How Allison Mitchell Made the Leap from Philosophy Major to Fashion Designer

Allison Mitchell shares her experience going from life as a philosophy major to founding her own fashion line.

Estimated reading time: 4 minute(s)

As Richard Branson once said, “In the end, you have to say ‘Screw it. Just do it.’” That means ignore the naysayers, outwork the competition, and take any risks needed to ensure success.

Sometimes finding success means “just doing it” — even if you don’t exactly know how. By combining creativity and determination with the connections she established through her marketing career, Allison Mitchell has taken every challenge in stride and established a niche for herself in the cutthroat world of fashion.

2017 Arch Grant Recipient, Allison Mitchell, on choosing St. Louis to build her fashion business.

“Allison Mitchell embodies bravery. She goes after what she wants and is willing to do what it takes to get there, even if that means adapting to and embracing change,” says Ben Burke, Director of Entrepreneurship at Arch Grants.

“There’s a tendency to think that entrepreneurs are a ‘certain type,’ but there is no right type, just the right motivations. Allison is pursuing her own business because it is fun and exciting; she saw the opportunity and took it! Each of her customers is happier after their experience with her products. We all can learn a lot from her go getting spirit.”

Screw It, Just Do It

Allison Mitchell, founder of her eponymous handbag and accessories brand, has built her career around the mantra, ‘just do it.’ After studying philosophy in college, she briefly worked in marketing before following her passion and attending culinary school.

After a stint at the world-renowned Morimoto Napa, Mitchell moved home to Dallas with a mind to begin working for herself. Though she feared that she had “no idea what she was doing,” she decided to leave the culinary world and use her former marketing experience to launch her own digital agency specializing in marketing and branding for small business clients.

In only four years, Mitchell was handling over 50 client accounts with a small team of employees. “It was rough,” she admits, “but I grew so much as a person and a business owner. Without that experience, I wouldn’t have been able to grow my handbag business to where it is today.”

As her agency and reputation grew, Mitchell began attending networking events on a regular basis. As a result, she was faced with questions of what to wear, of what to carry, and how to present herself.

A lifelong lover of fashion, she dreamt of the perfect bag for these events: a big oversized clutch — “something more punchy… more unexpected… more me,” she says. Unable to find anything on the market that matched her vision, she decided to go out on a limb and create it by hand.

Jumping into Fashion

Mitchell’s first bag — an oversized clutch in vinyl, held together with hot glue — was the starting point for her business. “People started asking me, stopping me on the street to find out where I got it,” she says.

After a local boutique told her it would happily stock her handbags, Mitchell reached out to a local Dallas seamstress to help her produce her first order. Eventually, as demand grew, Mitchell moved her manufacturing to New York City, where she continues to produce her line today.

“There was a steep learning curve,” Mitchell admits. “The hardest part was learning how to efficiently and effectively communicate my design ideas to make my products. I had to learn to speak their language – I brought little clay models of the bags to my first meeting, not knowing that I needed sketches with exact dimensions!”

Allison Mitchell the label has always been a learning process, and it still is. Without a design school background, Mitchell relied on her real world experience in running her first business as education. More importantly, however, she had the confidence and courage to be bold and follow her dream. These virtues have helped her thrive in an industry driven by innovation and creativity.

Leaping into St. Louis

It was only recently that Mitchell made the boldest decision for her brand: moving to St. Louis.

“For both my husband and I, St. Louis was initially a hard sell,” Mitchell admits. “Neither of us have family in the area, and we weren’t sure that it was the right choice for a fashion business.”

But visits to St. Louis convinced Mitchell that her business could thrive there. She changed her tune after exploring the city’s burgeoning fashion scene.

“St. Louis is on the cusp of a new wave of artistic development,” Mitchell explains. “Designers are coming here to serve the flourishing market for higher-end goods, and plenty of influential people are ready to support those artists.”

But what sold the city was the connections that entrepreneurship organizations like the St. Louis Fashion Fund and Arch Grants could offer her: “I saw that I could continue to develop my brand in New York without paying the premium of living there.”

Don’t Let Fear Talk You Out of Your Own Ability

It seems that St. Louis is doing Mitchell – and the Allison Mitchell brand – proud. Mitchell recently launched her latest collection, complete with bold bags in a number of innovative shapes and hides, including a striking asymmetrical yellow calfskin bucket purse.

Mitchell is using her Arch Grant to fulfill orders from retail partners for her Fall/Winter 2018 collection, which will available in stores in September. In-house sample development promises to significantly cut costs, so as the business grows, her plan is to integrate sample development in St. Louis by hiring her own manufacturing team.

“It is my hope to use St. Louis as a central operations location for in-house sample development, inventory storage, and product shipment.”

Mitchell continues to fearlessly pursue her vision. As an early entrant into the fashion startup ecosystem in St. Louis, it hasn’t always been easy adjusting to her new locale and her new life. But due to her unwavering confidence in her own abilities and a deep commitment to her dreams, Mitchell has never shied away from any challenge.

Her greatest advice? “Just do things and then course-correct later. Don’t wait until everything is perfect, because that can be fear talking.”

The Arch Grants 2018 Global Startup Competition is open now! FINAL APPLICATION DEADLINE: May 15th, 2018