Lovette Appleton: An entrepreneur should have the courage to embrace failure

Lovette Appleton knows what it means to chase dreams and make use of opportunities. She did exactly that when she went from being an accounting executive in a manufacturing company to owning her own brand.

Lovette used her experiences in travelling across continents to create patent bags that are versatile and savvy. She believes that an entrepreneur should be able to adapt to situations and have the courage to embrace failure as a blessing in disguise.

Lovette wants to develop the passion for skills and empower Liberian women and the less fortunate by opening a factory and a training school that focuses on making accessories with an African twist, to empower women and young people who are less fortunate.

What inspired you to start your line of patent bags that make the ideal travelling companion?

I worked as a wholesale account executive at a company that designed and manufactured slippers shoes that had interchangeable straps and snaps. I thought it was a brilliant idea and I guess it just inspired me. Having lived on 3 continents and am always traveling to new countries so the need for functionality for the modern day jet setter came naturally to me.

The modern woman is so versatile, why not give her fashion accessories that can match her lifestyle!

What three words, can fully describe you and why?

Beatnik, Determined and Industrious!

Beatnik because I march to the beat of my own drum! I never follow or want to be like anyone else. I love being me and that’s ok!

Determined because I will never give up on myself! My faith depends on no one else but God and myself so no matter the circumstance, I keep pushing.

I am industrious because to come this far in life, you have to be! I remember when I graduated from university, I moved to New Jersey with less than $2000 in my account and we all know that’s not enough for one month in the New York metro area but I stayed with relatives, got a part time job and freelanced in addition to a full-time job, the hustle was real but I was able to pay the legal fees to get my patent this way. There is always a way.

The hustle is real but there's always a way, one lesson learnt from the inspiring Lovette Appleton Click To Tweet

What life-changing principles do you think every budding entrepreneur must cultivate?

To want to open one’s own business takes guts and defiance! Those qualities are admirable however; the most important principles that an entrepreneur should have are adaptability and the courage to embrace failure as a blessing in disguise.

I say this because one feels accomplished after setting up a business, doing the business plan, balancing the books etc. You feel like an adult, you are on your way and you hope that if you put in the work, the rewards will come. Unfortunately, I have been around the block for long enough time to know that we can’t control everything and whatever can go wrong, will!

The question isn’t will anything go wrong, it is what will you do to ensure it has little impact on your business and how will you learn and grow from the experience.

Lovette 2 final SLAHow do you intend to use your patent brand to inspire growth and development in Africa?

As a Liberian and most importantly, an African woman, my thoughts never stray from home. I constantly think about how my life abroad will translate and contribute to others back home.

Although my company is currently based in the US, I hope to use the opportunity it presents to open a factory as well as a training school in Liberia, to empower women and young people who are less fortunate.

Does your business do the production in Africa, If so how do you manage your team abstractly?

Since the business is still in start-up phase and the products so novel, It is necessary for me to keep production close to where I am. It’s like a baby, You have to carry it and keep it close until it starts to take its first steps then you step back and give it some free room.

Once the brand gets more established, I plan to start working with artisans back home to bring that African touch to my collections.

What advice would you give women who are about to launch their own start-ups?

Believe in yourself and never let any challenge keep you down.

The only person responsible for your success is yourself and you must be prepared to do whatever it takes to make your dreams a reality.

Lovette 1 SLA

If you were given the chance to re-launch your start-up, what would you do better and why?

I would focus more on my marketing plan. Having a great product and believing it will work is great but one always needs an extraordinary marketing strategy because today’s business environment is so full of options for consumers that an average marketing plan doesn’t do justice to a great product or message.

If I could go back in time I would have concentrated on my marketing plan as much as I concentrated on the product. I am not saying I would have had a bigger marketing budget but I think concentrating on free yet creative ways to let people know about the product and also giving them enough time to actually absorb the message of the brand before even driving the sales pitch.

The collection will launch in about a month so I am slowly building up the social media following through my Instagram and Facebook, cross promoting through Linkedin articles as well as my lifestyle website. To reach more people I will launch online ads but in general, marketing doesn’t have to be expensive but it takes time and creativity!

If I could go back in time I would have concentrated on my marketing plan - Lovette Appleton Click To Tweet

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Archel Bernard kickstarts her Liberian ethical fashion factory

Archel Bernard - Bombchel Factory

Archel Bernard is a Liberian fashion designer and entrepreneur. She successfully raised more than $40,000 on Kickstarter  for her company’s growth and shares with us how someone stealing her ideas got her started in fashion, her ambitions to build a global brand and why crowdfunding was the way to go to raise much needed cash. 

Why did you choose fashion as your avenue to make a difference in Liberia and how has your business made an impact on the local community?

