Interviews: Dee Tantleff, Emily Ray, Neely Katz

In this post, you will find three interviews with three entrepreneurs. They were created to reflect on the possible parallel between entrepreneurship and the mythic structure of the journey of the hero, as articulated by Joseph Campbell. These interviews were conducted as part of the Arts Entrepreneurship program. 

Dee Tantleff-Real Cocktails

She says give it a few more years and you will see Real Cocktails stocked on the shelves of 1459660_10202369143894807_1923071071_nevery liquor store. “We are only at the beginning stages of what is hopefully going to be the successful business venture we have been planning the past three years,” Dee Tantleff, the co-founder of Real Cocktails informed me. The idea for Real Cocktails originated in a Bernardsville kitchen over a few drinks. The concept was to have ready-to-serve cocktails with a delicious, fresh taste.

I started our interview off asking Dee her three biggest obstacles with starting Real Cocktails. The first was how long it took to approve the taste. There are only two flavors right now, Cosmopolitans and Margaritas, but Dee and her partner wanted to have the perfect taste when they launched those two flavors. They worked continuously with a flavor in California, but the company was never able to replicate exactly what she and her partner had in mind. So, they flew to California to rectify the situation themselves. “What was supposed to take two weeks, took nine months,” Dee explained over the debacle of obtaining the perfect taste for their two original flavors. The second obstacle was the fundraising. The more money they had, the larger the marketing campaign could be, but this posed to be more difficult than expected because not many people want to invest in a company that has no sales yet. When I asked Dee what the solution was, she said, “we decided to have a smaller launch where we had 110 cases as opposed to the 2,000 we originally planned.” The third obstacle was getting their product into the liquor stores. Dee explained there are a lot of regulations that nobody puts into account and most distributors want cash incentives to push your product and that takes money. Dee was happy to report that she and her partner are in contact with a distributor who is interested in selling their product.

I asked Dee if she saw giving up as an option ever and she told me that sometimes if she had known the process was going to take three years she would never have started. She explained that even though something is a passion, there will still be times where what you love is the most is the most frustrating thing of all. Despite the frustration, Dee told me that when it comes to change in her process it definitely she who changed the most. She was able to come out of her box. Real Cocktails forced her to talk to potential distributors so they would be interested in selling the product. “I am not a big socially outgoing person,” Dee answered, “so going in and pitching something really put me out of my comfort zone.” The knowledge she took away was simply to not settle for something unless you think it is the best. She pointed out the example of trying to find the perfect taste. She also refused to settle when it came to the labels on the bottles. The original labels were bubbly on the bottle so Dee and her partner fought the company on what they thought needed to be better. Because they stood up for what they thought was best, they won and are being reimbursed 4,000 dollars.

Interviewing Dee Tantleff was something I had wanted to do when I spotted the Real Cocktail bottles sitting on my kitchen during Christmas break. I asked my mother what they were, having never seen anything like them in any store before. My mother said, “this woman in Bernardsville just decided to up and start her own brand of cocktails and they are pretty good, I have to say.” I realized you are never too young nor too old to pursue a dream and Dee Tantleff is the perfect testament to that.

Emily Ray-Emily Ray Collection

I always loved to watch Project Runway. The designers running around their sewing Screen Shot 2015-03-04 at 6.29.50 PMmachines, fiddling with their mannequins and then watching the final product descend the runway—the models wearing the most beautiful creations that were made with someone’s very own hands. But has anyone ever wondered how those designers honed their skills and became so talented that landed them on Project Runway?

I was a freshman in high school when I saw Emily Ray’s first line of clothes descend the runway at the senior fashion. I was in awe that someone could create something so beautiful from hand. All her dresses were funky and bright, as if her designs were an expression of who she was. I immediately contacted Emily hoping she would share with me her fashion pursuits and what she has been doing in the last five years. Emily told me she graduated from the University of Philadelphia with her degree in fashion design. She wanted to continue to keep her skills sharp so she reached out to a bunch of boutiques in her local area. One boutique called The Hunt got back to her and asked her to do a small line for the store, giving her a chance to market her line, as well as market the store.

