Sherita M. Cuffee ’07
#1 Be a student of life. Look for the value in your experiences.
College is wonderful and amazing. At the end of the day, there is no better teacher than real life experience. If you do not pay attention to any class as a designer, pay the most attention to pattern making class. It is a skill that will continue to give to you years down the line and will set you apart as a great designer and reliable advisor. It is so important to understand great pattern-making when selling clothes because no matter how beautiful something is if it does not fit… it will not sell or worse be returned. Never be afraid to keep learning. Continue to take classes to sharpen your skills, get your masters degree, intern, volunteer, help your friend with their business, and never stop reading. One of the joys of also being an instructor for fashion illustration and sewing, is that by teaching my students it makes me better. My time with them allows me a fresh perspective.
#2 Travel as if you'll never be able to travel again in your life.
The experiences that you will have while traveling will stay with you the rest of your life and will continue to inspire you even when life throws challenges at you (and it will).
#3 Spending a lot does not guarantee success.
Learn the difference between not having enough money versus knowing when you shouldn't spend a certain amount of money on something. As a design entrepreneur, you will be faced with the same issues of being an art student... To make beautiful things we have learned early on at Moore that it is expensive. Shop around and do not be bashful to negotiate when buying in bulk. Really analyze the gain from your purchase before spending twice if not triple the cost.
#4 Do not be afraid to start small. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.
We all (and myself included), have had a moment when we want to go big or go home. However in business, bells and whistles do not always convert into profit. Do not be afraid to start small. A capsule collection of five to ten strong looks always beats a collection of 30 mediocre looks with a stick any day. I even encourage starting with 5 items depending on what type of product. Gather your goods and have a clean photoshoot and create a lookbook. Whether it's your 5 strongest dresses, 5 hand bags, or just 5 really amazing pairs of earrings or bracelets... It says a lot about a designer’s brand when you're able to stand behind your products of outstanding quality opposed to a larger quantity with poor craftsmanship.
#5 Be resourceful.
Learn how to ask for help. The wonderful world of social media is a blessing and a curse. On low days, seeing beautiful people doing cool stuff 24/7 can feel like a kick in the gut. Just remember, everything started with an idea. At the end of the day social media crops out the rest of the photo…the sacrifice, failures, and bad days. A lot of the time, a project would have a better result if we had only asked for help. When wanting to start your own company or rebrand your company as I am currently doing, looking at other brands that you at admire or identify with will give you new marketing ideas and new ways to present your work for free. Opposed to paying a brand consultant thousands of dollars to help you look at your company and tell you what you need to do better is not always necessary and should be avoided at all costs because your God given talent and vision was given to you for a reason. Most of the time, we have exactly what we need right in front of us just turned on a different side. Interns are great and will accomplish amazing feats for sometimes nothing. However, I encourage buying them lunch if you are not able to pay them a small stipend. A small token of appreciation goes a long way.
#6 Invest in branding and think long-term.
A perfect example of this is…one of my brand consulting clients started an expressive high end jewelry collection that catered to young professional women with caviar taste and a calamari budget. She wanted to call the brand her childhood nickname. I encouraged her to think long-term, analyzing who is her target market. Long story short, the brand could have done better in the earlier stages using her industry contacts if the name was more age-appropriate. Even if she decided to close the business, having starterd with her current name would have saved her thousands of dollars of having to buy new branding (business cards, signage, shopping bags, etc). Really think about what you want to call your company if you are not going to use your own name. Invest in a really great clothing label and hangtag. When you're an emerging brand, it's important to show buyers and clients that you're able to deliver a finished product. This means creating labels and hang tags that will showcase your garment as the real deal and be able to compete with their stores’ existing offerings.
#7 Use social media in a positive way towards your brand.
Avoid putting any personal rants or inappropriate material on your business social media pages. If you feel the need to blow off steam, put a positive spin on the story. Sometimes sharing a failure or being wrong is exactly what someone else needs to see to help them get through their ish. Rule of thumb… “If you don't want anyone to see or hear it, don't say or do it.” Once it’s out there, that’s it.
#8 Learn how to edit and be ok with saying "no". Follow your instincts.
Sometimes less IS more. If Moore taught us anything, it was to please definitely use your critique skills. Everything that you learn from your basics year in terms of editing and knowing when something is good works for real life. Sometimes it's a decision that you have to make on your own using your experience and instincts. Every big muck up I’ve made in my life has been when I didn’t listen to my God given instinct. It’s very hard to mess up when following your instinct because its logic is informed by our experiences. Sometimes you should make a big decision with your team... use your instincts to decipher which is better. By the way, I promise you will be better for it in the end.
#9 Stay encouraged. Surround yourself with people of like-mind to hold one another accountable.
