I always hear stories about people who see a gap in their industry becoming an entrepreneur and changing the entire climate, and I am glad this month that I actually got to interview someone who did just that: Brittany Sierra, the CEO and Founder of Arreis and Laptops and Smalltalk, both PR and Marketing services that specialize in helping creatives and fashion designers reach the success that they desire and deserve. Meeting at Barista in the Pearl on a hot friday morning, I was able to ask Brittany about her business journey, the Portland fashion industry, and what she hopes to provide for the Portland fashion community. Read on to see how she hopes to change the game.
Q: Since this is the “Sartorial Spotlight” I have to ask, how does this outfit embody your style and personal brand?
A: Honestly I feel that my style is changing and I am still in the process of figuring out how my style is. I think I had a style previously and it was, not edgy, but I wore things that I felt comfortable in at the time, and now that I’m getting a bit older I’m understanding what I like a little bit more. I used to wear tight clothes and so a lot of my closet is consisting of tight clothes, but I don’t like that anymore. I like loose fitting clothes that are more fluid, so I am still transitioning into what I prefer now that I am older and have my position in my business and can’t wear what I wore before; So I guess maturity has really changed my style. And for this outfit I wore it before so I wore it here because I knew it would look cute.
Q: On the site arreispdx.com you discuss how your journey began your sophomore year in college as the owner of a handmade jewelry business, and then began to get into the marketing and PR side of business, which led you to found Arreis. What/whom originally drew you into the fashion industry or fashion as a whole, and at which moment did you know that this was the industry for you?
A: I’ve always liked fashion. And I know it sounds corny, but truly that’s how it is. When I was younger and living in Portland the fashion scene was much different and apparently there was one but I didn’t know about it, so I felt that I needed to leave and go somewhere else to get in the industry…I started off in jewelry and I was really into that and then I got into fashion blogging, and I still kind of do that but I don’t have as much time anymore, but I always knew I wanted to be in the fashion industry, I just didn’t know where I wanted to be.
Q:What was the process like to create Arreis and then Laptops and Smalltalk?
A: When I started Arreis I was working with Portland Fashion Week under Jessica Kane…I was doing social media and I was working with the team and really enjoying what I was doing, and so I wanted to start something where I could do my own thing and I could do that for other people. [Jessica Kane] gave me some encouragement to go ahead and start it, and my mom, and there were a lot of instrumental people that really played a part in my decision to create Arreis….Laptops came about because when I started Arreis at first it was geared towards fashion and then I decided that I should open it up towards creatives as a whole, because that’s more of an opportunity for me to work with people. So I did that and I began working with different companies and businesses that weren’t fashion geared and I started to feel out of tune with the fashion community here; I wasn’t in Portland Fashion Week anymore and [though] I’m on staff for P:FINE and I went to all the fashion events I still felt out of touch with it all, and I felt that I had a voice but not a platform where I could share so I started Laptops originally just to be that platform and to be able to be that voice and give back to the community.
Q: What do you believe are the common misconceptions pertaining to starting a fashion business, whether that be for an aspiring designer or fashion blogger?
A: I think that people go into it for the wrong reasons. People see the pretty pictures on instagram and they see people having fashion shows and pop ups and all that and it looks glamorous and fun…and they like fashion as well so they think “I want to do it”, and I think a lot of people focus on that glamorous side and don’t realize all the work it takes to get to that point. Those people who are getting all the press attention or have really great shows had to work to get there; they didn’t start off there. I think people start a business and they expect that as soon as they launch they’re going to be super successful instead of realizing that it takes a lot of work and then they stop doing it any more. So yeah there’s the misconception that it’s a glamorous life, and people will say that they know that it takes hard work, but I don’t think they truly understand until they go down that road of being an entrepreneur.
Q: How long does it take for a fashion brand or blog to establish a following?
A: It really depends, because for some people they launch and it’s like bam and there’s a huge following. Other people not so much. I think the difference is that the people who launch and do really well are the people who have thought about it and have a plan and strategy, the people who don’t are the ones who just like are going with the flow and don’t look at it as a business or from a business standpoint. Also from a social media stance if you are delivering crappy photos its going to take a lot longer for you to get a following.
Q: Are there any unique challenges in the Portland fashion industry that keep those who have a desire to run a fashion business from succeeding?
