August 2, 2021

50signs

The Fashion Spirit

Miami fashion entrepreneurs thrive despite retail woes

13 min read

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Graphic designer Joana Calafate works with creative director Shawn Boyer at left in the design room for the fashion brand Anatomie in Miami on Dec. 1.

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With its international sizzle and entrepreneurial energy, Miami is a natural magnet for fashion and beauty entrepreneurs. But this year, with no runway shows, trunk shows, flashy launches, trade fairs or holiday bazaars, the industry is focused less on the splash and more on sheer survival.

Fashion and beauty product companies have seen in-store sales and wholesale accounts decline or even implode this year, as the coronavirus crisis accelerated the consumer shift to online buying. With department store chains declaring bankruptcy — Lord & Taylor, Brooks Brothers, J.C. Penney, Neiman Marcus and J. Crew, to name a few — and favorite neighborhood boutiques barely hanging on, designers and beauty product makers may soon have fewer outlets for sales.

McKinsey & Company predicts that the fashion sector will contract by 27% to 30% this year compared to last. “We expect a large number of fashion companies to go bankrupt in the next 12 to 18 months. The interconnectedness of the industry is making it harder for businesses to plan ahead,” McKinsey analysts said in the report. Still, McKinsey believes modest growth – about 4% – will return to the sector in 2021.

What does all this mean for Miami’s emerging fashion hub? According to the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, the county’s economic development organization, 5,129 people are employed in the fashion industry in 433 companies — about the same as in 2019. But numbers are sometimes slow to reflect the pain on the ground.

“Everybody is extremely scared. When you go down Miracle Mile, it’s frightening when you see all the empty stores,” said Charlene Parsons, the long-time director of the fashion program at Miami International University of Art & Design. “It takes a creative mind and a creative business person to keep going.”

Fortunately, Parsons sees that creative spirit flourishing in Miami. Some of her students and alumni have jumped into selling masks; others closed their boutiques but work from home servicing long-time clients. Others have gravitated from luxury to leisure wear to reflect the times. Another alum planned an outdoor fashion show in downtown this past weekend.

And nearly all have jumped wholeheartedly into social media and online selling. “They have to in order to be competitive,” Parsons said.

The beauty industry – makers of hair care, skin care and cosmetics – has a head start on making those digital transformations. Pre-COVID, these companies alread were shifting to direct-to-consumer e-commerce, shopping-friendly social media platforms and marketplaces, including online giants like Amazon or Ulta.com. Although McKinsey believes 2020 will be a bad year for the beauty industry overall, online sales surges during COVID — in some cases triple-digit growth – will lessen the pain, it said in a report. “Consumers across the globe are showing by their actions that they still find comfort in the simple pleasures of a “self-care Sunday” or a swipe of lipstick before a Zoom meeting.”

Local fashion and beauty brands that have put e-commerce in overdrive could be in for some needed holiday cheer. The National Retail Federation predicts e-commerce holiday sales will experience 20% growth in 2020 and reach an estimated $202 billion. Black Friday alone generated $9 billion in online purchases, up nearly 22% compared to last year.

Whether South Florida’s brands are multimillion-dollar companies or side hustles that gain a cult-like following and grow, they all have one thing in common: Passionate entrepreneurs that can’t imagine doing anything else — even amid a global pandemic that closed factories, disrupting supply chains, and shut down events and travel. Here are a few of the companies that have put e-commerce at the forefront.

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Carolyn Aronson, CEO of Miami-based beauty brand It’s A 10. Handout

IT’S A 10

Carolyn Aronson wore just about every hat in the beauty industry before setting out to create her global brand, It’s a 10 Haircare. In high school she worked at a beauty supply store, then became a hairdresser, then a salon owner and then migrated to product manufacturer.

Like many entrepreneurs, Aronson’s first company failed — miserably. By her own account, she started with too many products — nine. She used too many different vendors to make them, a strategy that created quality control issues. And she didn’t have the right team around her. With those lessons under her belt, she and a partner each invested $40,000 of their own funds to start It’s a 10 and launched product No. 1, Miracle LeaveIn, in 2006.

