Many great businesses were started by someone seeing a need. This is very much the case for entrepreneur Dessy Tsolova’s company, Utelier.com, a directory, educational resource and marketplace which brings together designers, retailers, maufacturers and suppliers.
Dessy started our working for Burberry before moving to J&M Davidson and Smythson. She then met an investor and her business was born. We chatted to her about breaking into the fierce fashion design world, determination and finding out what you’re passionate about.
1. How did you get into the product design industry and was it always in your plan to do so? Talk us through your career journey
As a small child I was always embroidering and making simple clothes from a young age, so going into art or fashion was always on the cards. But coming from a family and country that firmly believed in good education – studying art was not an option for me. So I spent 4 years studying politics, economics and languages. But my heart wasn’t in it. I did an evening course in design on the side and then as soon as I graduated I literally started my second degree studying fashion and business. During my second year we had to apply and secure an internship. I must have sent over 50 letters to designers I loved at the time. I got 5 interviews and 3 offers.
While I was at college and later on at my first job as a ladies wear design assistant I started to realise that I didn’t want to be a designer. I enjoyed learning about all the other processes involved in running a fashion business and I loved taking an initial idea and developing it.
After 2 years I felt it was time to leave my safe small company and to my surprise I was offered was a a product development assistant for accessories in Burberry. Here I realised that working with fashion product is what I loved doing and that I was a pretty good product developer.
2. Why did you decide to found your company Utelier.com?
I was approached by an investor I knew in the industry and given an opportunity to start a new business – anything we felt the industry needed. After a few coffees and discussions, we felt that there was a lack of transparency when it came to manufacturing. That small to medium sized businesses struggled to grow as they couldn’t afford to hire senior people with experience and contacts and there was no place to go and find industry contacts like factories, designers, industry specialists. So we decided to fix that and the idea of Utelier was born. We – myself and now my business partner and investor – launched the business as a free online network marketplace where we connect people with fashion product ideas to businesses that can help realise these ideas into a finished product. Almost immediately my small team also found itself in demand for consulting services and for executing these ideas to finished product, which is why we simultaneously run a concierge business under the platform umbrella.
3. What is one difficulty of starting a business that people may not realise?
I think today more than ever one needs to plan and do a really good job of the groundwork. You can have the greatest idea or be the most talanted designer in the world but if you don’t know who your ideal client is, how to reach them, how to get your product to market, etc, then it doesn’t matter. Your business at best will bumble along for a short while. And you can have a mediocre idea but if you know how market it, how to create interest and buzz around it, finance orders and potential business growth – then you stand a chance.
4. The fashion world seems rather intimidating and difficult to break into – what do you think about this and what is your advice to someone reading this and wanting to go into that industry?
It is true. The fashion industry is hard to break into and even harder for those that don’t have a pragmatic approach. Most younger people I know who want to work in fashion are fixated on something that seems glamorous – designer, buyer, PR. They only see the end goal rather than how those who hold these positions got to them, the journey they went on to get there. So my advice to those who really want to work in fashion would be to be open to other job positions and not just the most well known ones.
There are many exciting opportunities that are not so obvious to those outside of the industry. So get your foot in and then learn, get involved in anything that comes your way initially and see what you are really drawn to and enjoy doing. I know of many, many successful people who joined fashion companies at the start of their careers as receptionists, admin, PA’s…etc as a way to get into the industry and then worked from within to grow as people and professionals and move towards the end job they want to be in. You just need to stay open to opportunities.