A: Yes, a lot. Resources are huge. There’s an issue with production, like if you’re a designer and you get a huge order having the man power and the people to create the garments is a problem. Getting fabrics is a problem also because we don’t have a garment district or a fashion district so it’s the same couple places that have fabric and the designers are pulling from all those same places, so you see a lot of the same repeat fabrics season after season and also between designers. Also, the support isn’t necessarily here, which is one of the reasons why I started Laptops because I wanted to give that support. The business know-how is also a huge thing. There’s a lot of creative people in Portland, and creative people who create amazing things and have awesome ideas, but the execution of those great ideas is where the problems come, whether its from production, resources, structure, or business understanding.
Q: What are the three most important traits to have a successful fashion business in the Portland fashion community and beyond?
A: Having a strong foundation is the most important thing, so knowing your story, knowing why you’re different. Knowing who your customer is is huge, and most people don’t, they just have this broad idea, like “Oh I sell to woman of this age group”, but okay, lets get more specific. That’s very necessary to be successful. Having support is another thing, whether that’s someone who’s supporting you through encouragement or by helping you get things done, because as an entrepreneur you wear a lot of hats…Even for me as I started Laptops I knew a lot about the process of being a designer, but I’ve learned a lot more sense, and talking with people about the things they have to do and struggle with. The finance part is also important, so being able to properly manage the amount of money that you have and funding. Also a lot of people will use a kickstarter to get money in order to do what they want or grow their business, but they don’t understand what true profit is or true revenue is, what their expenses are, so they’re spending money they don’t need to spend.
Q: What advice would you give to someone who is just beginning in the fashion industry and wants to connect with their superiors, whether they be designers with a massive following or a fashion editor with a large social media presence?
A: I would say work on your personal brand, so making sure that everything that you’re putting out there is quality and that you always put your best self out. Speak with the people who are doing what you want to do, which is important so that you know and get the inside scoop of whats going on. I’d also say to just go for it. Figure out what your end goal is and what you want and then a plan to get yourself there whether that’s helping out at fashion shows or creating something, blogging, whatever.
Q: What do you hope to provide for the portland fashion community through Laptops and Smalltalk?
A: Support. One of the main reasons that I started Laptops has to do with what we talked about, how there are creatives who are doing awesome things and have a huge passion for what they’re doing but don’t know how to make it successful. So they’re working another job to support their passion and they’re doing everything they can to make it but it’s just not happening. Some of these people have been in business for 6+ years and they’re still not at a level that they would want to be, so the biggest thing that I want to do is to give back to the industry, because I’ve been involved in the fashion industry for 5 years and I have met so many people and have seen the issues firsthand and the struggles of people firsthand. And people that on instagram have a ton of followers so you think that they must be doing well, and then you talk with them and they say no they’re not even making sales, they have to bartend or work another job in order to support themselves, so I want to empower the fashion creatives here and give them the tools that they can then use to grow their business. Thats why on the [Laptops] blog we provide a lot of DIY information. We give a starting point if you have no idea about PR or marketing there’s a starting place to get yourself going, and then if you need some more help then reach out to us and we can help you create campaigns and strategies and such. There’s also the issue that people don’t have a lot of money, to pay bills and enjoy themselves or the money to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for PR help though they know that they need it. I want to be that starting point.
Q: Can you tell us about the Fashion to Profit Workshop on Sept. 18?
A: The workshop is part of a new series that we are starting which is smalltalk pop-ups, so basically right now it’s an event or workshop series. Right now we are hosting at the Tea Bar because we are good friends with the owners. This series is about the start to finish of creating a fashion brand. Part of it is going through the foundation and story, figuring out who your target audience is and your voice, and once you figure that out the next part is figuring out how to market it and learning how to use social media, using an email list, blogging, and all those things to grow the business that you just created.
This interview was a lot of fun for me; it is always an enjoyable experience to meet people who are carving their own way into their desired industry. You can follow Laptops and Smalltalk on instagram and twitter @laptopsandsmalltalk, and should visit their site laptopsandsmalltalk.com where you can read articles and e-books about making it in the fashion industry. You can also reserve a seat to the Fashion to Profit Workshop happening September 18 at the Tea Bar from 11 am- 2 pm.