Back to the Beginning—BURU's First Year
WHY did we start?
HOW did we start?
WHAT we learned from our "funny mistakes" along the way!
[get the Buru scoop below]
I caught the fashion bug early in life. In fact, I can't remember a time when I wasn't a bit obsessed with wardrobing people—myself, my mother, my Barbies... It's always been a part of me. It's how I creatively express myself to the world.
When I became a mother at 32, Brett and I had just moved back from a four year stint in Beijing. Not only was I coming off of a "wear whatever the heck I want" high, I was completely unprepared for the "moms only wear this" mindset I came home to find.
If clothes aren't your thing, then great.
If they are, then why should motherhood interfere?
I wanted to offer a solution for the latter.
The BURU wheels started turning.
As I got deeper into mom life (1 month kind of gives you the overall idea), I began to discover how the mom style mindset came to be. Breastfeeding alone requires a completely different set of wardrobe needs (aka why we named the business BURU) and don't even get me started on the spit-up!
I searched for clothes that worked, for websites that spoke to mothers beyond the bump and for stores that continued to cater to women beyond the age of 21, not named Talbots and Chicos. I couldn't find them.
Brett was spending everyday with me and Olive at the time, and he personally witnessed my daily style struggles—so when I suggested that perhaps we should start a business to help mamas get their grooves back—he swiftly got on board!
I suppose that is the WHY in a nutshell.
Now onto the HOW—always trickier than the WHY.
(above: our first NYFW)
HOW we started always makes me laugh a little.
We are not the kind of start-up people who pen and re-pen a business-plan for months. Of course we researched, thought of all the different directions the business could take, but in the end, how (and specifically when) we actually started was a little bit of an accident, but at the time, it seemed the universe was telling us to go for it—so we did.
In our earliest discussions about BURU, we felt 100% that our platform should be web. We also strongly believed that we were not quite ready to take on manufacturing (while learning e-commerce at the same time) so we decided to curate styles from other established brands.
Having come from the wholesale world before (in my Passport Panties days for those who knew me way back when) I felt confident that we should head to market to hunt for brands...and maybe hit up NYFW while we were at it—all in the name of research!
(above: me pumping at our 1st coterie...behind a random curtain)
We arrived at Coterie (one of the largest contemporary RTW wholesale markets—where brands like Rachel Pally, Hunter Bell, Rebecca Minkoff, etc show their wares) on a cold February day. We had our research in hand of the brands we wanted to see and chat with about becoming retail partners. As luck would have it, one of the brands from the top of our "want" list was the first booth we saw.
With all the totally clueless confidence in the world, we bopped in, introduced ourselves, passed a very janky business card (aka rushed overnight job that looked NOTHING like our current branding) to the sales girl in the front and began to tell her our story.
DEER IN HEADLIGHTS.
"So you want maternity clothes??", the 22ish brunette beauty asked us. "We do NOT sell that!"
She was definitive.
"Oh, no. So sorry. We are looking for clothes that cater to a mom's busy lifestyle—comfortable, washable, easy access—", I tried to explain. She stopped me mid-sentence.
"Easy access for what?" 22ish brunette beauty was totally perplexed.
"For breastfeeding," I replied. (I don't want to use the word disgust here per se, but the face she made was not a pleasant one.
Annoyed and still confused she asked, "Well, what other brands do you carry currently?"
This is where things really went down hill.
"Actually, we've just arrived and we're looking to bring on new brands now as the site is currently being built (not entirely true) and will be ready for launch in the fall (also not entirely accurate)," Brett chimed in.
"Okay. I see. How about you come back when you actually have a business? Mmm—kay?" her condescension was suffocating.
10 minutes in. We felt defeated. We spent the next few hours walking the show, but our mojo was gone. The courage to chat with other brands about carrying their lines was shattered. Then, a small miracle happened.
As we rounded the corner of the 1-millionth row of booths, I saw a familiar face.
Rebecca Minkoff herself.
We met years ago when she launched her "Morning After Bag" when her team reached out to gift Passport Panties inside each bag during her press preview.
We shared updates on our lives, and at the end of the convo, I gave her the BURU spiel. As a breastfeeding mama herself, she got it. She liked it. She agreed to vouch for us. And so, we had our first brand.
Armed with the phrase, "We carry Rebecca Minkoff", we had no problems getting brands to sell to us at that point.
So we bought and we bought and we bought. If they said yes, we bought.
Perhaps now is the perfect time to segway into our "funny mistakes" made during that first year.
We bought TOO much, and we bought "best sellers". If you're a buyer, this is a bit of a trap. Just because it's a best seller among other buyers does not mean that the consumer will want it. When I look back at our "slow moving stock", it was filled with styles we were pushed into.
We didn't take the washable game as seriously as we should have. We looked for it, but we didn't always stick to it. Big mistake. Huge. "We had to go dry-cleaning now..."
We assumed, per Field of Dreams teachings, that if we build it, they will come. The sheer existence of a website does not mean that shoppers will come. Beyond your family and closest friends, it takes CONSTANT work and creative strategies to get people to a website.
We thought we really knew what moms would want, when in fact, it was mostly what I wanted. Ha. Ha. As a buyer and now designer, of course I want to keep our point of view, but I work so hard to listen to what our mamas are asking for and what resonates with them.
We thought we could do this full time with part time childcare. I don't want to be a Debbie Downer and say that it's impossible, and of course I have NO regrets spending that time with Olive, but the reality is that a full time business needs full time founders for it to grow at it's optimal rate.
We tried print advertising, and...it almost broke us. I'm not insinuating that print advertising is dead, but for small brands lacking the budget to participate OVER and OVER again, it can be a lost cause. We were a young brand, willing to do anything to get our name out there as fast as we could. We were gullible and naive. Basically, we had a big hot pink target on our backs just asking to be screwed. We were. We learned.
Of course we made countless other errors in that first year—but my hope is that these 6 might help even one reader starting out with a new business or idea avoid unneeded mistakes.
I would like to think that we did get a few things right that first year too. A couple highlights include:
We collaborated with Corey Lynn Calter on two mommy & me looks that were featured in Glamour Magazine.
We hosted our first BURU Brunch during NYFW at Cafe des Artistes with a room full of inspiring female Tastemaker mamas.
Speaking of Tastemakers—we launched our Tastemaker series with the likes of Lydia Fenet, Mara Hoffman, Molly Sims and many other amazing ladies.
We learned how to take our own photos and built a studio in our garage to get product on the site faster and more affordably.
We got lucky and chose Shopify as our platform. Talk about a blessing!
We learned with hustle, creativity and thinking outside the box we could generate revenue. (Notice I did NOT say gross profit...that came much later!)
Bottom line—we survived.
And we're still swimming.
I'm still unsure how to express the depth of my gratitude for our early supporters—the shoppers, the followers, the cheerleaders and those willing to offer their advice. THANK YOU. THANK YOU. THANK YOU!
As a small token of our appreciation—we would like to offer you a BURU Bday treat of $50 towards your next purchase of $150+ now through October 24th.
Use code: 24MONTHS at checkout!