“Just start. In the beginning, it is more important that you build momentum and an entrepreneurial mindset. Move on your ideas, try them out, fail, learn and try again. Don't overthink it. So many people believe that we need to be "ready" to start. What's being ready anyway? I believe that we all have the gifts and talents to help us move toward our purpose and our journey.” - Joelle Fontaine, Founder of Kreyol
One of the most important weeks in U.S. fashion happens in February at NY Fashion Week. To celebrate, the WIN Lab is highlighting fashion entrepreneurs who are adding their own unique flavor to the industry. Here, we talked to Joelle Fontaine, founder of Kreyol, who creates high fashion, quality garments, with the hope that they will make women feel powerful. Read on to learn more about her ever-growing business, Kreyol.
Q.1) When you got into your first fashion show, you said that you were an artist and not a designer. And that you figured it out as you went. What has that journey been like when you had to learn quickly, especially in a business that can require so much technical skill?
I was an artist for a while before I became a designer and a business woman. So, I wouldn't say I had to learn quickly. The first show that I did was at NY fashion week at a conference. I had designed and created a total of 3 pieces in my life, took pictures of them and told the organizers that I was a designer and wanted to do their show. It was a joke. I definitely did not think they were going to go for it, but they did, and I rose to the occasion. Seven days later, completely sleep deprived, I presented a collection. As an artist, I only needed to visualize it in my head to create it. I learned how to sew by taking garments apart and putting them back together. It was a puzzle. I was used to creating structures out of cardboard boxes because all of my life I had aspirations of becoming an architect. Sewing to me, essentially, was just putting the pieces together. I developed the skill as I went along and years later, when I turned Kreyol into a business after the earthquake in Haiti, my mom became my head seamstress. I did not rely on my personal sewing skills to create quality garments. No way! That takes years of practice and experience. The key to being a good CEO is knowing where your strengths are and where to leave it to the experts. I am a great designer. My mom is amazing in garment construction and the partnership between us two makes for a great brand.
Q.2) How do you hope that women will feel when they put on one of your garments?
When women put on our garments, I hope they feel powerful. You know how you feel when you have that perfect pair of heels, or sexy summer dress, that new lipstick that adds color and vibrancy to your palette? That's the feeling I want women to have when they walk out in Kreyol- a feeling of strength and confidence- making a bold statement as if to say "I belong here."
Q.3) Your mother was a big part of your story and the inspiration for starting Kreyol. Now she works with you at the company. How does it feel having her by your side as you build this business?
I don't think I would have ever started this business without my mom. She ended up working with me by accident. Those first couple of years when I was creating for fun, I was invited to showcase my collection at a museum in NY. I was also invited to present at Caribbean Fashion Week in Jamaica on the same day. In a panic, I guilt tripped my mom to help me (LOL). The collection I sewed was showcased in NY and my mom helped me put together another collection to present in Jamaica. She has been my right hand ever since. The motivation to take this business to the next level so that it can impact other women, other moms, is due to her inspiration. She's the strongest, most passionate woman I know. Working alongside her has been an honor.
Q.4) How would you describe your design aesthetic?
I initially started replicating old dresses that my mom used to make for me as a child back in Haiti, in addition to old school uniforms. I would say that my design aesthetic has a vintage flair with structural elements of the 1800s, paired with modern touches of Asian zen, box-like, over-sized shapes in vibrant colors, textures and patterns. I love architecture and design clothing that incorporates unusual shapes and resembles pieces of art. So my design aesthetic is very bold and at times, enchanting.
Q. 5) What’s your advice for female founders who want to start a business but may not have all of the information or skills that they think they need?
Just start. In the beginning, it is more important that you build momentum and an entrepreneurial mindset. Move on your ideas, try them out, fail, learn and try again. Don't over think it. So many people believe that we need to be "ready" to start. What's being ready anyways? I believe that we all have the gifts and talents to help us move toward our purpose and our journey. Start using those gifts, and as you go along, fine tune them. Take classes, read books, develop new ideas, concepts and skills that will bring you closer to your goal. Find mentors that can be a guide along the way, and as you are moving along your entrepreneurship journey, get ready for the next level.
Q.6) How has your definition of an entrepreneur changed since you started your business?
I think in the beginning I thought that the life of an entrepreneur was glamorous. I know better now! Being an entrepreneur is choosing to spend your last dime on fabric as opposed to food, being so passionate about your work that you prefer to spend your Saturday nights with mannequins as opposed to partying with your friends. It's sleepless nights because there are so many ideas running through your mind and you can't wait to execute them all. It's failing- failing a lot. But, understanding that with each failure, you are learning and getting closer to a goal. It's winning- winning every single day you decide to keep going and keep growing. I wouldn't change a thing. As I have gotten older, I have learned the concept of balance (ok, I am learning the concept of balance) and to obviously not spend my last dime on fabric :) but the passion remains the same. I have learned that I can't do it all. To have a successful, growing business, you have to have an all star team and the right systems in place.