NYLON readers, I am so excited and incredibly honored to be one of your newest columnists. I’m Kerin Rose Gold and I’m an eyewear designer, artist, costumer, and professional bedazzler (yes). I founded my eyewear line A-Morir in 2008, and I’m the one responsible for flowers, chains, and crystals on eyewear in the 21st Century. I’m only 32, but I’ve had some special life experiences, from starting a business to losing an organ, being an international campaign model for a hair-care line, and working with rockstars at record labels in college. I’ve got a lot of stories. I’ve also done a lot of work on my “inner self” (or something equally Kumbaya), have learned a lot, and look forward to splattering some word vomit on your screens twice a month. Try not to get it on your shoes.
When I made my first pair of glasses, I didn’t realize I was starting a business. Yet my DIY fashion experiments quickly snowballed into something, and I quit my job and dropped out of graduate school to focus on A-Morir full-time. Had the universe not thrust it upon me in such a sparkly and unintentional way, I never would have thought to start a business venture of my own.
In the seven years since, I’ve made some great decisions and some awful ones, and I’ve definitely spent too much time worrying about things that didn’t matter in the long run. But I learned a lot in the process, and now I’m here to share it with you. The advice that follows is both practical and emotional: the kind of piece I would have loved to stumble upon in the early days of A-Morir.
Before you make the decision to turn your hobby into a business, ask yourself one important question: Why are you doing this? Because you think owning a brand would be “cool?” You love Nasty Gal and want to be a #GIRLBOSS, too? Or have you found a genuinely good idea, developed a skill set that’s in demand, or found a hole in a particular market that desperately needs filling? A business is a business, man. Doing it for the ’gram is not worth it. I made a thing that people liked, so I made more things, and figured the rest out along the way. Building a business is lot of work—before you start, make sure you’re in it for the right reasons!
A brand image is complex; it’s not just visuals—it’s the language, client experience, and overall “vibe” you get from a company. If you have a cohesive vision that you can tie together with a cool font, sleek images, and some intriguing copy, outsiders will understand what you’re all about. When I started A-Morir, I was selling pieces to a few streetwear stores and online. As I began to get orders from high-end boutiques, I had to pivot and refine my language and imagery to fit. The best example of this was when I banished all use of the word “bedazzling,” which instantly conjures images of crafty Etsy junk, and not handmade art for high-end clientele. I replaced it with the phrases “Hand Strassed” or “Pave’d,” which conveys the exact same process in a much more luxurious manner.
When I was starting out, someone told me that all you needed to start a company were a website and some business cards. While that’s not entirely true, that’s all it takes for strangers to think you’re for real. With printing resources like MOO and Overnight Prints, and web development sites like Shopify and Squarespace, you can spend less than $100 to make your business look like its worth a mil. It’s easy! My first webpage had nothing more than a contact email, and my first online shop had five items in it. I’ll let you in on a secret: If I didn’t have the foresight to start that first website, I wouldn’t have the business I have today.
Every business is different, but if you’re selling a product or service, you will need to invoice and tell people your terms to get paid, as well as outline any delivery or shipment information. It doesn’t have to be long or elaborate—three or four sentences in a chic font, formatted in the middle of a page, will keep your mystique while being no-nonsense. Some clients will aggressively try and talk your prices down, but the best offense is a good defense: tangible terms on paper help deter potential clients from trying to haggle with you. I list payment terms at the end of all of my line sheets so I can be straightforward with all my retailers in advance. I send out forms listing all borrowed items with every magazine pull, and clearly specify that items must be paid for if lost or damaged. Think about the kind of work you will be doing, what your fees will be, and how you would like to be paid—and get that all down on paper.
Every business has different financial demands, but everybody pays taxes at the end of the year. If you’ve been employed by traditional means, you’ve had taxes taken out of your paycheck ahead of time. That doesn’t happen when you’re freelance. It might seem like you’re making “more” at first, but that’s just the money that used to be taken out by payroll. Always keep this in mind when that exciting little bit of $$$ first hits. The best thing I’ve done with my money is act like I’m broke all of the time. I don’t live large when my business is going well, and when the climate changes, I’m not freaking out because I’ve built a little cushion to coast on. Sure, you deserve a fancy dinner that you can write off every now and then. Treat yo self! But remember that write-offs don’t make taxes go away—they just reduce your total taxable dollars at the end of the year.
To be honest, I have a great relationship with my accountant and am very involved in the financial side of my company and I still find a lot of this stuff confusing. You might not need to hire an accountant right away, but it’s extremely important for you to keep track of all your spending. Buy an accordion folder for the year, separate the tabs into sections (Rent, Car/Cabs, Travel, Utilities, Office Supplies, Electronics, Food/Dining, Entertainment, etc.), and file all of your receipts often. You can use this to create a spreadsheet at the end of the year and bring it to a tax prep company or an accountant. It’s also in your best interest to do a little bit of reading on whether or not the kind of business you’re doing requires you to register for a Tax Identification Number, and if you should register for an S Corp, C Corp or LLC. (These things are hyperlinked for a reason, so click them!) The IRS website can be a great resource, as well as Legalzoom or Bizfilings (although I’d consult with your personal accountant, a lawyer friend, or someone at an H&R Block before utilizing their services, as they’re not perfect for everything).
