Fashion

Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . . Serwah Akosua Asante, Founder RUE 114

“Ladybrille® Fashion Business With . . .” is a feature on Ladybrille® Magazine that is focused on entrepreneurs in Africa’s fashion industry, with a heavy emphasis on fashion designers. This feature highlights business principles, business practices, follows the money, discusses the challenges faced by fashion startups as well as offers pragmatic tips that should help stir the Ladybrille fashion entrepreneur towards success. If you would like to be featured, send an email to (editor@ladybrille.com), indicate the kind of fashion business you operate and what you intend to share with our audience that you feel will be beneficial to them.

“Serwah Asante is the Creative Director and Founder of Rue 114. Style has informed her existence since before her birth. Hailing from two of the most suave looking parents this side of the Atlantic, one could say that style and fashion were ingrained in her genetic makeup. After graduating from Dartmouth College with a BA in Sociology, Serwah continued her studies at the Fashion Institute of Technology, NY. In November of 2010, Serwah launched Rue 114 as a platform upon which to celebrate beauty and style at all sizes. Inspiration for the Rue 114 brand is deeply informed by the designer’s Ghanaian roots, New York City upbringing, and eternal love of travel. Each collection is born of the global perspective and responds to the call of what today’s woman; whether in Laos, Lagos, or Los Angeles; needs to be edgy, unique, powerful, and always feminine.”

NOTE LADYBRILLERS: RUE 114 IS also running a “LADYBRILLE” special during which you can save 10% off all orders for the month of February. Just enter “ladyb” in the discount code section upon checkout.

Ms. Asante is a very impressionable brilliant fashion entrepreneur and we have no doubt she will be very successful with her fashion label. Read on . . .

LADYBRILLEmag.com: First, tell us your full name?
Serwah:
Serwah Akosua Asante

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What does your name mean?
Serwah:
I was named “Serwah” after my paternal great-grandmother, Akosua is the name given to all girls born on Sunday of the Akan people in Ghana, and Asante is the name of the clan in Ghana from which I come.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us, briefly, how and why you decided to strike out on your own as a fashion entrepreneur?
Serwah:
Entrepreneurship has always been a field of interest to me. I love the idea of creating a business on the strength of an idea alone. Fashion has been of interest to me since high school and it was then that I knew I wanted to meld my two loves. There’s an intoxicating blend of right and left brain stimulation that makes me feel that I am nurturing and challenging my creative and analytical sides.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (That makes for a good transition to learn more about what your product offerings). Describe the exact goods you (sell)?
Serwah:
Rue 114 is a fashion house that provides contemporary women’s clothing that pays homage to an African aesthetic but can be translated to fit the lifestyle of the global woman. We cater to sizes Small-2X.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is the core mission of your business?
Serwah:
The Rue 114 mission statement is that “Great style should come in all sizes because fabulous, fierce, kick-ass women come in all sizes!” It is what we live and design by.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Great. What clearly defined business goals do you have for your brand within the next two years?
Serwah:
We would like to be a well recognized brand with 4 solid collections under our belt and available in 1-2 major department stores and 12 smaller boutique operations. A major specific short term goal is to present as a featured designer at the Arise Africa NY Fashion Week or Harlem’s Fashion Row event as these opportunities would serve as amazing platforms through which to showcase our brands aesthetic and reach a wider audience.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (To reach a wider audience, we gotta talk supply/chain logistics, a at minimum.) So, what is the distribution system you have in place to make sure customers get what your products when and where they want it?
Serwah:
All retail orders are processed through our online boutique at www.rue114.bigcartel.com. We stock our inventory at our Brooklyn showroom and each in stock order is checked, packaged and shipped within 2 business days of the originating order. Domestic orders are shipped via Priority Mail (2-3 day delivery) and international orders are shipped via First Class Mail (5-10 business days delivery). Wholesale ordering for Fall 2012 is currently underway through April and will be produced from May-July and delivered in early August.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Why all the way to size 24? Do you have a personal story that motivates you to go beyond plus sizes of 14-16? A bit peculiar that you would go that large for a fashion brand. Why?
Serwah:
The size range of the line is central to our brand identity of providing women of varying sizes with great fashion forward style options. Women want to be able to go to a store and shop with their friends of differing sizes. I wanted to create a place where a woman could visit and know that there would be something amazing that she could wear.

