How I got started: Jesica Milton

Today’s entry is from Jesica Milton who we’ve enjoyed mentoring in the forum with many many people lending a hand. Jesica says her story is not so much about how she got her start as it is about how she’s getting started.
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I have always been one part entrepreneur, one part wannabe artist. I’ve started many micro businesses, and experimented with many artistic disciplines (charcoal drawings, oil painting, ceramics). In my mind it always seemed that you had to choose one path, you could have creativity, or you could make money. It never occurred to me that my two worlds could be combined. I chose to study business in college, I felt like it was the only logical choice at the time. Doing anything other than immediately attending college after high school graduation was frowned upon in my community.

After two years of community college I moved from my home town in California to Seattle and was accepted to the University of Washington. I planned to attend their business school. Unfortunately I wasn’t as happy or fulfilled as I should have been by the news of my acceptance. Thoughts of long nights studying and tens of thousands of dollars in student loans filled me with dread. I decided that if I had to pay for my education myself that I was going to spend the money on something I was passionate about. I never wanted to end up looking back on my life, regretting not having the courage to follow my heart. I applied and was accepted to a small fashion certificate program here in Seattle at the New York Fashion Academy. I dropped out of university before school even started and never looked back.

I got a full time day job to pay for school and took my fashion classes at night. The program I enrolled in was intense; I was often there 6-7 days a week for long hours on top of my 40 hour a week job. Of the 4 of us that started school together I was the only one who made it to the end. (Technically I still haven’t graduated, I have 2 projects to wrap up before I’m totally out the door) Our graduating thesis project was to create a line with 5-7 looks to be presented in a runway show. Everything from the patternmaking to the sewing to the model casting and styling all had to be done by me. The task was hard but I loved seeing the end result of all of my hard work. I got great feedback on my designs, including some free press and a lot of encouragement. It was a nice ego boost and it gave me the courage to begin trying to sell my clothing.

I opened an etsy store to try to unload my samples, and produce made to order pieces using fabric from retail stores and jobbers. I bought an expensive computerized serger to speed up my sewing time. I painstakingly hand graded my patterns on the dining room table. I quickly realized though that this just wasn’t a sustainable or profitable business model. I was eager to learn more about the “right” way to do things. Luckily I had some business education in my background… I knew enough to know that I didn’t know anything.

Kathleen’s book had been sitting in my Amazon wish list for a few months. I finally decided to buy it, and when it arrived I devoured the contents in 2 days. I joined the forum, I read all of the archives, I read the blog. I was thrilled to find so many answers to my questions and a community of other people to talk to. I began my journey to create a line and do things the “right” way. I set my sights on a launch for Fall of 2009, focusing on a 10 piece collection of luxury women’s wear to offer at wholesale to small boutiques.

I started working on my line in July of 07, now I’m quickly approaching the Fall 09 selling season – and to be honest I’m running late. Despite all of the good advice and many mistakes I avoided, I still made some bad choices through ignorance and inexperience. I should have done more research into branding and marketing earlier on (thank you Miracle for the wake up call). I’m still working on that right now, and it’s an added stress on top of trying to get my first line of samples to market. I should have made a firm decision on fabrics earlier instead of holding out for the “perfect” fabrics that I was searching for. I should have bought an industrial serger instead of a fancy home sewing version when I was first starting… but these are all learning experiences.

I have a very long way to go before I feel like I’m “there.” I don’t know what it will take before I feel like a legitimate business… a certain number of stores to sell in, a certain number of employees, a certain amount of revenue, the ability to quit my day job? I’m not sure. I’m a perfectionist so I will probably elevate my goals as fast as I can reach them.

The best advice I could offer somebody else starting along this path would be to always remain humble and kind. It’s no joke that this industry is built on relationships – and it’s a much smaller community than it seems to be when looking from the outside in.

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7 comments

  1. Leslie Hanes says:

    Sounds like you are determined…that’s actually most of the battle.
    Yes, it’s a small world. I can’t believe the friends I’ve made all over the world, and it’s like we’ve known each other forever. We have this creative gene in common, and while most would warn us to not share our secrets, the most amazing growth has come from doing just that.

    Leslie

  2. Valerie Burner says:

    I was happy to see that you wrote your story. I have seen some of your questions and the feedback in the forum, but I didn’t know you had been to fashion school. I know how you felt when you saw your designs coming down the runway. It really makes those all-nighters worthwhile! I look forward to seeing your line when you launch!

  3. Lisa B. in Portland says:

    Jesica, I met an instructor named Robert from the NY Fashion Academy when I went to the NW Fabric Show in Seattle in September. I have to dig up his email address so he won’t feel like I’m ignoring him, if he even remembers me. He was helping a student get some fabric for her collection.

    Thanks for writing your story!

  4. Vee Lee says:

    Hello Jessica,

    When I read your story, I giggled and smiled. “I painstakingly hand graded my patterns on the dining room table. ” That’s what I have done also. I can totally understand and know where you are coming from. I’m not nearly as far along as you are, but I’m determined to get there. Thanks. Your designs are beautiful, I wish you the best.

    Vee Lee

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