Tala Duwaji Interviews 3 Creative Entrepreneurs

Interview with Deborah Sawaf- Founder of fine Accessories Company Thalé Blanc 

Thalé Blanc is a fine accessories company founded by Deborah Sawaf herself in 2010.

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business? 

Yes, I absolutely did! I am an artist. Most artists are driven by emotions, and in the past I’ve tended to sway in different directions and it took me longer to achieve my goals. When I was 23, I already had a couture line, but it was more of a hobby than a business. It could have turned into a business, had I taken professional advice and made a business plan. Instead, I created collections, travelled, and did fashion shows in different cities and sold the collections through the shows. I ended up with a lot of inventory with no other outlet to sell the product- so it stayed a hobby. This time around, older and wiser, I decided to first get professional help with a business plan and it put me on the right track and gave me direction.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship? 

Absolutely!! It helps you stay focused. It’s a great to have an idea…it takes a plan to make sure you have all the right people, skills, and capital to execute it. However, you have to realize that you need to re-think and re-work your plan and strategy every year. Retail, wholesale, ecommerce, and social media change how you do business on a daily basis. I find I sell more off my very small presence on Instagram, than the decisions we made in our business plan, and budget to advertise in Harpers Bazaar and W Magazine, which have a much larger outreach. Your business plan serves a purpose regardless of if you try and follow it step by step or not. It’s your guideline and the skeleton of your business- things change every day, so you just have to adjust accordingly.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?
  1. Stay unique. Articulate things people think but don’t say.
  1. Be creative as an artist, as well as in business.
  1. Seek the right information, knowledge and advice.

Interview with Clare Wilson- Online Retail Company

Clare Wilson along with partner Isabelle Terry, both SMU students, founded an online retail company their freshman year. Although it did not succeed, she says it was a great experience.

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Funny enough, no, we didn’t have a business plan when we first came up with the concept of this online retail company. We just had a shared vision and had done all the research but never really put it down on paper, which was our first mistake. We got into a room with some potential investors and they told us to come back when we had a business plan. Both of us had zero experience, but regardless they heard what we had to say and liked our idea. They just needed to see on paper, that we had done the research rather than just hearing it. They wanted numbers and details and we didn’t have that.

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

After that experience, I would say DEFINITELY! I understood where they were coming from, but as two freshmen with a dream, we thought that we could just pitch it on our own. After making a business plan and getting help with that, I saw how much work really needed to be done and that’s when it all became more real and concrete. I never thought of having to make projections or really defining a customer in detail- we knew who we wanted to target, but the business plan definitely made us take the time to define every element of what we wanted to do and understand how feasible it could all be.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?
  1. Make sure your investors understand your vision.
  2. Be able to understand your idea well enough to pitch it whenever you are asked about it- elevator pitch is key!
  3. Don’t be afraid to ask for help- your network will help you tremendously if you know how to use it.

Interview with Rania Kamal- Founder of SoBoho Boutique in Bahrain and Dubai.

Rania is primarily an artist who later opened a clothing and accessories boutique that ran for 6 years in both Bahrain and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

  1. Did you have a business plan when you started your business?

Yes, I did. I started out mimicking a concept of a boutique in Los Angeles called Kitson and sort of worked off of that. I knew a lot of experienced people around me that helped me put together a business plan and it just grew from that. I put a lot of my own capital into it, but because I was in Bahrain and then Dubai, the rules were different there. So, I had to have a local part-owner in order to have the business. It took a lot of time before we could actually open. There are completely different rules wherever you are, so you always have to be sensitive to that. When you’re opening up a store, they want to see so many things before you can get the space you want- projections, how you’re going to pay for rent, etc. It’s not as easy as you think!

  1. Do you think business plans are necessary for entrepreneurship?

Yes, I absolutely do! Without that business plan, I would have been lost. There are way too many moving pieces to keep track of if you don’t have any guidelines to refer back to. We were dealing with so many vendors, and wholesale, and trying to get press that without the business plan to refer back to and adjust, we would have been all over the place.

  1. What three pieces of advice can you offer developing arts entrepreneurs?
  1. Make sure if you get into business with anyone- especially a friend, that you are able to work well together and put all personal issues aside and be business partners.
  1. You always need to understand the environment you are choosing to start your business in- every country is different!
  2. People say this a lot, but ‘time really is money’.

Interview Analysis

I conducted three interviews: one with the founder and owner of a fine luxury accessories company, one with a student that had a start up, and another with an artist who opened up a boutique. All three interviewees have nothing in common except being entrepreneurs. The first interview I conducted was with Debbie Sawaf, who launched her accessories company in 2010. This was not the first business she had ever started. She had a jewelry line and was designing exquisite works for labels such as Gianfranco Ferré, Roberto Cavalli and Valentino; it was only natural for Deborah to find herself fitting comfortably in the world of creative glamour before ultimately launching her collection Thalé Blanc. Her brand has become increasingly popular and in the recent few months and has had a very strong social media presence with 15,300 followers on Instagram. Clare Wilson, along with partner Isabelle Terry, are two SMU students who had their own startup during their freshman year and, although it did not take off the way they had intended it to, it was a valuable learning experience. Rania Kamala had a running boutique, SoBoho in Bahrain for 5 years and then opened up her second store Dubai for about 2 years.

All at different stages of their lives, and entrepreneurs in their own way, had very similar ideas about business plans and the path to becoming a successful entrepreneur. The most successful of the three interviewees both had business plans upon starting their entrepreneurial venture. Thalé Blanc is the only one that is still currently in business, but all had very similar thoughts and struggles finding their way in the business. While it is not always necessary, and though some people might succeed without one, a plan of some sort is vital to running a business. All agreed that it does not have to be anything formal- but something to give structure to build off of. Their advice stemmed off of the struggles they had starting out. Although different endeavors, they had a very similar message: Clare emphasized to utilize your network- which is something we don’t realize is so valuable to us and, although is repeated continuously, we often forget!

Interview by Tala Duwaji, SMU student.

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