Due to our expansive sizing variety, we have kept our introductory collection limited in term of pieces but in time would like to slowly expand the number of items offered. The ultimate vision is to provide a great shopping experience in which a woman who is a size 18 can comfortably shop alongside a woman who is a size 4. From a personal perspective, I’ve been both a size 16 and a size 8 and I was always disappointed by how limited the fashion options were once you crossed the size 10 threshold. It baffles me that so many designers claim to love women and then set the trends for how we should dress, but insist on holding us to unrealistic and dangerous body image standards.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Where is your size 12-24 woman (i.e. where can she be found?) Who is she? What does she do?
Serwah:
Our size 12-24 target customer is between the ages of 28-45. She is generally a professional woman located in an urban area and wants to project an image that is strong, feminine, unique, and sexy. The Rue 114 woman looks to invest in key pieces that are timeless, wearable, and beautiful. She is a fashion chameleon who is aware of trends, but has an innovative sense of personal style that makes each piece her own.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Same question for your size 2-10 woman? Who is she? Describe her.
Serwah:
Other than size, there is no difference between the size 2-10 woman and the size 12-24 woman in terms of her interests, profession, and sense of style.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As a new fashion business, what would you say has been your biggest business success to date?
Serwah:
I would have to say that launching this collection has been my biggest success. It is a labor of absolute love and determination. As most small businesses can attest to, I am constantly thinking about the next step and how to make this brand better. When others are sleeping, I’m plotting, planning, and creating!

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been your biggest fashion business mistake so far?
Serwah:
I think initially, my biggest fashion business mistake was underestimating the capital needed to launch even a mini collection. From pattern to mock up to sampling is quite an expensive process particularly when you size for straight and plus. For many of the manufacturers and sample makers that I deal with, this is the first time that they have been asked to work with both markets for one brand. Therefore a lot of the development phase has been a process of charting a new course. I have been able to overcome this by actively raising the necessary start-up capital through a number of means including self financing, loans, and selling self-made clutch handbags through Etsy and at a number of street festivals throughout the past summer.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What have you learned from that mistake?
Serwah:
I’ve learned that it is critical to spend at least a few hours each week re-tweaking the cash-flow analysis and supporting financial documents. These were essential in helping me to identify spaces in which I could foresee a cash-flow problem and then actively work towards resolving it. Also, there are many different ways to raise funding and it’s important to keep an open mind as to how your present skills can help you raise needed financing.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: As a business, what is the customer experience you want each customer to take away every time they experience your fashion brand?
Serwah:
We want everyone who comes into contact with the Rue 114 brand to know that we stand for a re-emergence of the African aesthetic for the global woman. We want each customer to feel that our clothes empower her to make a bold statement about what it means to be confident, posed, stylish, and chic.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What are your plans for expansion of the Rue 114 brand?
Serwah:
My next steps are to build my client relationships by hosting a series of trunk shows in the New York/ Tri-State area so that I am able to engage face to face with the Rue 114 woman. I am also in the process of building relationships with boutique owners, buyers, and distributors to strengthen the wholesale aspect of the business.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Hmmm. . . quite ambitious. We’ve got to ask on that strong answer, what do you believe are the key qualities of a brilliant (Ladybrille) entrepreneur?
Serwah:
Moxy and Determination

LADYBRILLEmag.com: (It also takes a strong financial core). Can you share with our audience some few tips on financial management of a fashion business?
Serwah:
I think that before you can have a great fashion business, you need to build a sound business foundation. This is the less glamorous part as it involves spreadsheets, research, and data crunching, but it is fundamentally what any great fashion house is built upon and the ultimate measure of a company’s success. As a small business owner, it is imperative to be well versed in the financial health of your business.