With creating a line came a multitude of obstacles. The first was doing it all on her own. “I was my own merchandiser, production management, seamstress, pattern maker, saleswoman, designer,” Emily explained to me, “everything a small company had encompassed what I was doing.” The second obstacle was finding fabric. Emily explained that being on your own and doing small orders causes a problem with finding good, affordable fabric that doesn’t come in bulk. She continues to use the same fabric store in Philadelphia that has always served her well. The last obstacle is just being known. Since she is living in her hometown until her job situation pans out, it is easy to be heard of through word of mouth, but quite another to be known for what you do.

With all the obstacles Emily faced, there was a time through ultimate success where she saw failure. “It was around Thanksgiving and I had just had my first opening and had an insane number of orders, something like 24, and I remember staying up till 4am a couple of nights asking why I ever decided to do this,” Emily told me,” but it ended up being ok.” Through her entire process and all the hardships, she believed that through change, brought her knowledge. “In school you’re taught by all your professors be creative, be happy,” Emily explained to me, “you really don’t realize how much you need to market yourself along with being creative once you get into the real world.” Her biggest takeaway, and the one thing she is still working on, is branding herself as a designer. The business background in fashion is crucial and it is all about how people view you and what you are offering. The lines that Emily said that stuck out to me as our interview came to a close were, “You are a brand no matter what you do.” “Every person is a special entity and its your one job to show that.” Every line is true. No matter what an artist may do you are representing yourself, because “the privilege of a lifetime is being who you are.” And that is the greatest journey of all.

Neely Katz-Daized Clothing

Neely Katz is a sophomore at the University of Vermont. She spends her time like any arts entrepreneurshipother college student. She goes out to the local shops and bars of Burlington, goes on coffee dates with her friends and boyfriend, and studies in the library for her public communications test. But there is one thing that sets Neely Katz apart from the average college student; she just so happens to run her own clothing line, Daized Clothing. I asked Neely to tell me how she got the idea to start Daized. She informed me that she had always been a big doodler and her drawings had taken on a life of their own, so she wanted “to have an option after school to be creative, like a lucrative outlet.” She decided to take her drawings and put them on t-shirts, tanks, hats and even stickers.

When asked what her three biggest obstacles were, Neely went into detail about the struggle she faced in finding someone to make her shirts. She explained that it is already expensive in the states and to have someone make the shirts overseas would be even more money. She overcame her first obstacle by a string of luck. “I went into this new shop in downtown Burlington and the shop owner made t-shirts in the back and had his own printing company so he helped me print my shirt there” she said. The second obstacle faced was the concept of marketing. Neely had to consistently advocate for herself and Daized. In the hopes of reaching her demographic she started an Instagram account and successfully reached over 1,000 followers within the first month of creating it. The third obstacle faced for this young entrepreneur was selling the t-shirts. It is already hard enough being the sole distributor and not having a store, so Neely would have to go out on her own to spread and sell her brand.

When I asked if there were ever any moments where there “seemed to be no light,” Neely replied, “right now.” She described to me that it starts to become disheartening after awhile because the sales can get low and she needs to constantly be pushing her brand if she wants success. Despite the lows she feels in running Daized clothing, she has been taught so much during this entrepreneurial journey. She knows now what it takes to run a business and the struggles you have to face in order to survive. She explained to me that she herself had taken an arts entrepreneurship class at Vermont, which had given her the tools she wished she had prior to starting Daized. Neely recalled “I didn’t know what I was doing when it came to finance. You need to keep up with so many records and I was always screwing it up.”

Daized clothing was an opportunity within itself, but it also opened many doors for Neely that would have remained closed. “I feel like the knowledge I got out of this whole experience taught really what communication was,” Neely went on, “From doing Daized, I contacted a PR firm downtown in Burlington and I was like “hey I started this company I’m really interested in doing media and internships, and I got an internship from that.” Communication became the essential tool Neely used to progress her self-made brand, as well as further her career in public communications.

Daized clothing will continue to take sales and Neely will continue her passion for combining her love for art to media, whether it be through Daized or another venture this young entrepreneur takes on.

These interviews and analyses were conducted by student Raymer Steinfeldt for the Arts Entrepreneurship program at Meadows School of the Arts, SMU. They were created for the class Entrepreneurship and the Hero Adventure and are part of a blog series called Heroes Among Us.

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