Product quickly followed product. In 2017, she bought out her partner and set out to position the company for global growth – and venture beyond hair.

“Being the CEO of a nine-figure brand is not exactly what I totally envisioned – of course we all have those dreams — but I had a lot of learning to do along the way. It’s been an amazing ride, it really has. I love, love, love what I do and embrace it wholeheartedly,” said Aronson, who still owns 100% of her business.

Today the South Florida company generates a half-billion dollars in annual revenue. That first product, Miracle LeaveIn, is still massively popular with 13 million units sold last year. During COVID, It’s a 10 was one of the biggest sellers on Ulta, where ecommerce sales were up 550%, said Aronson. Her company is now so influential that she recently sponsored and helped judge the Miss USA pageant.

Over the last 18 months or so, It’s a 10 has launched in nine countries, mainly in Europe; Aronson expects to be a dozen more countries by early 2022. “We are going to be launching into the Middle East, and we are opening up India and parts of Asia.”

Her vision goes beyond hair care.

“My mission is to create It’s a 10 Enterprises, which is a head-to-toe beauty experience. I’ve created It’s a 10 hair tools, It’s a 10 hair extensions and now we’ve launched the Be a 10 makeup line. That’s my favorite part of it all – I love creating so much that I don’t think I will ever stop doing that.”

Be a 10 Cosmetics, a multifunctional makeup line, launched last month. “We are all a 10, and we all need to learn how to embrace our own natural beauty,” Aronson said. “The applicators are built right into the makeup — you don’t need YouTube tutorials or a million brushes. It is very simple for the average consumer to use but it gives you very professional results. I thought it was something women needed — your entire face system all in one little bag.”

Aronson, better) who is pregnant and has four other children as part of her blended family, is creating a line called Tiny 10, for ages newborn to 10. She’s also adding adding additional collections to It’s a 10, such as a coily hair line of products planned for a 2021 launch. It’s a 10 recently purchased a building in northwest Miami for its headquarters; it had been in Broward for years. It’s a 10 employs 14 people full-time, plus contractors; a network of vendors around the country manufacture the products Aronson creates for the bottles she designs.

“Trust me, just because you get to a certain level, it doesn’t get easier necessarily. You just have more zeroes after your headaches. You never quite get off that roller coaster ride as an entrepreneur. But you do learn to master it a little bit more.”

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CEO Kate Boyer and creative director Shawn Boyer at AnatomieÕs headquarters in Miami on Tuesday, December 1, 2020. Anatomie is a successful global fashion brand known for its high-end high-style travel and leisure clothing for women. Keeping them company is their dog Luna, seen below. Al Diaz [email protected]

ANATOMIE

Recessions don’t scare Kate Boyer. After all, the co-founder and CEO of Anatomie launched her upscale women’s brand by holding over 600 events across the country during the financial crisis of 2008-2012.

That laid the groundwork for a direct-to-consumer approach the firm continues with today. Known for stylish, versatile and durable clothing, Anatomie also operates as a wholesale business targeted at resorts, spas and boutiques, Boyer said.

“It’s been a wild ride, but the brand evolved, the products got better, the customer base got stickier and stickier, and we became a better company in the process.”

The Budapest-born Boyer is a former competitive gymnast. She went to France to pursue an MBA, and while there, she coached a champion girls gymnastics team and made clothes for them.

“And that’s how my first line was made – to travel, train and compete. So what was born out of necessity turned into a solution-based brand,” Boyer said. “Very early I recognized the power of three generations of women shopping together — mom, daughter and grandma. That’s still our audience. We are timeless, seasonless and ageless.”

After finishing her MBA and working in the Caribbean for a few years, Boyer moved to Miami in 2005 where she met Shawn Boyer, who was designing custom athletic menswear. The couple, now married, collaborated on private label work for others before launching the Anatomie brand together from a one-bedroom apartment in 2008.

