Shauna Miller, Penny Chic Founder

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Shauna Miller, Penny Chic Founder


City: Los Angeles

Passion: Blogging, Making Women Feel Beautiful

Website: PennyChic.com

Fashion blogger and designer Shauna Miller’s path to success didn’t happen overnight after she graduated from college at the height of the recession. The idea for her personal style blog Penny Chic, featuring fresh off the runway looks with items exclusively from some of the most affordable stores in the US, came to the former Emanuel Ungaro intern two years before she finally decided to abandon a traditional career path, trust her gut and realize her dream.After trying her hand at PR and real estate in New York City, she decided to move back to her parents’ house in LA to focus on turning her blog into a profitable business four years ago.Fashionistas instantly began flocking to Shauna for help to look good and feel their best without spending a fortune, and all the pieces of the puzzle started falling into place. Last year, the eclectic entrepreneur launched her debut collection with Walmart, Penny Chic by Shauna Miller, and it became an instant hit, selling out across the country. She is currently gearing up to unveil her second collection for the retail giant and will release her first book, Penny Chic: How to Be Stylist on a Real Girl’s Budget, in September 2014.

ON PASSION

I graduated from college at the height of the recession after interning at fashion houses in Paris and magazines. I had this whole plan to work in New York City, but I just couldn’t find an entry-level job in the fashion industry.
I knew I needed to follow my heart and do something that truly inspired me, so I started to think about what I might be able to do on my own and could possibly turn into a business. After brainstorming for ideas, I decided to do something in blogging, as I could see it was a platform that was becoming more relevant than magazines in some cases.
I realized there was this largely untapped demographic and decided to take the cheapest store in America, Walmart - that is stigmatized as the lowest quality in some ways - and show women struggling in the economic climate how to create something fresh and fashionable from there. The blog just kind of grew from there.

ON MASTERY

As much as I’ve had experience in fashion in New York and Paris, that was as an intern for a couple of years in college. I didn’t go to design school, I didn’t go to fashion school and part of my journey has been getting to know the clothes at these cheap retailers, Walmart, Target, Sears – I use all of those stores now – and I would have to shop, buy all the clothes, touch and feel everything, and then I’d style real girls for my blog.
Because I wasn’t just styling myself it was kind of a grassroots apprenticeship, where I learned how to style different body types, using different kinds of clothes. That eventually helped me last year when I launched my first clothing line with Walmart because the concept was basically based on five silhouettes that flatter every woman’s body type, so I had the knowledge to base that on.

ON TRANSITION

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When I first came up with the idea, I wanted to work to make money and start the blog simultaneously, and it just didn’t happen. It was really tough. I’m not one of those people who can chew gum and drive at the same time. It’s hard to give a new business your all and then during the day be concentrated on something else, so that’s why I decided to move home and focus on it full-time four years ago.
I have people who work for me now, but you have to self-motivate and there are times you don’t want to. I’m still struggling with that part of it. It never ends and there is very little boundary in this kind of work experience. My mom is the photographer for the site and one of the struggles has been maintaining a professional yet also our own personal relationship in the midst of all of it.
I’ve always visualized where I wanted the blog to go, and created business plans and strategies to get it there. From day one having my own clothing line and publishing a book were goals.

ON FAILURE

I go through moments all the time where I think I can’t do this anymore and consider transitioning into something else, not completely straying from it but reinventing the business in a different way. Then there could be four months of really good work and positive energy with it. Obviously I have never gotten to the point where I think I can’t do this anymore and I stop. My readers check in on me, they email me, they comment, there is an ongoing dialogue, so it is really hard to just end that and that is what keeps me going.
The hardest part is motivating yourself constantly. It can be dark sometimes, but it can also be the biggest thrill to wake up and realize you’re doing exactly what you want to do. Some of my biggest accomplishments and wins have been achieved during those times when I’ve woken up and taken risks, emailed people with crazy ideas.

ON FEAR

I did this clothing line with Walmart last year as a temporary collection and it did really well, but I had trouble finding my way with them afterwards and I thought okay maybe it won’t happen again. Then just a couple of days ago I was on the phone with one of the buyers and now they want to do a bigger line, with more assortment and variety, so it’s just the ways things work, you have to hang in there.
There are times when you should be thinking about reinventing, expanding or transitioning in a different way, but sometimes it just takes time. People, especially our generation, want things to happen quickly and it’s not always like that.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is understanding how important is it, as a founder, to trust your instinct. When it’s really your idea that you have created, like a mother you have a sense and intuition about things. Every time I have denied it and ignored it, it’s been the wrong decision. Part of the intuitive process for me is not just that it feels right; it’s also based on past experience, research, analytics and what feels true to my original idea.

ON MONEY

The most important thing to me right now is this business. So if it comes to delegating money to something that is going to improve my business versus going on a vacation or buying something, it’s much more important for me to do the former. I’m constantly making sacrifices so that my business can grow, and it’s never been about a quick buck for me.
There are ways I could be making more money through ads and sponsorships that aren’t exactly in line with my business, but I have tried to stay true to the original business plan. I think it takes five years to really establish yourself, especially in the fashion industry because there is so much competition and it’s so saturated.
It will be four years in October and at that point I will have published a book and the clothing line will have had its second run, so I’m hoping it will have generated a $1 million by then – that’s my goal. It’s a far-fetched goal, but I think it’s possible if I continue on the path that I’m on.