I would suggest setting aside one day a week (I call it Wallet Check Wednesdays) to go over sales, receipts, bank statements, and cash-flow charts to get a snapshot of the health of the business. This process can be essential in trouble shooting the weaker areas that may need to be re-assessed.

LADYBRILLEmag.com:Do you have an e-commerce presence?
Serwah:
Yes. Please visit our Rue 114 e-Boutique at www.rue114.bigcartel.com.

NOTE LADYBRILLERS: RUE 114 IS also running a “LADYBRILLE” special during which you can save 10% off all orders for the month of February. Just enter “ladyb” in the discount code section upon checkout.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: Tell us the three ways you have used social media to increase brand awareness and gain recognition for your brand?
Serwah:
Social Media has been a major component of our launch and spreading our brand identity as a new business. Twitter has allowed us to reach key players in the fashion business that would have been much more difficult to contact using more traditional methods. Facebook has been an invaluable resource in terms of connecting with and getting feedback from our clients and the general public. Finally, we have utilized blogging and the inter-connectivity of Tumbl’r to spread the word about our brand, particularly through its re-blogging feature.

Readers can stay in contact with us via
Twitter: @Rue114
Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Rue-114/168024206545048
Tumbl’r: www.rue114.tumblr.com/

LADYBRILLEmag.com: In your opinion, why do fashion businesses, especially African fashion businesses, fail?
Serwah:
I am actually very hopeful about the future of African fashion. I think that as a formalized industry, we are still in the infancy stages and not yet a well-oiled machine. A lot of these “failures” are really the industry trying to define and right itself as a power player. I am definitely encouraged by the differing faces that are broadening the fashion world and the ownership that Africa is beginning to take in defining what African fashion means and looks like.

I think that many start-up businesses in general fail because they require the owner to be versed in so many areas and at times it can seem overwhelming. I think fashion businesses fail often times because it is more glamorous and sometimes more natural for designers to focus on the art of the business as that is often representative of their passion and voice. However, when the focus is solely on the creative at the expense of the financial viability of the company, at best this means a high degree of wasted efficiency. At worst, this imbalance destroys the financial stability of the enterprise. Finally, I think that many African fashion businesses fail because we do not yet have the infrastructure and longevity to build the connections available in the European or North American fashion industries. Most African designers who decide to pursue this field are not particularly well-connected in it and therefore the hurdle to have one’s voice heard is exponentially more difficult.

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What do you look for when you hire employees?
Serwah:
Strong work ethic, intelligence, resourcefulness, personal style, and positive energy

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What drives you as a business owner?
Serwah:
To build a viable company out of an idea in my head and truly have it affect people’s lives in a positive way. In 5-10 years my goal is to produce my full line in Ghana and be a part of the economic renaissance occurring all over Africa. I don’t have a plan B in terms of alternate career path; I wake up every morning thinking, what can I do to make my business more successful than it was yesterday? Incidentally, I go to sleep every night thinking the same thing :o)

LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes you get up to do what you do everyday instead of throwing in the towel and getting a 9-5?
Serwah:
I actually do have a (part-time) 9-5 that allows me to finance my passion. My drive is linked to the fact that I believe passionately in what I do. Even my mistakes or the areas that I am not as well versed in are all exciting learning opportunities for me. Additionally, the positive reactions that I have received in response to this collection and the need that women are expressing for more fashion houses that treat them like viable and informed customers also keeps me focused and encouraged.








Ladybrille Magazine

Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.

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1 Comment

  1. It’s always good to see people with the drive to really go and do what they want. Keeping track of finances and time can be tricky to do if you aren’t using tools to help you. If you’re not already, you might want to check out some ERP & CRM software.

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