Maria Golushko, previously co-founder of Jahnkoy and now co-founder and COO of The One Two, details the process of starting a new fashion label.
Starting a new fashion brand is a whirlwind.
When your collection clicks with people like ours did at Jahnkoy, a New York based couture fashion brand, you can be propelled really quickly into a whole new world of celebrity, sponsorships, fashion weeks, pressure and burnout.
I learnt a lot through my experience at Jahnkoy; growing it from a vision to $3 million in sales, receiving support from Anna Wintour and Karl Largerfield, stocking in Bergdorf Goodman and having the likes of Beyoncé, Jay Z and Erykah Badu commission designs and become fans of the brand.
Here are the learnings I’m taking away with me as I step into my new venture to launch The One Two.
Firstly, innovation is everything - you have to push the boundaries of what already exists out there and bring new experiences to your audience.
You also need to make sure your experience has traction.
You don’t want to spend days, weeks, years of your life (or your money) on something which is not in demand.
Jahnkoy’s co-founder and creative director Maria is amazing at that - the stuff she was creating was more than beautiful, it stood alone in a crowd of sameness.
And she was being noticed.
Her fine arts and couture thesis at Parsons School of Design in NY (the school that has graduates including Marc Jacobs and Donna Karan) culminated in becoming an LVMH Prize finalist, Erykah Badu wearing her garments on stage and multiple Vogue features.
Celebrities and big brands are always on the lookout for innovative work, for the next big thing, for collaborations that can differentiate them and put them at the forefront of a new trend.
After Jahnkoy’s couture collection we were approached by Valentino, Beyoncé and Jay Z which was a huge credit to Maria’s unique vision and designs.
So be fearless, be bold and be brave with innovation.
Secondly, once you’ve got a product people are demanding, don’t isolate yourself.
Identify who your strategic partners can be to help take your vision global.
They might help with financing, with securing retail space in the right places or even developing a collaboration.
Figuring out what you need to realise your big vision and being bold in asking for it is the first step in making it happen.
Don’t limit yourself.
But also be cool and not disheartened by rejection, bouncing back is a core startup skillset.
For Jahnkoy, Puma and Swarovski became ongoing strategic partners, giving full creative license.
As part of these partnerships, the Puma X Jahnkoy collaboration was born and launched at Puma’s flagship stores globally.
We also delivered a fashion performance in Moscow as part of the Soccer World Cup, just three days after New York Fashion Week (but this is a story for another time).
These collaborations were crucial in elevating Jahnkoy further and solidifying our place in the competitive world of fashion.
Thirdly, don’t put all your eggs in one basket.
A new business is all consuming, but it’s important it’s not the only thing you do.
This is what I failed at in New York.
Continuous demand and success assumed short timelines, working across multiple time zones, no sleep and full exhaustion.
This meant I needed weeks to recover after executing on the big vision.
This isn’t to say you should lower the bar or work less, but if you have a bit of perspective through having other things in your life you tend to be more balanced and better at work.
For me now it is tennis and daily rituals – exercise, meditation and time to reflect.
If I do these things, I can then bring my full enthusiastic self more effectively to what I’m working on.
Work feels more fun and joyful.
And finally, build your team.
No one can be a founder of a successful business alone so build your eco system of support.
Whether that be your life partner, friends, business partner or family – figure out who can help you at the key moments.
Celebrating successes, working through stress, moving on from a rejection – these are all going to happen and you’ll be happier and more successful if you’re not going it alone.
Bring on mentors, plural.
People who have strong skill sets you can focus on.
Give them your enthusiasm, diligence and genuine respect, and don’t be afraid to co-create with them.
No one expects you to have all the answers but a good founder just needs to know how to find them.
If you are fortunate enough to have co-founders, make sure you’re aligned on the aspirations you have for the business.
For example, do you want to make it small and exclusive? Large and mass market? Do you want to own it forever or sell it? Take investment? All of these are crucial considerations.
Consider your co-founder relationship like a marriage – you need to make it work or the alternative is a (probably messy) divorce.
Find someone who inspires you, where you can encourage each other to be better, happier as well as more productive.
The sum of the parts should be more than you both individually.
Don’t just work together, dine together, have family dates.
Aim to get to the point of total open, honest communication and you’ll get a gold star and a relatively uncomplicated future.