Today we have a great interview for you with Harlem’s Fashion Row’s very own Brandice Henderson-Daniel. A current New Yorker, by way of Memphis, TN, Brandice has taken HFR from a small fashion show in a Harlem restaurant, to a widely recognized and highly welcomed breath of fresh air and diversity among the otherwise often uniform faces of New York Fashion Week.
Big brands such as McDonalds, Target, Sprite and Sephora now clamor to partner with HFR, which has been covered by the NY Times, Wall Street Journal and Huffington Post. Recently, we had the chance to catch up with her and learn about her recipe for success and how she was able to turn her dream into a HUGE reality.
Can you tell us a little about yourself?
BHD: I grew up in Memphis, TN and majored in Fashion Merchandising at the University of Tennessee. I knew early on that I wanted a career in fashion, but wasn’t fully aware of all the possibilities within the industry. At first, I worked a few odd jobs, from selling insurance to Accounts Payable for a home builder. After the home builder’s company closed, I decided that no matter what, I was going to work in fashion.
From there, my next position was as an allocation specialist, managing inventory for Catherine’s, a plus-size women’s clothing store that was based out of Memphis at the time. I gradually was promoted to assistant buyer and then associate buyer. One of the vendors with which I worked, who was based out of NY, added Victoria’s Secret as a client and asked if I would be interested in working with them. I jumped at the chance and moved to New York soon after.
What was it like transitioning from working in fashion for a large company to working for yourself?
BHD: I had been living in New York for about two years and was one of the very few people who actually loved apparel production. Most people aren’t too happy in that field because of all the issues that can and do arise, but I enjoyed being kept on my toes and problem-solving.
I knew I would eventually start my own business, but I thought I would open up a boutique. To gain some experience, I started volunteering on the weekends at a local boutique for about six months. The experience proved invaluable and the relationship I built ended up helping with the launch of HFR, but my time there also showed me that owning a boutique was not for me.
A little while later, I happened to attend a small fashion show in a restaurant in Brooklyn. I was so inspired by it that I decided I’d love to produce something similar in Harlem. The idea of doing so stuck with me and became one of those thoughts that just won’t go away.
I started planning it in May 2007 and was able to pull it off in just three months. In retrospect, my ignorance of all the potential issues and necessary steps that go into planning such an intricate event turned out to be my biggest asset as I just jumped in and did what I thought needed to be done without being weighed down by the fears of all the things that could go wrong.
What were some of the difficulties you faced pulling off that first event? How has HFR grown since then?
BHD: The easier question to ask would be what difficulties didn’t I face? laughs
Everything! No one knew of me at the time, so all the designers I wanted to participate, minus maybe one, turned me down for first TEN times I asked them to join. Thankfully, my gift of persistence paid off in the end and I was able to get my designers on board.
Another big issue was the budget, which we did not have. I had to call on favors from about 25 people, from hairstylists to make-up artists, all who graciously gave their time and services to me for free because I was able to sell them on my vision and the bigger picture I had for this. Now that HFR has grown, I am able to pay for these services; my friend who looked over my contracts back then is still my attorney to this day, but now I am able to pay her.
We started with just local Harlem designers and have now expanded internationally with designers from London, Dubai and many other countries.
Through this journey, I had three main resources – God and my faith, which always helped me find a way when I thought there wasn’t one, my mother who was always my biggest cheerleader, and a small group of girlfriends, who I had just recently met when I moved to NY, but who proved to be some of my biggest supporters, helping out wherever and whenever they could.
Are you working on any projects outside of HFR?
BHD: I just started a series called Cliff Jump, where I help individuals get started on their paths. I keep the seminar sizes small, around 10 people, so that each can get the necessary time and attention. We go through their dreams and goals and figure out what is holding them back and what type of action plan they need to get where they want to be. By the end of the class, we take a first “jump” together and my aim is for them to leave empowered and with the necessary tools to continue.
What is the most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur?
BHD: I would definitely have to say it is having the ability and freedom to create. At a 9-5 job, you are often restricted to your role and the rules of the organization. When you are an entrepreneur, there are no rules and you are able to create your own. To me, there is no better feeling than that.
What is the most challenging part of being an entrepreneur?
BHD: I’d have to say it’s the same thing, the absence of rules and structure. While it gives you creative freedom, as a creative individual, I have to make sure to keep myself on track. I can quickly and easily come up with new ideas, so I have to remind myself to stay focused and remember to create sustainable revenue channels. We can love what we do so much that we don’t care about the money, but at the end of the day it is still an important factor as it provides for your and your company’s longevity.
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
BHD: Personally, my proudest accomplishment is getting married. It is a big cliff to jump. It’s a huge leap of faith because you’re literally making this decision for the rest of your life and that definitely takes you out of your comfort zone, especially if you are older and have become accustomed to doing things your own way.
Professionally, that first show I put on in that restaurant in Harlem is still one of my proudest accomplishments as it marked the beginning. The year we were able to have our show in Jazz at Lincoln Center was also huge for me as it really signified that we had arrived.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were younger?
BHD: I wish I knew to get as much experience as I possibly could in what I thought I wanted to do and to talk to as many people in that field as possible. Once I knew I wanted to work in fashion, I should have been talking to any and everyone working in that field and finding as many internships as I could.
What advice do you have for individuals interested in creating a career for themselves in the fashion industry?
BHD: Some of the same advice I wish someone had given me. Find as many internships as you can in fashion. Nowadays, you don’t even have to live in the same state as the employer in order to intern for them. I have five interns and none of them are based in New York – virtual internships are convenient and still allow you to gain that necessary experience.
Also, anytime you are looking to start a new venture, all the pieces will never be there. Don’t sit around waiting for everything to be perfect before you act on it, because it never will be, you have to be able to roll with the punches and adapt. A lot of people go to the grave with their ideas because they aren’t confident enough or brave enough to make that initial leap and put their plan to action.
What’s up next for you?
BHD: We are working on launching an e-shop. We used to have pop-up shops and we are now taking those and putting them on-line to make our items accessible to all. We are also working on an “at home” with HFR, in home trunk shows that will directly connect our designers to customers in an intimate setting.