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Nanette Lepore’s Lessons on Business Building

The designer was the keynote speaker at ACG New York’s Women of Leadership Summit.

“If you want to start your own business, your own labor is worth zero,” Nanette Lepore told attendees at ACG New York’s Women of Leadership Summit.

Lepore, the keynote afternoon speaker, wanted attendees to know that they’re initially not going to get some big paycheck every week.

Given that reality, Lepore said, an entrepreneur can succeed provided “you love what you do” and “you do it with a passion.”

In starting her business, the designer noted that she “always think[s] small. I don’t want to get paralyzed. I do what I can handle. I still operate my business in small chunks.” That kind of control and oversight, she said, gives her an advantage: “I like to learn from my mistakes so I never do it again.”

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Production for the sportswear business is done in America, particularly in New York. “I like to manufacture in America. At my price points, I can manufacture in America and still make a profit,” she said. Lepore also explained that the smaller volume that’s done here gives her more control over the business, whether it’s better fabrications because they can’t be shipped to China, better fit in general or just producing what is needed as it’s needed.

At the event held at the Time Life Conference Center here on Thursday, Lepore also spoke about possible outside investors from the private equity community. She noted how before the 2008 downturn there was one possibility that never closed because it involved bringing in a new chief executive officer who only wanted to work two days a week. That led to a rethinking of the process with a second potential investor because Lepore wanted final say over who can be fired, noting that she wanted to protect her employees, many of whom have been with the company for years.

As for the criteria for an attractive investor, Lepore said: “Someone who will work with us as we are for six months to a year and see who we are, and not just [someone who will] come in and bulldoze the company. I want to keep the essence of the company.”

She noted that an investor could help the company expand, perhaps globally, and move into the jeans and T-shirt space. Lepore said she is meeting next week with individuals from Dubai regarding expansion there. She also said additional investment might allow the company to expand its footwear and handbag businesses, help with a license on accessories and with factory connections and sourcing in the jeans and T-shirts categories.