Victoria Nelson and Olga Gomonova are the founders of Chic Cartel, an ethical and sustainable clothing company that sells high-quality items like jewelry, sweaters, and dresses at affordable prices. On running the business, Gomonova said, “There are a lot of lows in entrepreneurship, but there are also a lot of highs. When you have the highs, they are really quite amazing.”
Why did you start the company?
Nelson: I’m a fashion photographer. I worked in advertising my whole life, shooting very big companies. I always felt like I wanted to do that same quality of work for a company that stands for empowering women and making ethical and sustainable clothing. There wasn’t a company out there that was making sustainable clothing that looked really attractive. When you don’t find something is available on the market, you just want to make it. So, that’s how it started for me.
Gomonova: Victoria and I paired up because we have very complementary skill sets. She had been in a creative field for her entire career and I had more of a business background. I worked for Fortune 500 companies for a really long time. I have a Harvard Business School degree. I’ve spent most of my time developing skills around fundraising and technology. I always wanted to do something on my own because it’s so much more exciting than working for somebody else. When we met, it was a very fortuitous moment because I had access to financing and Victoria had an idea. We both felt it was the right time, so we just kind of jumped in.
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How did you finance the company at the start?
Gomonova: With my background, I had a lot of avenues to talk to people who invest in young companies. I also did a project for a venture capital fund. Through the relationships I was able to develop there, we were able to raise a seed round of financing to launch the company.
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting out?
Nelson: Starting a business is all about making mistakes. Whenever you’re creating something new, you have no way of knowing how it’s going to go. I feel like any startup at any stage has to accept that mistakes will happen. For us, we expected too much too soon. What we didn’t understand was that it’s a much longer run. You need to work much harder and longer.
Gomonova: It’s very important to test every single thing you want to implement before investing in it. What happens sometimes is that you think something is correct and you spend too much time and money on it, only to find out that the solution to your problem lies somewhere else. Until something is proven right, you should question it from the start.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting the company?
Nelson: We didn’t carry any inventory. We created a drop-ship platform that actually allowed us to test things. It allowed our customers to take a look at a large variety of items and then, based on what they decided to purchase, curate the rest of the platform.
Running the Business
How do you manage cash flow in the business?
Gomonova: We use Xero, an online platform, to record all of our transactions. It’s nothing sophisticated. Our accountant does the rest of the work.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
Nelson: In a startup, the biggest challenge is to keep on going. Organizational motivation is something we’re constantly working on. The No. 2 challenge is brand awareness – Getting people to know why we do what we do, why our products are different, and why they should be shopping with us.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
Gomonova: The excitement when something goes right! And the realization that when something is going right, that is directly proportional to the efforts you put into it. When you can fully take ownership for building something from the ground-up, you really get a lot of rewards from that.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
Gomonova: It’s very important to surround yourself with the right mentors and people who have done what you’re doing before. You don’t want to make mistakes and waste time and money. A shortcut around any problem is to ask someone who is knowledgeable and who has done it before.
What’s next for Chic Cartel? Nelson: We have a new awesome collection for spring launching. I personally love every item in it! We’re going to be expanding and showing more dresses and items on our website, and I hope the clients are going to love it!
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