What I Wish I Knew Before Becoming CEO and Starting Descalzo Shows
Ashley-Victoria Smith, founder and producer of Descalzo Shows, a fashion show production company focused on women empowerment and working with female owned businesses and brands, helps small business owners find the tools and resources they need to grow, scale, and build their businesses, and ultimately themselves.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! What is your “backstory”?
In 2012, I was fed up with my underpaid, underappreciated, Director of Marketing 8–5, desk job that I decided to quit without any backup plans. I had been doing behind-the-scenes fashion show production for about two years by then and I knew that I wanted to bring something different to the table. That difference was to do a lingerie fashion show that focuses on WOMEN EMPOWERMENT to erase the taboo of lingerie being provocative, but rather as a statement for the woman wearing it; making her feel good.
I put together a theatrical lingerie fashion show with one of my good friends at the time with a $500 budget. We partnered with boutique lingerie stores and we showcased the most beautiful luxury pieces while telling a “star-crossed lovers story”. It was a hit. We sold out violating fire marshall code and donated ticket sales to a local breast cancer charity.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting story that happened to you since you started your company?
Really it’s the businesses that I first reached out to who told me no or no response, are now actually asking me to be involved. It’s like “hustle until your haters ask if you’re hiring” kinda thing.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I believe the company stands out because I genuinely care about the woman behind the brand and her well being. Being in a male dominated industry is hard enough and when you’re a business it doesn’t get any easier.
I want designers to know that when they register in our showcase, I am with them every step of the way. For many, this is their first show, so the nervousness and insecurities are even higher. I will help show them the ropes in putting together their models, run of show, etc…
Many producers have a team that does this for them so they can (obviously) focus on the logistics and production standpoint; however, I choose to do both.
Additionally, I am not competing with anyone, I am not trying to be like the other fashion show production companies out there; there’s nothing wrong with them but I feel that having a private, invite only show isolates the everyday woman who reads Elle, W, and other high end magazines that may not get invites to fashion shows but sure as hell BUYS what’s showcased on that runway. I want to give those women an opportunity to have a fun night out, meeting designers, experience the red carpet, shop the runway in person. This is also great for the designers because they can get direct feedback from actual customers & future clients.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
There’s actually two; one is Ryan Philemon who held my hand and stayed up late hours with me offering me more wine to calm down and know that our first production was going to awesome. The other is my late best friend Carolyn Colon, whom we lost to suicide; she pushed me to believe in myself, she took care of the back of house, taking care of expenses, helping models, encouraging other women to believe in themselves; it was her that kept me running when the coffee ran out. I wish I could tell her that today.
Are you working on any exciting projects now?
Always.. I have several large projects in the works that Descalzo Shows will reveal in Spring 2019.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
My Grandmother told me, when you can, give. Then money from the shows I give towards charities geared to help women; from breast cancer awareness to fighting human and sex trafficking. This year for Miami Swim Week, I am switching it up slightly to donate to The Humane Society.
Do you have a favorite book that made a deep impact on your life?
Yes and of all them, it’s #Girlboss.
Can you share a story? I picked up this copy back in 2015 at a gift shop at the Philadelphia Amtrak Station because I had 13 more hours to go before I was back home; and this book was a game changer for me. For one, I was going through a rough time with the lingerie shows due to uncomfortable businesses situation with men. I felt that I wasn’t where I was supposed to be in my career path (still working a full time job), and my relationship with my own man was just crumbling. I started reading this book and I cried because, I realized that us women aren’t so different. We all go through financial battles, personal battles, health crisis, bad relationships, etc… #Girlboss simply enlightened me to know that I am not alone in this entrepreneur ship (pun intended).
What do you “ wish someone told me before I started my company”?
Don’t try to be like everyone else. When I first started doing my lingerie shows, I wanted to be like New York Fashion Week, after three productions (while audience was now at 400 people), I still wasn’t getting the response for mainstream press and media. It took coffee on the Chelsea Pier with a very notable photographer in NYC to tell me this; “do you think NYFW cares what London FW is doing? Do you think Paris Fashion Week wants to be like London? No. You have to do what works for your city, your audience”… and that is legitimately my Oprah, ‘ah-ha’ moment. He then told me, “If we weren’t friends, I wouldn’t be talking to you right now because in NYC, time is money.” Jaw drop.
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?
I want a date night with Ellen DeGeneres (aka De Generous). Ellen has heart, has character, and more balls then some of these men ruining, I mean, running our country. I want to work with her in doing a show with real everyday women, not models, help them bring out something they never saw in themselves or too scared to. Tell them to know their worth add shipping and handling fees.