Shawn runs design and product development, while Kate runs finance, sales and operations. Today, Anatomie has a team of 16 at its headquarters warehouse space in northeast Miami. Around the country, Anatomie has six showrooms and 50 VIP stylists who have their own customer bases.

Annual sales have grown from $60,000 in its first full year of operations to over $10 million today, Boyer said, powered by a 3-year growth rate of 196% that landed Anatomie on the top half of the 2020 Inc 5000’s Fastest-Growing Companies. That would not have happened without funding from an “A-team” of Miami angel investors including Andy Sturner, a seriel entrepreneur, and former Burdines executive David Scheiner, Boyer said. With the funding, Anatomie made key hires, including a president/COO from New York City and a CMO from Silicon Valley.

This year, direct-to-consumer sales have grown to 70% of sales from 50%, part of the company’s longer-term strategic plan accelerated by COVID. In the last six months the company launched an e-commerce platform tailored to worldwide sales, upgraded its website, added a loyalty program and increased social media to drive more D2C growth.

Anatomie’s collection is made of up a core group of essentials available year-round — nine pants designed by body type, four tops and four jackets, in five colors. Then it adds seasonal fashions, too. The essentials range in price from $128 to $378 each. To help convince new eyeballs that they are worth it, Anatomie recently added a lifetime guarantee.

While competitors come from top designer brands as well as the upscale athletic wear brands, a key differentiator, Boyer says, is that Anatomie is “a product with a service” with its VIP stylists and its 1-800 hotline. “We love to be on the phone like old school, we want to be talking to everybody.”

Neiman Marcus is a big customer, and you’ll find Anatomie’s line in five-star resorts like Canyon Ranch, Four Seasons and Ritz Carlton properties around the country, as well as the Mandarin Oriental on Brickell.

Boyer’s advice to other fashion entrepreneurs: Find a need, stay focused, and surround yourself with good people. Always plan for the next level, whether it’s capital or talent or personal growth, and keep popping up with new ideas.

This month, Anatomie is taking over the retail space at Carillon Resort in Miami Beach for at least a year. Retail partnerships like this could be a gamechanger for the industry, Boyer said.

“You have to be very agile in management, go with the flow and give the ladies what they want.”

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Haitian American entrepreneur, Fayola Nicasise, owns an organic skin care beauty business called “Ebene.” On Wednesday, December 2, 2020 Nicasise is photographed inside her Overtown store where she sells beauty products for the home, skin, and hair. Carl Juste [email protected]

EBENE

Fayola Nicaisse created her organic beauty product brand, Ebene Naturals, so that she could stay home with her daughter, then 3 months old. Gabrielle is now 22, and Nicaisse’s line of beauty products has grown up, too.

For years, the Haitian-born former model made her own all-natural hair-care products for herself and friends in the modeling industry. In the ‘90s, it wasn’t easy to find “clean products,” particularly for ethnic skin and hair types, she said.

Nicaisse launched her business in 1999 with a half-dozen products and persuaded a Whole Foods buyer in Dallas to let her demo the product because there was nothing on the shelf for people with hair like hers. “There was nothing for curly, kinky or Afro hair, mixed hair or Latino hair,” she said. After sales spiked, “I basically opened their eyes to catering to us.”

As Ebene expanded within Whole Foods to other states, Nicaisse began researching and creating skin care products after her daughter Gabrielle and her son Xavier (born three years later) developed eczema and allergies. That led to all-natural baby balms, cremes and soaps.

“The life behind the brand is my kids,” said Nicaisse, who moved to Miami in 2001. “They’re the force behind my inspiration for every product that we make and everything that I do.”

