end of the sessions, hopefuls who wanted to get a head start on their future pressed the speakers with questions. The attendees eagerly networked with the speakers and did their best to reflect their personal, stylish, brands.