Fashion is a $400-billion-dollar industry in the U.S. But until recently, Phoenix was only capturing a small sliver of that pie at best. That changed when two Valley entrepreneurs came together and decided those aspiring to carve out careers in the fashion industry, shouldn’t have to relocate to hubs like Los Angeles or New York to be successful.
In this episode of The SuccessLab Podcast, Sherri Berry and Angela Johnson, co-founders of the Arizona Apparel Foundation and F.A.B.R.I.C, share their uphill climb to launching the fashion business resource and innovation center, and how they’ve grown it to a beacon for fashion design businesses in the community. Headquartered in Tempe, Ariz., Sherri and Angela have grown F.A.B.R.I.C. into an important economic development initiative, opening the doors for fashion entrepreneurs to put down roots and thrive in the Valley –– and they did it all on a very limited budget.
Read on for a selection of questions, and listen to the entire interview by clicking the player above.
How did you get into the world of fashion?
Angela: I went to Northern Arizona University (NAU) and got my degree in speech communication. When I graduated, I realized I could do some public speaking, but didn’t have expertise in anything. So I decided to pursue fashion because I have always had a love for it. I went to Los Angeles and earned a degree from The Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM). Then I worked in Los Angeles for a few different brands until I eventually started my own collection.
Sherri: When I graduated with my business degree from the University of Wisconsin, I really wanted to be a fashion designer. At the time there wasn’t the internet, so you needed a million-dollar ad budget to be able to advertise so people would recognize your brand and buy it in a store. That wasn’t realistic for me, so I went into retail and 17 years later I was running 350 stores. I burned out so I decided to launch my fashion brand. I got my MBA and then took two years off to learn everything I could about apparel, design, development and manufacturing. I also spent a lot of time in California working with Frances Harder. She had a consultancy called Fashion Business Incorporated and she wrote a very famous book called, Fashion For Profit. I met Angela during this time. Angela was literally the matriarch of the whole fashion community in Phoenix. Whatever resources were available here, Angela was connected to and willing to share.
What traits have helped you advance your career?
Sherri: When I started my retail career, I was an assistant manager at a store with a college degree. It didn’t pay very well but it was a great opportunity because it was in close proximity to the corporate headquarters of Famous Footwear. Because all the buyers and vendors would come in, the store and our customer service had to be perfect.
It helped me learn you’re only as good as the people you hire. You can be on your game, but if one of your employees isn’t, then you’re not on your game either. It really is about finding people who share in your desires and beliefs and motivations, and also that you support them in their goals as much as they support you in yours.
Have you had any low points as an entrepreneur? How did you pull yourself out of it?
Angela: I ended up moving back to Arizona to take care of my grandfather when my grandmother passed away. My brand, Monkeywench, was selling internationally and was profitable. But soon I realized that none of the resources I had been using in Los Angeles existed in Arizona. I couldn’t operate this business that I had spent years growing anymore if I was going to live in Arizona. So I made the hardest decision of my life to close down a profitable business because of proximity.
It was a dark day, but I decided at that moment I wasn’t going to let that be the end of my story. Instead, I was going to solve my own problem while also solving the same problem for other people. I pulled together the community from a directory of fashion businesses in Arizona. Now LabelHorde is the directory we use here at F.A.B.R.I.C. to tie everybody together.
Is there a common mistake you see first-time entrepreneurs making?
Sherri: I try to explain to designers that less is always more when you’re starting a fashion design business. It’s more important they decide what their niche is and who their target customer is, and then get enough product in enough quantities to build up that brand.
That’s the beauty of social media right now. You can take beautiful pictures and videos to put out there, and then do pre-sales without investing a ton in your manufacturing.
What advice do you have for fellow entrepreneurs?
Angela: Educating yourself in your industry before you enter it is probably the most important thing. What’s great about F.A.B.R.I.C. is that we want to educate people so they know what they’re doing and are actually taking on all the responsibilities of this complex industry.
Are you a coffee drinker, yes or no?
Sherri: Oh my God, yes.
What’s one business tool you are geeking out over right now?
Sherri: I’m looking at CRM systems right now.
What is your favorite piece of technology?
Angela: It seems so obvious but when my computer doesn’t work, my whole world comes crashing down.
Sherri: It’s amazing what you can do through a phone now. I can be on the move and be able to do important things without having my laptop or an internet connection.
What’s one book you’d pass along to a fellow entrepreneur?
Angela: The Entrepreneur’s Guide to Sewn Product Manufacturing is a great book for any fashion design entrepreneur.
Sherri: Who Moved My Cheese? It’s a short, quirky book, but if you’re feeling stuck, you have to read it.
Who is one person you’d like to make a connection with?
Sherri: I have two: Doug Ducey and Sandra Watson.
Angela: Michael Krohn.
What would be your icebreaker?
Angela: “How would you like to disrupt an industry and help put Arizona on the map for a brand new, innovative industry in the 21st century?”
How many hours of sleep do you each get each night, on average?
Angela: Oh, that’s embarrassing. Five, maybe.
Sherri: I try to get as much sleep as possible.