Being in business is hard. Being a woman in business is harder. Sometimes, a male business owner can be perceived as “aggressive,” but if a woman does or says the same thing, it can be seen as “nagging.” Valid complaints are often written off as “whiny.” I have second-guessed myself during negotiations, and have worried that if I’m not nice to a fault, certain people won’t want to work with me. I bring this up in conversation with female friends often, and everyone has a story about getting shit on just for standing up for herself. I still catch myself sending emails and thinking, “Am I being annoying? Mean? A bother?” At first I titled this section “Think Like A Man” because society at large has never made a man feel like he’s being mean when he’s simply handling his business, but there are plenty of kick-ass women who you can think like instead. “How would Beyoncé handle this?” is a pretty good guideline to have. Follow in the footsteps of whatever badass woman you prefer. Personally, I substitute Cher.
I HATE calling people on the phone, even when we know each other. Cold emails, however, are my shit. One of my favorite early days tricks was setting up an email account for a fake assistant—it makes reaching out to people and dealing with stressful requests much easier.
I have a very successful friend who is always working with the coolest brands and companies. I asked him how these people heard about him and he replied, “I just email them.” Combine that pearl with the Jumpman wisdom that “you miss 100% of the shots you don’t take,” and not reaching out to people sounds stupid. Sure, there is a line between harassment and persistence, but use common sense. (You’ve made it this far, clearly you’ve got a good head on your shoulders!) And as much as phone calls are the worst, following up an email with a polite ring is always effective.
When I sold my first pieces, I didn’t know that wholesale and retail costs were two different things, I didn’t know how to make an invoice, and I didn’t know what a line sheet was, or even understand fashion calendar seasons. All of this is second nature to me now, but learning the ins and outs of a new industry is like diving into a pool of water covered in fire and being expected to escape while blindfolded. I learned how to do everything by asking my friends. We still trade information all the time and I try and pay it forward whenever I can. I’m always down to hook my friends up with some info, and I’m not afraid to ask in return. Not sure if your own questions are digging for too much? Ask yourself, “Would I help this person out if they asked me?” Or “If they help me out, would I be willing to help them?” If the answer is yes, feel free to proceed. If the answer is no, you’re being a dick. Don’t be a dick.
It’s in my nature to be nice to everyone. I was raised right and do my best to treat everyone with respect. It’s nice to be nice! Frankly, being an entitled bitch seems exhausting. (On a serious note: Everyone I know who acts like an asshole on a regular basis is prematurely wrinkled in the face.) I met one of my best friends while we were both starting out. I helped him while working at a store, thinking nothing of it. Fast forward a year later to when he needed some sunglasses for his mega pop star client’s major music video, and the rest is history. This friend has given me many incredible opportunities over the years, and when I asked him what made him remember me and our brief conversation, he said, “You were the only person who was nice to me that day.”
When you start a business, it can be emotional. The first rejection, critique, or customer complaint is going to feel like a punch in the gut. If someone doesn’t respond to your email, it may feel like a personal insult. But, like most things, it gets better. I remember being utterly gutted when Vogue Italia asked to borrow some eyewear for a shoot, and it wasn’t used. (I assumed that magazines only borrowed pieces they were definitely shooting; that is so not the case. FYI, for every dress you see in a mag, there were 50 more in the room that didn’t get shot.)
Afterwards, I was hanging out with some designers who mentored me, and I asked how they dealt with disappointment. Their answer? “Keep your head down and keep going.” It remains one of my most valued pieces of advice. Now that I’ve had a few years of experience under my belt, I don’t sweat the small stuff. And to be honest, I don’t sweat the big stuff all that much either. It makes the whole process run more smoothly. Everyone makes mistakes, just rectify them with grace and professionalism, and remember: You’re in great company.
There’s a lot of truth in the adage “the only constant is change,” And it’s true; nothing is forever. Blake Shelton and Gwen Stefani are dating. It’s a weird time! Our world is constantly evolving, and you should be too. What’s fun for you to do now might not be fun in a year, or five, or 20! Think about other things you want to do with your life. You’ll make better business decisions and sleep more soundly if you make peace with the fact that your business isn’t meant to last forever. The economy could crash, a Republican could become president (heaven forbid!), you could finally try Ayahuasca and have an AH-HA! moment that flips your whole life around. Don’t stress about the next step too much…but if Brad Pitt has a Plan B, so should you.
I find this to be the hardest part of owning a business. As your own boss, you’ll often feel like you’re alone in a raft in the middle of an ocean; and that ocean gets lonely. Nobody is going to believe in you unless you believe in yourself first. You’ve already done the hardest thing by committing yourself to building a business. I can tell you firsthand that it’s terrifying to make that initial decision! I was selling a lot of eyewear while I still had a part-time job; and working at the store was actually making me lose money. But I was so unsure of my own skill set that I was afraid to commit to A-Morir full time. But as soon as I did, my designs got better, my business did better, and I felt better. Starting your own company is tough. It’s the toughest thing most people will do. Always remember that it takes an incredible person to take that leap, and YOU DID THAT. And if you did that, you can do anything.