Among her loyal clientele are people with skin conditions and cancer patients, as well as vegans and others who care what they put into their bodies. Bringing in new clients involves educating them about ingredients and what they do, Nicaisse said. “I always tell them ‘every ingredient you see on the label, google it.’ ”

In 2016, Nicaisse started selling Ebene products on Amazon instead of Whole Foods; the products have always been available on Ebene’s website. Last year, she opened a boutique in Overtown, with plans for more stores in the future. For now, her Miami store at 1036 NW 3rd Ave. is open to the public a few days a week; Thursdays are by appointment for her customers with medical conditions.

Last year Ebene sold close to a million units, and sales were up more than 12% from the year before, she said. “We were projected to grow this year, but COVID happened.”

Nicaisse and a couple of employees do their own small-batch manufacturing in in Ebene’s warehouse and wants to scale up. She has ordered machinery and is looking at sites in Overtown and Little River for light manufacturing, she said.

Ebene’s best-selling products are curl definers; Nicaisse says her product doesn’t give hair have that crunchy feel that comes from gels, she says. Another top seller, for hard to manage curls (such as type 4C hair), is Ebene’s Curl and Coil Enhancing Custard with Haitian Castor Oil, Mango Butter and Moringa. Nicaisse imports the oil from Haiti’s organic farmers and producers she met there after the 2010 earthquake.

“It feels so good to be able to put products out that are as pure as you tell the consumer that they are.”

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Marialexandria Garcia, founder of Miami-based OutPlay, which makes gender neutral swimwear. Handout

OUTPLAY

Marialexandra Garcia has been designing clothing since she was 10. At 14, she created her first wedding gown that walked down the aisle. After graduating from the Savannah College of Art and Design, the Venezuelan-born designer said she started and ran a wedding line, selling to upscale deparment stores from 2000 until the financial crisis sealed its fate in 2008.

“I had no business experience whatsoever so I learned the hard way — the expensive hard way. I think it’s paid for like three MBAs,” she said.

After that intense experience of closing down her business – and with lessons learned — Garcia looked for a market where the need was unfilled. At first she didn’t stray too far from her roots, designing wedding suits for brides who did not want to wear dresses, she said. In developing the line, she worked with focus groups within the LGBT community and kept hearing that their biggest pain point was swimwear.

They didn’t feel they’ve been heard by other brands,” Garcia said. “So I took that information and created our first two products. In 2014, we launched on pre-orders to see if it would work — and it really worked. There was nobody else doing what we do.”

OutPlay — her self-funded brand of gender-neutral swimwear — grew steadily. Now OutPlay features some 150 styles in a variety of colors and compression levels. Garcia is now adding sportswear, including sports bras, joggers and leggings, so that the brand is less seasonal. Run by a team of three full-timers plus two contractors, the company sells only online (outplaybrand.com) – by choice. Still haunted by 2008, Garcia has been reluctant to go the wholesale route, though she’s not counting it out.

In the past year, OutPlay invested for the first time in strategic digital marketing – including Google and Facebook ads and email campaigns. It also stays connected with customers via texting through Messenger. “I think that’s been our key — really staying connected with what our core customer wants and needs and solving their problems,” Garcia said.

And it’s working. Last year OutPlay sold $150,000 worth of products; this year by June it had already broken $200,000 in sales and it is still growing, Garcia said.

Compression tops are one of OutPlay’s biggest sellers, and Garcia has discovered several new markets for them – women who have had mastectomies as well as large breasted people who do sports. “Anybody can wear anything that we sell,” she said. “If it’s comfortable and you feel good in it, then it’s for you.”

In her first business, success would be designing a wedding dress that would make a bride cry. But that would be just one day of happiness. “Now I get emails and letters that make me cry every single time,” Garcia said.

“What you wear tells the world who you are and how you feel. I’m so humbled every time I get a letter from somebody saying ‘my life changed, I feel confident, I feel comfortable, and I can face the world feeling like this is really me, this is who I really am’.”

Nancy Dahlberg can be reached at [email protected] or @ndahlberg on Twitter.

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Models showcase gender-neutral swimwear made by Miami-based OutPlay. Handout

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