Most busy women understand what a challenge it is to find the perfect handbag – one that is comfortable, durable, stylish, and fits all your stuff! Jessica Ashdown decided to take matters into her own hands by designing and manufacturing a bag that met all of her needs. Ashdown now offers that bag and a line of others through her company Jessica Diane Ltd. Since 2014, the business has provided customers with high-end luxury handbags made in the United States from top-of-the-line leather and hardware.
Why did you start your business?
I have always wanted to own my own business. I went to business school for undergrad. After business school, I got my M.B.A. in marketing and management. Then, I got my law degree in intellectual property. I’ve always had a passion for marketing. I was raised learning about arts and crafts and selling. I always had an artistic side and a passion for business. I had been waiting for an idea I was passionate about so I could start a business.
When I went to school, I was always carrying around lots of bags. I would leave super-early in the morning and get home around 11 at night after studying. When I started working while I was going to school, I had all these errands I had to do. I would go to the gym. Then I would go to school. Then I would go to work. Then I might go back to school. Then I would go to happy hour. I was always carrying around all these things, and my shoulder was killing me. I was in the corporate world at that point, so it didn’t look cute to be carrying all these bags. I started the business out of a personal need that I had to have a quality bag that would last, that was cute, that could fit all my stuff, and that would look professional. That’s how I came up with the flagship bag.
How did you get the funds to get going?
I used personal savings. I’m also using money from my day job to fuel the business. We have a business credit card we utilize, as well. Right now, we don’t have any loans or credit lines, though that may change in the future.
Have you heard of business credit?
Yes. It’s really important to keep your business and personal credit separate for a variety of reasons. There are legal reasons; you need to protect yourself. That was my main motivation.
I also opened a business credit card so I could build my business credit up. I treat it just as importantly as my personal credit. Everything has to be paid on time. I try to reduce the balance as much as possible to reduce the amount of interest I’m paying.
Managing the Business
What’s most challenging about running your business?
The most challenging thing for us is that the fashion and design industry evolves very quickly. For small companies, it’s smart to start out slow. You don’t want to have too much inventory on hand or have too much investment in design. You have to really balance it out. The hardest thing is to evolve and grow with those restrictions and to learn fast enough. You have to be constantly learning.
Another challenge is to keep costs down so we can provide competitive pricing. That’s difficult for a small business because you’re buying smaller quantities at higher prices.
How do you finance your business to manage cash flow or growth?
I manage my business finances just as I would my personal finances. I’m always paying attention to what we have on hand. I’m always looking toward the future and projecting how much cash we’re going to need or what kind of a balance we’re going to have on the credit card.
Do you use trade credit from your vendors or suppliers?
I don’t. In the industry that I’m in, most vendors require cash upfront. If you want to pay your vendors with a credit card, they’ll often have an additional charge fee. This industry is so competitive, vendors can be very protective.
I’ve built up a good enough reputation with my manufacturer that he’s vouched for me if things needed to be done in a rush and there wasn’t time to have the check arrive in time, or whatever. He’s vouched for me and then I’ve paid after he’s picked up the product. It’s very important to have those strong relationships with your vendors. If you treat your vendors right, they’ll treat you right.
What’s the biggest mistake you made early on?
In this industry, it’s very hard to find pricing because everything’s customized. It’s hard to price stuff out and get an idea of what the costs are going to look like and what the initial investment is. I wish I had talked to more people in the design industry. I knew a lot of people in the retail industry and I learned a lot about that, but I wish I had learned more on the design end before starting. I think that would have been helpful for my initial forecasting.
What’s the smartest thing you did in your first year?
The smartest thing I’ve done is to constantly learn. I think it’s important to learn all aspects of your business inside and out. I learned how to manage, design, and update my website. It has to change so fast, I can’t rely on an outside vendor to do that. I tried that at the very beginning, but things were changing too quickly. It’s saved a lot of money and decreased my stress dramatically.
What’s the most rewarding thing about owning a business?
Watching your business come together and grow is amazing. Also, just knowing that you’re controlling your destiny and shaping your future is rewarding. Knowing that it’s all going to pay off and I will have more autonomy in the future is huge.
What does the future look like for your business?
We have some new product that will probably be coming out next year. We’re hoping not only to expand our product line but to expand our presence and branding. We’re going to be changing our website to make it more competitive. We’re working to get into boutiques and retail stores. We’re hoping to just continue to grow every single year.
What advice do you have for someone starting a business?
Always continue to learn. Always continue to seek out knowledge in your industry. Definitely keep your day job so you don’t have the stress of supporting yourself initially.