Iron sharpens iron. I know this sounds very cliché. You have to surround yourself with like-minded individuals to help keep yourself motivated. If everyone is always broke in your squad and no one is coming up with a proactive way to change that… your state will not change. When your alarm clock goes off, as an entrepreneur there is no one making you get up. Having those fellow entrepreneurs on group chat to hit up in the AM is sometimes what each of you need to get over the hump. Ultimately, it’s up to you to go forward and make that sale and/or meet with that client in order to keep pushing your business forward. If you don't do it, then then nine times out of 10, it will not get done. You may be blessed to be at the point in your business where you have someone in place to run your company for you. If so, I salute you; however most of us are not at that point. However, for those of us who are design entrepreneurs, the first five years of business can be a very lonely place. You will often feel as if people don't get it even when they love and support you to no end. However there are just certain nuances of your vision that no matter how much someone loves and care about you, they will not understand. This is when you have to be encouraged.
Remember that you are not the only person that is going through what you're going through. I know this may sound cheesy, but one of my favorite pick me ups is the social media site, Pinterest. Sites like Pinterest and other business sites for women entrepreneurs are great tools to help us stay encouraged while growing our babies into empires. No one who ever started a business, woke up and said I don't want to be successful. Everyone wants to be successful and of course nothing in life that is worth having comes easy. I cannot say it enough… stay encouraged. Save quotes, listen to music, workout, cook something new or your favorite meal, coffee or tea, journal, create or update your vision board, read about other entrepreneurs in their challenges and successes for their businesses, and encourage others by sharing your story. These are some of the things that my fellow entrepreneur friends and I do as self-care and motivation. Light breeds light.
#10 Learn what not to do while working for other companies.
This may sound weird, but it's very true and will serve you well going forward in your business. As I said earlier, experience is the best teacher when it comes to growing your career and running a business. Looking at how companies budget their time and money will give you great insight into what does and doesn’t work. From making an observation, you can take that information and use it for the better when you striking out on your own. I'm a strong believer in owning your vision and standing behind your dream. Learning what not to do a lot of time is the best lesson that you will learn from working somewhere. A lot of us are born entrepreneurs and have known for a very long time what we wanted to do. College, internships, and working for companies have helped mold those early dreams into a concrete idea. Use experience as to prevent unnecessary mistakes for your company.
#11 The end goals should stay the same, but do not be afraid to change the plan.
If you want to create a million dollar business (raising my hand while typing), then that is a goal that you have to sit down and plan out. Do not believe anyone when they tell you that it is not possible…you see people doing it every day. However that is not everyone's dream and that is ok too. You may just want to do what you love for a fair price and that's enough for you. You have to decide what you want for your business. Either way there will be times when things are really slow and you are not selling a lot. This is not the time to give up, this is the time to get creative and lean in.
Again, look to your resources that are in front of you. You have Google, social media, the career center, instructors, and library at Moore. You have a great network of successful business owners and professionals with whom you went to college. Those personal interactions with fellow Moore Alum can be cashed in as a reference, resource, consultant, or even a collaborator. Do not let money deter you from doing what you need to do for your business. Whether it's low profits or ending a unyielding partnership, be resilient. Money comes and goes. I have had negative 400 something dollars in my account and I'll have thousands in my account. That is just how the cookie crumbles in business. Sometimes you want to take a risk when there is extra cash flow and if all needs and overhead are covered, I say go for it. Always take care of home base first. That is not to say throw all new ideas out the window... It just means it might be time to call that awesome graphic designer that you met at Starbucks 2 weeks ago to see if they would like to barter services with you or call your family member whom you inherited your talent to ask for advice.
#12 Believe in yourself and the power of you.
Life is beautiful and ugly at the same time. That doesn't mean you love it any less. Being yourself is what will separate you a thousand times over from the next person. If we were all born with a unique fingerprint, then why would anyone ever think that any two people are supposed to be the same. Embracing your difference is your strength and it's really the greatest thing we all have going for ourselves. I sincerely believe that there is enough room for everyone to be successful in life. You just have to attract your tribe. When all else fails, sing the Barney song to yourself “You are special, you’re the only one like you, you’re the only one like you.” It will make you laugh through the tears and most all…it will always be true.
So, I hope that some of what I have said has resonated with you in your journey as a designer whether you're still at Moore trying to figure out what the hell you're going to do when you get out in college. You may be a design entrepreneur like me building a brand for the long haul. Regardless, there will be good and bad days. However, traveling around the world, allowing yourself to mess up, and trying that thing that doesn't quite make sense is, for me, what design and running a business is all about. Our goal is to try and make the good outweigh the bad. However whenever I get in a low, I'll share a saying that my grandmother always says, "There's no half steppin’…it's all or nothing baby". Translation, always give over 100% and no matter the results… it's supposed to be whatever it is, whether it works or not. Nothing happens by chance, it’s up to you to take advantage of you present. Take nothing for granted, stay humble, and give back whenever you can. Your career depends mostly on your mindset and making the best choices for your future. You determine where you end up. Make it your best.