“Be Prepared to Sacrifice a Lot” The 5 Lessons I Learned Being a 20-Something Founder

I had the pleasure of interviewing Samantha Brown, founder of the boutique styling agency, Samantha Brown Style. Samantha is a world renowned celebrity and personal stylist who works with men and women to refine their style, level-up their wardrobe and simplify the process of getting dressed. Her styling credits include Vogue, Harpers Bazaar, Glamour, GQ, Neiman Marcus, Bloomingdales and many more.

Jean: Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory” of how you become a founder?

I launched my business in 2010, only two years out of college. I had a background in retail and editorial styling but there was no clear roadmap to becoming a stylist. It’s something that I always dreamed about, from the time I worked in the closet at Nylon and watched the stylists coming through to coordinate their shoots. With encouragement from my sister Erin Brown, owner of Diamer Fine Jewelry, I decided to launch a clothing consignment business called The Missing Piece. This was the first step into my personal styling career; since I was cleaning out my consignors closets, I already knew the brands they gravitated toward, their typical clothing spend, and how they related to their wardrobes. After two years in business that I describe as my days as a “shmata lady”, I became frustrated with hauling my rack of clothing through the streets of New York to sell at the flea markets and tired of photographing and listing products on my website. I was living in a studio apartment with the wardrobes of 40+ people, and I knew I needed to change my business model.

I came across a small ad for a styling course taught by Stacy London, and my hands were shaking as I wrote out the check to sign up (at the time, it cost $750 and was a major expense for me). Training with Stacy changed my life and helped me to completely redirect my business into personal styling services. I was recruited into her agency, Style for Hire, where I began my work with private clients. I kept my business running and taking on clients of my own, and I eventually rebranded as Samantha Brown Style.

Jean: What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

You can’t swing a Chanel bag in this city without hitting another stylist. Everyone can wake up and say that they love clothing and decide that they are now a stylist. Retailers have even branded their sales associates as personal stylists, so the title carries very little legitimacy.

I believe that my company stands out because my company is quite literally, me. I answer every phone call. I cultivate and maintain every relationship. At the end of the day, there’s nobody behind me to keep this afloat. I’ve built my business on credibility and authenticity — two things that I take extremely seriously. Personal styling is one of the most intimate experiences you can have — once you’re standing in your underwear in your closet or a fitting room. It is so important that the client always feels at ease. This sort of relationship takes a lot of trust, compassion and expertise. Sometimes my job has nothing to do with the clothing, really. It’s all about how my clients feel when they look good. They project confidence, they are comfortable and they’re ready to achieve their goals. Whether it’s getting a promotion, finding a partner or just feeling at ease in their body, I’m very grateful to be a part of those processes with them.

My company also differs from other styling companies because of my service offering. I work with individuals as well as on corporate, commercial, editorial and advertorial campaigns. I am a one stop shop for anything relating to getting people dressed.

Jean: Are you working on any exciting projects now?

The beauty of my business is that I’m always working on an exciting project! I can look at my calendar and have no idea what I’m doing next week, and suddenly a call comes in and I’m on a plane somewhere. I love the spontaneity of my field (although it definitely wears on my friends and family that I can rarely 100% commit to anything social…)

This year I’ve worked on commercials from NYC to LA, runway shows for Bloomingdales and Macy’s, a campaign for Nikon, and a lecture series in Southeast Asia. It’s always a wild ride, and I’m incredibly grateful for every minute of it.

Jean: Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life? Can you share a story?

If you can believe it, I still buy and read actual books! No tablet here. Two of my industry favorites are “You Are What You Wear” for clear insight into the psychology of clothing and “The Asylum” because Simon Doonan can make me laugh hysterically when reading in public.

Jean: What are your “5 Lessons I Learned as a Twentysomething Founder” and why? Please share a story or example for each.

1. You have to get really, really good at what you’re doing. I spent many years in the beginning calling myself an “expert”. I actually think this served me well in my career, because if you convince yourself of something you will make it happen. That being said, you need to fuel your career with hard work and passion. There is absolutely no shortcut to success. Someone once told me it takes ten years to become an overnight success. Truer words have never been spoken!

2. Think before you speak. I get excited and impulsive at times and have made quick decisions — like quoting a day rate before understanding the scope of the project. A wonderful mentor of mine, Suzy Jurist (owner of SJI Associates), once told me to slow down and think. There’s nothing wrong with telling a potential client that you need to consider the project and get back to them. Then, once you’re ready to speak, know your worth. A close friend and colleague, Jenni Shaw (owner of Shaw + Co), always encourages me to ask for more. As women, we have a bad habit of underselling ourselves. Once you know your worth, don’t settle for anything less.

3. Be prepared to sacrifice a lot. While everyone else was brunching their way through the weekends, I was up at 5am to drag my clothing rack to the Hell’s Kitchen Flea Market. While everyone else was bar hopping, I was so physically exhausted from carrying garment bags across Manhattan that I’d pass out on my couch. There is no way to build a business without some sort of sacrifice in the beginning, and I believe this is why so many businesses fail. People will look and say “your job is so glamorous” with no idea what it’s like to crawl on the floor tying someone’s shoelaces or the backbreaking schlep that we go through daily. Every business will have the necessity for sacrifice, which is why you truly need to love what you do in order to be successful at it. Focus on your growth and celebrate the small milestones. You need to pause and pat yourself on the pack every now and then — when you’re a founder you’re sort of like a magician…creating opportunity from thin air!

4. It sounds so cliche but everything really does happen for a reason. The worst client I’ve ever had who makes “The Devil Wears Prada” look like a fairytale, led me to the best jobs I’ve ever had with a team that I’ve grown to love as family. I joke with those colleagues that we “found love in a hopeless place”, but hang in there for the tough stuff — something worthwhile usually comes of it.

5. You must find a network of people who have your back. Starting a business will take everything from you and you need to protect your business like it’s your baby. Your relationships with friends, partners and family will probably change. Surround yourself with supportive people who understand your priorities and will root for your success. Those are the people you want around you in the long run. This is a painful lesson, but an important one.

Jean: Some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might see this. :-)

Oh my goodness what a great question! Ashley Longshore is an artist with an incredible sense of humor that I really adore and I think a date with her would be a blast.

— Published on June 27, 2018