ON SELF-LOVE

I love myself more than I love my business because I’ve learned you have to. If you walk all over yourself, people can smell it and you’re not doing anyone any favors, including your own business. That is theoretically what I believe, but in practice I definitely put a lot of pressure on myself.
There are times when I definitely don’t take care of myself, through my work habits of pulling all-nighters, not sleeping, stress and pushing myself to a place that is only borderline healthy, but there are also times when I’m all about taking care of myself.
In the end, I’m doing this for myself. I’m not doing it to be a billionaire, I’m doing this because I’m being fulfilled. There is a lot of meaning for me in being able to, in my opinion, help women and give them access to fashion and lifestyle in a way that wasn’t offered to them before.

ON INSPIRATION

I think that it’s really important to have mentors. For me, I’ve always appreciated and admired certain people that I’ve seen like Oprah Winfrey or Bethenny Frankel, who created her whole Skinny Girl brand from a reality show and just did it in a brilliant way.
My father has been an advisor since the beginning and working together has made me look back on my childhood and see the whole picture. I remember times that were darker and happier, and I realize now what that struggle must have been like for him and how he kept it together for the family. On a personal level that inspires me. People who keep it together and still gracefully run a business with honesty, transparency and relatability.

ON SUPPORT

It’s not a family run business but it started with their support. My mom is the photographer, my dad is the business advisor, my sister helps me with legal stuff. There have been lots of people along the way who have invested in me with their time and energy, but at the end of the day I know it’s your family that really, really has your back.
I’ve been through a lot of ups and downs with friends. It’s easy when you’re starting out and it’s safe for people to support you, then certain things happen and not everybody is happy for you. I’ve learned not to expect anything and it’s important to realize everyone is struggling with their own shit, their own job, stress, anxiety and where they’re going. It’s been a long road, but I’m now at the point where I’m back to the beginning and all the people who were originally supportive are still there and rallying around me.

ADVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

Just do it. When I look back at when I first came up with the concept for Penny Chic, I thought oh no it’s not perfect, the design isn’t right, it’s not the right graphics or time… You think all your stars have to be in line and they really don’t. You have to be clear on what you want and where you want to go, but don’t waste time trying to make everything perfect because obstacles will come up that you can’t even expect. Just start somewhere.
Constantly check in with yourself and find ways to re-inspire yourself once you’ve started. Sometimes when you’re stuck with the emails or events – the mundane stuff you have to do – you can get disconnected from your passion. Once every two weeks, I’ll stay up all night to look back at old notes, read a magazine, go to competitor sites, write crazy manifestos – because as cheesy as it sounds you’re your best salesman. When I go into meetings to pitch myself, talk to brands or talk to friends, they can feel when it’s authentic, the energy is there and I know what I’m talking about.

Shauna's Top Tip For Looking Fabulous

I always say the number one thing is don’t look at your budget as a hindrance. You should look at it as a creative outlet. Go into stores without any preconceived notions and look at them like a playground - go to the men’s section for flannel shirts or young girls’ section for an XXL tutu - when you let go of those conceptions of where you’re supposed to shop and what department is supposed to fit you, you will find a lot more opportunities to look amazing at any price point.

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Céline Semaan Vernon, Founder of Slow Factory

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Céline Semaan Vernon, Founder of Slow Factory

City: New York City

Passion: Inspiring 

Website: http://slowfactory.com/

Forced to flee war-torn Lebanon as a child, Céline moved between Montreal, Paris and her native Beirut before settling in New York City with her family last year. The artist-turned-web native designer began looking at the stars, as they were one of the few things that felt familiar regardless of her whereabouts.

Keen to give back, she started working with Creative Commons and became even more fascinated by the constellations when she began overseeing content contributed to the organization by NASA.

Céline sees life as “a cycle of passions” and the arrival of her first child a few years ago gave her the opportunity to take a break to figure out what she really wants to contribute to the world.

More than a practical or fashionable accessory, scarves are a symbol of Lebanese culture. While on her maternity leave, Céline decided to combine the two things that help her feel more connected to her homeland, scarves and stars, to start Slow Factory, a fashion studio printing NASA images on silk scarves.

Now back to work at her day job, she dedicates every spare moment to growing her beautiful line of wearable art pieces and is speaking to potential investors in the hopes of being able to focus on the company full-time again in the near future.

ON PASSION

I kept moving here and there and, as a traveller, the notion of home was always a mystery to me. I don’t have childhood friends, but I can relate to almost anyone and live in any country. Looking at the stars was the only way to ground me.
My initial passion, which is really to inspire and help people, led me to working with Creative Commons, where I began working with the NASA group. It wasn’t the first time I was passionate about astronomy and the stars, but it enabled me to feed my brain with images that have a strong effect of calming me down in a strange way.
I would spend hours awake at night thinking of all the things I could do with these images so one day I tweeted, ‘What if I printed these images and created silk scarves?’ A very good friend of mine was like, ‘Yes, do it.’ So I did it. We launched the website on August 6, 2012; the same day NASA launched Curiosity to Mars. It was a complete coincidence but I felt it was a sign.
Why a scarf? Obviously I come from the Middle East and we always wrap ourselves with scarves, whether we’re religious or not, it’s just our culture. I wanted to create something collectable that told a story. Not a high-end, super deluxe product like Hermes, but something in-between that would remind people of something.

