Last night, Penn students donned their most fashionable wear to attend Wharton Retail Club’s Entrepreneurship Panel. The event hosted CEOs from three up-and-coming fashion retail companies, College Fashionista, Closet Rich and Shoptiques.
Aspiring student entrepreneurs listened to advice from successful innovators in the industry who were students themselves only a few years ago.
Amy Levin launched College Fashionista, an online fashion blog showcasing what students are wearing on college campuses around the world.
Elizabeth Kott founded Closet Rich, an online vintage consignment store, as a portal for selling her greatest fashion treasures and allowing her friends to do the same.
With Shoptiques, an online aggregation of boutique stores across America, Olga Vidisheva hopes to revolutionize the way women approach shopping and travel.
Each panelist emphasized the opportunity and potential that technology poses for their respective businesses, a recurring theme in the current world of fashion.
“[The internet] has increased the sense of connectivity,” Levin said. “You can now follow an editor in their day-to-day lives where fashion used to just be a name on a page.”
Vidisheva added, “The internet allows you to think big. The world is no longer the world, it is a global village.”
Online platforms have helped the CEOs achieve their visions by connecting with an audience on a more personal level, but there are challenges that come with an online business.
“[The internet] is becoming very saturated and there’s a lot of noise in the space,” Levin said. “Now, more so than when I started my business, it’s about ‘How do we stand out from everything else that’s out there?’ and ‘How do we create a unique voice?’”
While Levin and Vidisheva created original business models that focused on building fashion networks, Kott found marketing her consignment store website among a plethora of similar online stores to be a challenge.
Ultimately she strove to create a user experience that went beyond buying or selling clothes and created a sense of exclusivity and trendiness.
“A big key in launching Closet Rich was framing the messaging around it that if you didn’t know what it was, you were behind. That’s very much the tone of the next cool thing,” Kott said.
The passion of each of these young executives was apparent from the way they spoke about their respective companies. As they discussed the regular challenges of running their own businesses, each cited a deep sense of empowerment.
“Don’t start it unless you are damn sure that’s what you want to do,” Vidisheva said. “Entrepreneurship is not portrayed as this sexy thing where you work nine to five. But I love every second of it because I believe in what I’m doing.”
Kott added, “If you can find a way to silence the self doubt … I can honestly can tell you that there is no challenge too large to handle.”
Despite the obstacles that entrepreneurs inevitably face, students responded to the moving messages of the innovators.
“It was pretty inspiring to hear how they each found something they loved,” College freshman Rolanda Evelyn said. “It makes you feel like, ‘Okay, I’m not that crazy that I want to do something in fashion.’”