Creative Business

A savvy professional knows how to blend style and acumen for profits

Name Donwan Harrell
Title President and Creative Director, Kemistre 8
L.L.C, home to the urban apparel brands
Akademiks, Akademiks Ladies, A.S.A.P
(Akademiks Small Arms Patrol), PRPS, and Stash House
Location New York
Age 37
Power Play Combined creativity and business acumen to establish powerhouse brands
You sound like the prototypical creative person. How did you acquire the skills to run a business?
My mom had her own [fashion design] business, and my father was a master carpenter. So at a young age, I learned that what you put in is what you get out of it. At 10 years old, I knew how to sew and cut patterns. Being in the corporate world at Nike, I learned that it’s not the product that’s challenging; people management is the biggest hurdle. Working in the United State and Hong Kong, I found that different cultures work differently. So I had to change gears. It was a learning curve. You make mistakes and you learn from your mistakes.

What do you believe has made you successful?
I’m extremely competitive, and my parents always pushed me. [They said] you’ve got to be competitive. You’re one of the few blacks in the school-you always need to stay two steps ahead. That was important to my family. I’ve always taken that to heart, and I try to do it with my kids as well. In our community, if you’re the lone soldier in a community of whites, you automatically, in their eyes, set the standard for everybody.

You have new brands coming out, including women’s PRPS Jeans. How are you managing all your endeavors?
By hiring the right people. I’m the brain, but I have to have hands.

What do you look for when you’re hiring?
[I identify] someone who can communicate and has the experience level that I’m looking for. [Also, I want] someone who wants a long-term relationship with the company and who wants to actually learn and gain experience.

When you’re trying to land new clients and presenting your ideas, what skills do you rely on?
Communication is huge, being able to listen. Communication is not just what you have to say; it is listening to what the other person has to say and being open-minded, not having just your idea put across, but actually listening to them and supplying what you think they’re asking for. Being able to listen is such an underrated thing. I’m just a vessel of communication that provides an element of clothing with a name attached to it. When people put on a brand, they want to feel better than they already do. They want to feel good, and you have to provide that.

What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
It’s always good to keep some sort of professional distance with employees, because when something happens, and things always happen, you don’t want to feel guilty about letting someone go if they’re slacking off. It’s business. At the end of the day, you want to make money.

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