ON MASTERY

I was lucky to have stumbled upon a new friend, who gave me a manufacturing connection in India so that’s how it began. I wanted a company that is Fair Trade; I didn’t want to make these beautiful scarves with a company that was making children work for $1 a month… so the company that I work with is socially and environmentally responsible.
It began as full-time and eventually moved to becoming my side business because I really need to fund it. I teach every day at an independent school and that’s basically how I’m funding Slow Factory right now.
Sometimes things take a lot of time. I tend to rush into things, it’s the Lebanese way to just go, go, go and react like you’re in survival mode. My biggest failures were when I rushed things. I force myself to slow down and that’s why I called my company Slow Factory.

ON TRANSITION

I studied art to become an artist and stumbled upon a career as a designer after I learned everything online. I was on my maternity leave and was really looking to do something else because I didn’t want to be designing interfaces anymore. I was ready to do something different.
At the beginning I didn’t know what I was doing, so I would rush into writing an email that I should have waited before sending and burn a relationship that just started blossoming, especially a professional relationship, but I learnt from that.
My day is full. I teach from 9am-5pm, I run to day-care, pick up my daughter, I come home, I feed her, we play, she goes to sleep at 8.30pm and then I get back to work on Slow Factory. I hope I’m going to get funding so I can keep moving forward.

ON FAILURE

I moved to New York a year ago because my husband got a new job. I got hired as a designer and thought maybe I’d do that really quickly and get my visa. But then I got fired for the first time in my life, so that was one failure I had to cope with. I let it really hurt me, more than it was supposed to, even though I was miserable and wanted to quit.
I used to let failure embody me. It was so hard to get out of that circle, but eventually I realized if you start feeling bad for yourself, you sort of excuse yourself from even trying or pushing forward; you become your own worst enemy at this point.
Now when things go wrong, I have a tendency to want to fall on the floor and be dramatic, and live it like it’s a Greek tragedy, but time and experience has taught me to try to push it away as soon as it lands.

ON FEAR

Fear is a powerful genie. My biggest fear, I think we all share it, we’re afraid to fail, whatever that means because I think we need to redefine failure. I’m extremely spiritual, I find meaning in all sorts of things and I try to look for healing, so instead of looking at them as failures, I like to see them now as opportunities to learn a lesson.
There is a beautiful Ted Talk by this woman who said when fear occurs, you’ve got to sit down with it like it’s a troubled child, and address it and talk to it, calm it down and see what it’s about, and then move on. So that’s what I try to do now. Yes, I get scared, it really occupies my whole body, but then I remind myself to sit down, have a coffee and talk to myself about what I’m afraid of.

ON MONEY

When I got fired, I found myself, instead of living on a very big salary that I used to make, having to live on $100 for two weeks. I had to find creative ways to make meals with the bare minimum that were still interesting and delicious. But I found all of these constraints, maybe because I’m a designer, made me even more creative and even more appreciative of everything around me. I went from being angry and sad to being extremely moved, and then being inspired and grateful; this really changed how I see everything. I lived it as something I should be gaining from.

ON SELF-LOVE

I try to meditate as often as I can because I notice that when I don’t for a long stretch of time, I become very much owned by fear. I’m nervous for no reason, I don’t have patience, so definitely meditation helps me stay grounded, release tension and to be balanced.
I eat out and don’t ask restaurants what was the chicken’s name, but at home we make a conscious effort to have no processed food and to eat organic, local produce.
I would love to work out more. This is something I feel that is missing from my life, just natural movement, stretching, getting things done with your body. I go to the park a lot with my daughter, but it’s not like being alone on a yoga matt or doing something for you. It’s just hard to find time.

ON INSPIRATION

Only recently, since I entered my late twenties, have I realized that my parents are a great source of inspiration to me. My father has had so many careers in his life. When we left Lebanon, he lost everything and never looked back. It was a hard path for him to rebuild himself until he found a career that he likes and is successful at. My mother had to learn English and work long hours, but was always so positive and always cooked for us; I don’t know how she did it. I’m so lucky to have seen that courage.

ON SUPPORT

I have a psychic healer friend, who lives off the grid in no comfort at all, but she has this unconditional love towards people. She is my mentor and helps me find my strength and perspective. I met her randomly but she has been my angel, helped me to find myself and find this notion of home that is actually within us; wherever you are is home. She showed me how to mediate and how to help others; she’s the most empathetic person I’ve ever met in my life.

ADVICE TO THE COMMUNITY

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Look for meaning in everything you do. Meaning will give you a sense of fulfillment that is far greater than looking for happiness. Happiness will fade away but meaning will give you this anchor that will always bring you back up and keep you going.

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