Vienne Cheung Brown is the founder of Vienne Milano, a luxury hosiery brand dedicated to thigh-high stockings made in Italy. Brown founded the fashion e-commerce company in 2011 out of necessity. “The reason why I started it was because, at the time, I wasn’t able to find thigh-highs that would stay up on my leg. Everything I found was either costume-wear or just not high quality. I knew that there was this type of product in Italy. I thought this was a tremendous business opportunity and something for me to get into,” she said. “It really all began because of my own selfish reasons for wanting access to high-quality thigh-high stockings.”
Starting the Company
My background is in fine arts and I also have an M.B.A. Prior to starting VienneMilano, I worked in high-tech. I was in product management. I just didn’t see myself working in corporate America forever and ever. But, being a woman in corporate America, I knew that I needed to wear hosiery every day. I’ve always wanted to start my own business and I’ve always loved fashion. I used my 30th birthday as a milestone for me to start a business.
Financing the Business
I didn’t take out any loans. I had some personal savings and I also found an investor who put some money into the business. From there, we haven’t taken any loans, we’ve bootstrapped it. We pay vendors on normal terms, like 30 to 60 days. We use credit cards to pay vendors, but we do not use credit cards to purchase things we cannot afford. We do not use credit cards to borrow money. Therefore, it’s important to have a budget to manage cash flow. We spend money based on whatever I’ve budgeted. I try to look out at least a year in advance with our budget.
Rewards and Challenges
The most rewarding and challenging thing about running a business is the people. The rewarding part is finding good people who you want to show up to work with and who you are inspired by. But, it’s also challenging to find people like that as well! It’s very, very difficult to find and retain talent.
One mistake we had made was when we started, many of our producers had said that in the American market, most women would only buy black stockings. I said, “That can’t be it. I’m an American woman, too, and I love colors!” So, in one of our previous collections, we launched all of these fabulous, vibrant colors thinking, “Oh, yeah, this is going to be great!” But, it turned out that our producers were right. Black is our No. 1 best seller today. That was something we just had to learn along the way. I guess not every woman is excited about wearing vibrant-colored hosiery. But, in the future, that doesn’t mean we’re never going to create hosiery with bright colors. I think it means that we just need to do it in a smart way so that we can market it correctly.
I think exclusively selecting Italy as the source of our products was pretty smart, because it makes us stand out. In the long run, the quality of our products is just better.
Advice to New Entrepreneurs
Meet as many people as you possibly can. Finding good talent is very hard. But, you’re never going to find them unless you go out there and proactively look for them. It’s a numbers game: The more people you meet, the more likely you are to find good people.
What’s Next for VienneMilano
We’re currently working on our fall collection. We do have a little bit of color and we’ll have more embellishments added to our collection. Right now, I’m focused on launching that.