Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in a clothing line but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Stella Carakasi, co-founder of Stella Carakasi DTC Inc., located in Berkeley, CA, USA.
What's your business, and who are your customers?
Stella Carakasi DTC Inc. is a direct-to-consumer women's clothing brand rooted in inclusivity, sustainability, and quality. We focus on women that have been left out of the fashion conversation and feel invisible due to age, body shape, and size. We are committed to empowering women through comfortable and stylish clothing that fits their bodies and lifestyle.
Tell us about yourself
My business partners and I launched our first clothing brand, Two Star Dog Inc., in early 1993. TSD was the first company in the US to introduce a full collection of men's and women's clothing made of hemp, which was extremely controversial at that time. We were early eco-fashion disruptors during a time when being sustainable was unheard of. It is very encouraging to witness how far sustainability awareness has come over the past 30 years. We are proud to have played a major role in this movement alongside with all the other smaller companies and activists that helped pave the way to reach mainstream awareness. TSD eventually evolved into the Stella Carakasi wholesale brand in 2012 with distribution across the US, Canada, and Australia before re-launching as a direct-to-consumer brand in late 2018.
It was a major decision and a huge financial setback to re-launch as a direct-to-consumer brand, but I was fried out, producing over 200 new styles annually across eight collections. The pace was insane, and we found ourselves in a rut where no matter what we designed was never good enough, fast enough, cheap enough. The rise of fast fashion threw a lot of brands into a downward spiral where they felt they had to compete in order to exist. After re-evaluating our values, which have always been rooted in sustainability, quality, and inclusion, it was time to reset the business and align our mission with our values.
Furthermore, after connecting with thousands of women over the span of my 30-year fashion career, I saw the disconnection in what the fashion industry was telling women. The message was not resonating with me and the many women I met, so I set out to re-launch and create an inclusive clothing brand where a size 20/22 can shop the same way a size 2/4 can without having to call the larger sizes "plus-size," which is still associated with body shaming.
Inclusivity to us means designing clothing in a size continuum without separating "regular size" from "plus-size." Considering the average American woman is a size 16 these days, I believe that most fashion brands need to wake up and start designing accordingly, instead of focusing on the slim "ideal" hourglass figure that only accounts for less than 20% of the female population and they need to understand that "regular sizes" do not stop at size 12/14 which is still the case with most brands. Women of all shapes, ages, and sizes deserve to be seen because they are a force, and their voices are finally being heard across all sectors of life, including fashion.
Shopping for clothing should never become a frustrating or humiliating experience, especially when brands don't offer the size needed. Our obsession with quality and fit results in comfortable, stylish, and timeless designs. We love creating a fashionable antidote to the limited aesthetic variety that has long dominated this apparel sector, where styles are being produced without empathy for the environment and marketed to a youth-obsessed demographic.
My mission has evolved into empowering women through clothing that transforms the way they feel in their skin that is truly powerful. Not being ruled by anything of the moment or trends allows us to create timeless designs that work within a closed collection system that makes getting dressed easy. Not only is this a much more sustainable approach to design, but it exemplifies that you do not need many clothes to create a wide variety of looks, as shown on our Looks We Love page.
What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?
My biggest accomplishment as a business owner is the fact that I am still in business after close to 30 years. My business partners and I still get along, which is not an easy task to accomplish, considering the extreme highs and lows and endless challenges.
What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?
Being in business is not for the faint of heart because you constantly live in the discomfort zone, pushing against boundaries and the unknown. Going into business means giving up all sense of security and risking losing it all while trying to realize a dream. It takes enormous commitment, sacrifice, and a solid vision to overcome the many hurdles that litter the path of business ownership. One needs to remain flexible and constantly adjust the direction in order to reach the goal. Most important is understanding that being in business is a journey and not a destination. Make sure to make the journey count.
What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?
- What is your why? Get clear.
- Make sure you have product/ market fit.
- Surround yourself with people that know more than you and keep a beginner's mindset.
Is there anything else you'd like to share?
Yes, when your desire to start a business becomes a driving force in your heart, go for it but make sure you have a plan and then commit to seeing it through.
And to all the women our there, still struggling with self-acceptance, not able to embrace their own perfection, as they are, try to quite the inner self-critic and give yourself permission to step into your power, which looks much better on you than self-doubt.
Clothing is just a tool to lift one's spirit, and my designs are just one creative expression to help do so. Thank you for the opportunity to share my passion with you all! Stella
Where can people find you and your business?
If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solopreneur that you'd like to share, then email firstname.lastname@example.org; we'd love to feature your journey on these pages.
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