In a chic meeting room at the top of Philadelphia's Hotel Palomar five entrepreneurs recently gathered for a panel discussion about what goes on "Behind The Brand." As part of The Philadelphia Collection the focus was on the fashion industry. But the more the panelists talked to the standing room only audience, the more I realized that their advice applies to any industry, and to anyone who has a passion to start their own company or pursue their dream career.
The companies, and personal styles of their representatives, were remarkably different. Included were:
Ouiji Theodore, founder of The Brooklyn Circus, a clothing concept with a focus on craftsmanship and timeless yet modern design; Aaron Pierce, co-founder of bespoke menswear company Commonwealth Proper; Janice Waitkus, director of the flagship store for three-decades-old jewelry brand Lagos; Que Gaskin, former Reebok and Nike marketing director and now founder of Que-In; and Leandrew Robinson, business development manager of online indie clothing source Karmaloop.
Yet despite the diversity of the brands, the advice given by the people behind them was remarkably similar: Be yourself. Be your brand. Be prepared to do anything.
Develop your own style and flaunt it. If you're a designer, wear your clothes all the time. If you're the owner wear your product all the time. You never know who you'll run into.
Don't make the mistake of thinking fashion--or any field--is all glamour. Ouiji of The Brooklyn Circus is in the midst of opening stores all over the globe but "This," he said waving at the room "is the most glamorous thing I do."
After the panel ended I asked Ouiji what it takes to pursue such an expansion in this lousy economy. "If you let the economy scare you, you'll never do anything," he replied. "You'll cripple yourself."
His comment reminded me of what an author I once worked with, a man who had sold his company for 100 million dollars, used to say all the time: "Don't let the bean counters make the decisions." In other words, if you feel passionate about something, it's up to you to pursue it. You can ask opinions, you can do your research, you can crunch the numbers, but in the end, as Que of Que-In noted, "If it means that much to you, you'll find a way. If it doesn't you'll find an excuse."
The reward for taking that risk, for throwing 9 to 5 and reliable paychecks out the window? Aaron of Commonwealth Proper summed it up:
"To do what you love, to wake up every day and be excited to go to work and be surrounded by such amazing people--there's nothing like it."
For more wisdom on fashion and life, check my ongoing tweets of panelists' quotes @thestylemaniac on Twitter.
IMAGES, clockwise from top left: Commonwealth Proper / Karmaloop / Lagos / The Brooklyn Circus / Reebok.
"Use the good china for breakfast."