I wanted to be the West African Oprah Winfrey when I moved to Liberia. I would go to communities and shoot and edit videos of exciting things happening around Monrovia, and of course the West African Oprah had to wear West African clothing! I made my dresses at a trendy boutique in town, and the seamstress would take FOREVER to get my clothes to me. I was doing my own designing because traditional African clothes aren’t typically my taste.

Conor Beary for The New York Times

One time I went to pick up a dress the boutique had been working on for about a month, and when I saw her, she was wearing a copy she made for herself, another customer was wearing a copy she just purchased, and another tailor was sewing one for her to sell on her racks! I still had to pay top dollar for a dress she was taking credit for designing. At that point I realized I could figure out a way to do everything I was paying her to do for me, AND possibly make a profit from it if people liked my styles.

I made 8 different styles, found two tailors, and paid them a small fee to make my first line. I didn’t even know I was creating a line, much less a company. I just thought I could make a little money around Christmas. I sold out of everything and used the feedback (and money) to make more styles. Two of those same looks are still our top sellers today!

Bombchel Factory

I was never inspired to create until I came to Liberia. I loved the bold colors and patterns. The chaos in the markets and streets, and always the women wore bright lappa to navigate it. Seeing and wearing African cloth made me feel at home. I was thrilled by the design possibilities because from where I sat, we could do much more than tie lappa around our waist.

Two months after selling my first dress, my government contract ended and I was unemployed. My mom hired me to be her driver on a visit to Liberia, and my dad gave me his pick up truck, so I bought cloth with the money and sold dresses from the back of the truck. Slowly, I saved enough money to open a shop. I’ve worked all kinds of jobs to make this happen.

Now our business has grown so much, our tailors get sad when I leave town, not because they will miss me but because when I’m in town there’s always a ton of money to be made!

What are your ambitions for your company and The Bombchel Factory?

I want to build a large factory that staffs and trains hundreds of Liberian women, and offers classes on the side for literacy and business skills. This is about community building and industry changing.

Bombchel Factory - 2

I want our factory to rival not only rival China for quality, but be the best in the world for human development. I want clothes made in The Bombchel Factory to be sold everywhere from Nasty Gal to Bergdorf on Fifth Ave soon, to prove that there is space for quality, ethical fashion in the most exciting shopping districts of the world.

Why did you choose crowdfunding as a fundraising strategy for your business?

I chose to crowd fund our company because we had hit a point where we couldn’t grow anymore doing the same thing we were doing: small custom orders for under $100 a client. We wanted to reach the everyday girl, but customer acquisition was expensive and there wasn’t much profit in a few custom orders a month.

I’m incredibly scared of loans, after having already signed my life over to Sallie Mae years ago, and I don’t think we are big enough to start including investors with equity. Since all we needed was a strong following to preorder our goods, crowdfunding was perfect for people like us.

Everyone who backs our campaign knows to expect a wait before receiving their goods, so that gives us a chance to perfect our items and plan our website and New York Fashion Week launch party. We are using Kickstarter to literally explode onto the market, and Kickstarter is good for helping you build a loyal following.

What factors did you take into consideration before starting the crowdfunding campaign and how did you prepare to make sure it was a success?

I had a friend, Chid Liberty of Liberty & Justice factory, also do a Kickstarter for his t-shirt line. He was actually the person who recommended crowdfunding to me.

When his campaign launched it was flawlessly executed. They met their goal in a few hours and even got endorsements from several celebrities. I knew I didn’t have that kind of reach, but I also knew I had a lot of things going for me that I could package. I read every article and watched every video on having a successful crowdfunding campaign and applied what I could.

My best friend in Atlanta offered a great photo shoot deal, and my sisters have been known to work long hours for clothes, so I knew my packaging would be spot on. I had a ton of people interested in ordering my designs, but I needed to streamline the ordering process and show the need for my product would gain the same results as having a large network. Crowdfunding has proven I have a market, not just cousins and friends who want to support me.

What message would you share with other young African women who have big dreams but limited funding to make them happen?

I would ask you the same questions Chid asked me:

  • You need more money? Yes
  • You don’t want a loan? No
  • You don’t want equity partners? How much is your business worth? Not enough
  • You ever thought of crowdfunding?

You can ONLY use Kickstarter if you have a product. I would also make sure you have thoroughly tested the market, as you don’t want to pre-sell items and not be able to fulfill quality orders. Reputation is everything and that would kill yours. Just prepare, and prepare some more, and keep going because your (company’s) life really depends on it.

Want to support Archel and her Kickstarter campaign? Make a donation by March 11.


Photos courtesy of the New York Times and Archel Bernard.