Behind every great design is an even greater story. Today we’d like to introduce you to Annie Shafran, founder and CEO of the wear-to-work online fashion boutique, Bellgray.
When Annie launched her previous career as a finance professional, she was hard-pressed to find a one-stop-shop with stylish workplace outfits from her favorite labels. So, she built one herself. All thanks to easy-to-use technology accessories, a basic business plan and the coordination of expert advisors—three easy ABCs that will help any new business launch in no time.
Ready to wear
Annie Shafran is an entrepreneurial cheetah. She moves fast, lives fashionably and brings her ideas to life with remarkable finesse.
Apparel shops like Banana Republic and J. Crew have wear-to-work outfits for career-focused women, but with limited variety from a single brand. On the other hand, department stores offer a huge selection of stylish brands, but labels are found together in their own sections, leaving it to the shopper to piece together outfits.
Annie decided she wanted to bring the best of both worlds together. In November 2015, she set her goal: to put a business plan together for a fashion website that curates the hottest brands into workplace outfits—all in just six months. The result? In May 2016, Bellgray was actually live online.
So let’s rewind. Annie imagined bringing workplace fashion to women everywhere—and fast. What carried her idea from sketchbook to runway so quickly? She realized she needed to take a cue from the fashion industry and build her own top-notch brand.
A hot new look
In fashion—perhaps more than any other industry—appearance is everything. Every cut, every line, every fabric matters. And the same is true for a fashion brand.
Annie needed a name and a look. “It feels like you can’t start putting yourself out there until you get a logo,” she notes.
Her first stop: the professionals. Design agencies charged thousands for a full branding package. Other freelancers offered just a few revisions. “I felt like I was putting all my eggs in one basket,” Annie says. In the end, the DIY route made the most sense: more control, more flexibility and more for the money.
To dream up the perfect name, Annie enlisted some friends (over a few glasses of wine, of course) to brainstorm a name that was inventive and equally masculine and feminine. Eventually, “bell” met “gray” and the name stuck.
Then, Annie took her name and design ideas to the 99designs community. To inspire her designers, she presented them with a complete branding deck, filled with color palettes, aesthetic details, descriptive words, favorite logos, ideal celebrity endorsers and more.
Dozens of designers competed to work on her logo, offering her dozens more options—all for a fraction of the cost of an agency.
Bellgray had a logo and brand and was one step closer to being a business reality.
The perfect outfit
An outfit goes from good to great when every piece works together. And Bellgray was no exception. Annie built her company with these easy ABC’s that can help any business launch successfully: a slate of DIY technology accessories, a basic foundation & solid business plan and the coordination of an all-star, all-female advisor team.
You have a great look, but what’s going to take it to the next level? Time to accessorize! Thanks to the internet, there are now hundreds of online tools (just like 99designs) to enhance your business and make your day-to-day operations easier. For self-funded entrepreneurs especially, these options give you more control and allow you to work within challenging, shoestring budgets. When Annie launched Bellgray, for example, she found online partners to manage her social media, develop PR campaigns and manage her product inventory. While not necessarily long-term solutions, these partners gave her the ability to jump-start her business in just months.
Anyone who’s fashion-savvy knows you have to start with great basics. The same goes for your company. Your business plan sets the foundation for how you operate, expand and reach your customers. Every industry has multiple models, each with pros and cons that will affect how your company functions (for example, the risk you assume or your potential for profit). Carefully research your options and decide what will work best for you. Keep in mind that your model can change. Start here and use your tools and partners to build on this model.
You’ve got your basics and a stylish set of accessories. But how do you know if it looks right? Coordination is key, and that’s where great advisors come in. Surround yourself with experts that can help you understand all of the different facets of your business—from marketing plans to legal issues to industry trends. Annie built an all-female team to help her wade into these new waters with Bellgray. For retail strategy, she partnered with a buyer from Barney’s and Gucci. For copywriting, she found a writer who had worked with Harry Winston and Marc Jacobs. For photography, she hired a photographer from Lululemon and Urban Outfitters. And since her entire team was female, she got even deeper insights to help her reach different types of women.
A peek at next season
Bellgray was born in just six months.
Thanks to a strong business plan and flexible technology solutions, Annie was up and running fast. Her dream team of experts not only helped develop her business, but also made Bellgray appear even more professional, building a strong reputation with both new and potential customers.
In the next six months, Annie has the chance to get to know someone new in her life: the Bellgray Girl. “I want to become an expert on who my customer is. Is she buying dresses or jackets or shoes? We’ll be spending a lot of time on reports and demographics,” she explains.
With her new knowledge, Annie hopes pitch investors by January 2017 to shift Bellgray into a wholesale business model—a solution that offers her more control and opportunities for growth that will help her reach more women with an even greater number of fashion solutions.
And as for what we should expect next on the Bellgray runways… Retro-chic? 90’s throwback? No, get ready for a great contemporary collection. “[Since launching Bellgray,] I’ve really enjoyed studying the history of fashion and seeing how it’s evolved. It says a lot about our culture changing. But I love the modern,” Annie says.