Ashley Victoria Smith is the founder of Descalzo Shows, a fashion show production company that helps small businesses and designers showcase their brands at larger-scale events. “I want them to have big opportunities without breaking the bank,” she said. “Descalzo” means barefoot in Spanish, a fitting name, since the company focuses predominately on luxury lingerie and swimwear brands.
Why did you start your company?
In 2010, I was a marketing director for a modeling agency. I became close with a fashion show company that allowed our models to work at their shows. Through that, I got interested in the back-of-house logistics for fashion shows. I realized I wanted to be able to do my own productions. I wanted to do something different.
In 2013, I decided to do lingerie fashion shows. I don’t have fashion sense, but I love swimwear and I love lingerie. By partnering with local boutiques, I did my first show by showcasing lingerie from a new perspective, different than something like Victoria’s Secret. I wanted women to know that they could buy lingerie for themselves to feel empowered.
I worked exclusively with lingerie for a while. A few years later, I decided I wanted to experience swimwear because most lingerie designers and manufacturers I was working with had swimwear lines. I did my first swim show to see what the industry was about. That’s how everything started coming together. Around the same time, I had a rude awakening about some business partners. We parted ways and I rebranded everything to focus on my initial goal of empowering women and working with small businesses.
How did you fund the company at the start?
My first show was for a breast cancer charity. I had $500 donated by people who believed in the cause. We advertised by word of mouth and used a storytelling approach that helped us sell tickets. We had a lot of in-kind sponsors. The venue didn’t charge us because they had just opened and were happy we were bringing 300 people there. We partnered with a boutique and used their pieces, so that wasn’t a charge for us. We had volunteers to work the event. We used the $500 to purchase the website and to get a few sponsored posts on Facebook.
Managing the Company
How do you manage cash flow?
Some fashion show companies are fortunate enough to have money in the bank to buy out a venue for a show upfront. I’m not there yet, so I scout venues and calculate the costs. That allows me to set prices for designers and sponsorship tiers. Then I know that once three designers are signed up, I can pay in full for the venue. I don’t put out any money until the sponsors and the designers pay me.
What’s the most challenging thing about running the company?
It’s difficult to get designers to understand how a fashion show can benefit them, especially when they are running a small business. Designers that are not business savvy don’t know how to utilize a show correctly. They don’t understand that it’s not just about selling pieces, but that a fashion show might expose them to another business or allow them to network with a celebrity photographer – They’re not seeing the bigger picture. Some designers who have done shows in the past might not have seen the results they wanted, so they’re much more cautious about making that investment again. It’s hard to get them to understand the value and the potential return on investment from the networking opportunities.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running the company?
The freedom. I am able to take a trip without asking an employer to approve my request. Everything is done virtually, so I can pack up and leave any time I want while still doing business.
What I’ve Learned
What’s the biggest mistake you made when you were starting out?
I made so many mistakes. But, if I didn’t make them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I’ve lost friends, I’ve lost money, I’ve lost relationships with other businesses. Those things had to happen for me to learn and to grow. They also helped me hone in on what Descalzo Shows is really about.
What’s the smartest thing you did when you were starting out?
I kept is simple and small for the first two years. People think of big glamour and big celebrities and big advertising when they think of fashion shows. But, you can’t do that without starting small. You need to leave room for improvement and growth.
What advice would you give to a new entrepreneur?
It has to come from the heart. Don’t be led by the money. If you’re not genuinely passionate about it, your business is going to fail. If you continuously put your passion and dreams out there, people will see what it means to you and they will help you.
What’s next for Descalzo Shows?
We are doing a swim and resort wear show for New York next February. Expanding into New York fashion is a big move for us. We also have Miami Swim Week on our books.