Estimated reading time: 5 minute(s)
Lia Glynias runs LAUNCH, a fashion boutique in The Hill neighborhood of St. Louis. Her career has taken her from her hometown of St. Louis to moving to New York City where she learned about data-driven storefronts at the GAP, to working at a fashion startup, to managing a showroom for a fashion importer in the NYC Garment District.
Her decision to make St Louis home again was influenced by her experience at St Louis Fashion Week in the fall of 2015. After brining a rack of samples to showcase at the event, Glynias did 35 sales transactions totalling over $5,000 in sales and met with over 100 customers in one day.
The critical mass to build a thriving business was here, so in June 2016, she opened her own boutique in St. Louis. I sat down with Glynias to learn more about her story and the experiences that shaped her sales-driven attitude from the outset and how being sales-driven was the confidence factor that inspired her to open her own boutique.
A Retail Journey in New York City Begins
Glynias’s career has taught her that if you balance your focus with selling, instead of solely on designing and the creative process, you can become a successful fashion entrepreneur.
“Everything in that store was driven by data,” Glynias stated. At 24 years old, after spending her high school years working at the GAP in St. Louis, Glynias accepted a transfer to the 34th Street GAP store in Manhattan.
It was there that she saw first-hand that fashion design is only one part of the equation of a successful business. She found herself in the middle of the testing ground for maternity and baby clothing and learned that the strategic business decisions that drive sales, such as merchandising and store displays, are only two factors that make a fashion business successful, and not only the fashion design process.
For Glynias, it was fascinating to observe that sales are affected significantly just by where products were placed on the shelves or store displays. She saw spikes in commercial activity moving around the country working at different GAP stores of various sizes from the small GAP store in Columbia, Missouri, to slightly larger GAP in the St. Louis Galleria, to gigantic $54 million per year GAP store on 34th Street, the highest volume store in the entire GAP company.
Side Hustling at a Startup
Two years after she moved to New York, in 2006, Glynias dedicated herself to doing grassroots sales for a body jewelry startup in Williamsburg, Brooklyn who was using cold calling and catalog sales to create a customer base.
“She was the closest friend I had in New York City and she was starting a business” Glynias recalled. Glynias had decided to start working with another a St. Louisan turned New Yorker, Vanessa Nornberg, at her fashion startup, Bombshell Accessories, in addition to her full-time job at the GAP.
At the time, Glynias was excited of the thrill of doing something new. The startup world was a very different part of the fashion world, far away from the sterile, corporate world she knew at the GAP.
Plus, their five-person startup team was like a family, and they were all in it together to build everything from the ground-up. Glynias sharpened her sales skills there from a warehouse in Williamsburg and later in their Manhattan Garment District offices.
“We would go to whitepages.com, type in ‘tattoo shop’, pick a state, then cold call each one to see if they were interested in one of Vanessa’s body jewelry catalogs.”
Changing Business Strategy from Designer to Importer
At 28 years old, Glynias had stellar sales skills and managed a book of 1,500 customers, 7 sales reps and major accounts including Nordstroms and Neiman Marcus Catalog.
A year after Glynias started working at Roni Rabl, a showroom in New York City’s Garment District, the company’s president decided that the future of the brand was to change their business strategy from designing clothes to importing clothing from European fashion designers to sell in the United States.
Glynias was promoted to Sales Director, which meant that, twice a year, they would go to trade shows in Europe–primarily Paris and Germany. Glynias also covered the major U.S. Fashion Markets in New York, Los Angeles, Las Vegas, Dallas, Atlanta and Chicago. They started buying lines in France, Israel, Germany, and Italy and this was her first experience working in the international fashion landscape directly with international fashion designers turned business partners.
Working with Global Manufacturers
Aside from working with international fashion designers, Glynias’s experience working with clothing factories abroad, mostly through email, helped her learn a lot about communication and cultural expectations.
“I had received a package of swatches–maybe a dozen or two dozen colors from Paris, gris, tabacc, graphite, chocolat, etc. They were all grey. Twelve different shades of grey. To the French this was a palette. I worked with different factories in China who would agree to any request–at times things they could not deliver. The American expectation of “under-promise and over-deliver” was in opposition to their cultural practice of compliance with customer requests. I just had to learn to grow slowly with new partners until we had a feel for each other’s nuances so we could decrease mis-communication and increase efficiency.”
It also helped her establish the expectation that while developing relationships with new manufacturers, whatever product she’d get back from the factories, after back-and-forth emailing, could be a total surprise.
Glynias learned how to work with jewelry manufacturers abroad at Bombshell Accessories. Vanessa taught her to stick with the kinks in the process of onboarding a new global factory partner.
Typically, her process to quality-check a factory would start with a small sample test of about 120 units of jewelry compared to production orders that could be 500-16,000 pieces per style on purchase orders of hundreds of thousands of units.
Once they started working with a new jewelry factory partner, it took time and trial-and-error in the product development process to get the perfect jewelry products they wanted. Since a lot of time went into developing this relationship with the factory over several years, it was important to them to keep those factory relationships strong and safe.
I could relate to Glynias on this point of working in international fashion, knowing that working with the right suppliers abroad can be a difficult process if you don’t have the right guidance.
That’s why my startup, MakersValley connects fashion designers with Italian apparel manufacturers, through a dedicated account manager who helps manage quality and communication throughout the private label manufacturing process.
Saint Louis Fashion Week Success
Glynias’s remarkable career trajectory from the shop floor to the showroom underlines how important it is to get out there and partner up with business-minded individuals. They can help you drive your sales and make your business goals a reality.
Returning to St. Louis with strong relationships with both manufacturers and fashion designers, Glynias’s business acumen and industry instincts made the decision to open her own boutique seamless. She now imports clothing from fashion designers all over the world.
Glynias’s business advice to fashion entrepreneurs is to focus on how you can build an effective sales strategy.
“St. Louis has a lot of focus on public relations and collaborations…. A designer should understand what their client needs, then look at what they’re designing, and find a marriage between the two. Success equals soul and statistics. When art and business balance, the sky’s the limit.”
You can check out Glynias’s selection of designs from around the world at LAUNCH, 2008 Marconi Ave, St. Louis, MO 63110 or shop her online store.