While many fashion designers prefer to sketch their designs before they start cutting, Habimana has a different approach.
“The fabric is always the inspiration for my designs,” Habimana said. “I always buy fabric that I have strong feelings for. I sometimes lay the fabric down for two to three days until the design comes to me.”
This year, she decided to move past custom orders to manufacturing. In July, she put together a monthlong Kickstarter campaign with the hope of raising $10,000. She raised $11,700.
Now, she’s ready to get started with her Spring 2013 collection, which consists of 10 pieces, all women’s “after five” wear created using West African fabric with a contemporary American design.
Habimana has known for a long time that she wanted to manufacture her designs. But in 2009, she was concentrating on her MBA. In 2010 she took a teaching fellowship in Senegal and in 2011 she got married.
“So 2012 was the first time I had no life-changing events,” she says. “My husband and I decided at the beginning of the year we wanted to go head first into business.”
Filled with excitement after deciding to go forward with the idea, she then had to choose who she wanted to work with.
“The first thing I did was start to look for manufacturers. I found one in New York and I met with her in April. Then I went to Senegal in May and bought fabric for the first collection,” she says.
When picking manufacturers it helps to have criteria in mind. While some people tend to choose companies overseas, Habimana knew she wanted someone closer to home so that she could talk to them face-to-face, look at samples and check on progress. The woman she chose also specializes in new designers, so Habimana could ask questions that may not be answered by other companies. In addition, her new manufacturer fills smaller orders.
Fundraising is also key to creating business. Habimana worked in fundraising at the Atlas Performing Arts Center, but many of her techniques can be implemented without the added benefit of a fundraising job. Her calculations told her that she would need about $10,000 to start manufacturing her line. So she started her Simply Cecily Facebook page with the support of lots of friends and family to help spread the word.
Her social media promotion techniques (she’s also on Twitter) focused on what she called “lunchtime specials.” For six days, she promoted a different item in the collection. One day she was fortunate to have an anonymous investor match all the money she made during a lunchtime special. That day she raised almost $1,000 and the same amount was matched. Another day, she promoted a skirt that wasn’t coming out until summer 2013. With consistent social media promotion, word-of-mouth and family and friend support, in just one month, Habimana had topped her goal.
But none of this could be done without a bit of business savvy.
“Designers spend 25 percent of their time on designing and 75 percent on marketing and running a business,” she said. “The ideas won’t be successful unless you work with someone who has business skills.”
While Habimana says an MBA isn’t mandatory, it helped her better connect the theory of business with her creative goals. “I don’t think it’s necessary to get an MBA, but you do need some basic skills in business, even from a community college,” she said. “I would tell high school students to take business courses no matter the major. “
Although Habimana loves her fundraising position at the Atlas, she has hopes of one day undertaking Simply Cecily full-time. Until then, get prepared for the Spring 2013 launch in September.
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