Yes, the sisterpreneurs Vanessa, 27, and Angela, 23, Simmons are the daughters of hip-hop pioneer Rev. Run (of Run DMC fame) and nieces of uber-entreprenuer Russell Simmons. And yes, the young ladies did enter our lives (and our consciousness) thanks to reality TV.
But these young women were determined to make a name for themselves by going beyond simply leveraging their TV success. Instead, they positioned themselves to call their own shots by getting their feet wet as young entrepreneurs. The result? Pastry Footwear, their successful clothing and accessories line. Since launching Pastry in 2007 with one sneaker collection, the company has expanded into a multimillion-dollar brand that includes junior apparel, dress shoes, kidswear, accessories, and handbags, and is sold in more than 15 countries–all under the design, concept and constant management of the sisters themselves.
BlackEnterprise.com talked with Vanessa and Angela about the perks and sticky points of working with family, about how challenges can serve as motivation, and about their plans to go beyond gear and get young women moving by promoting fitness.
LESSON 1: Just because you’re given a golden chance, doesn’t mean you can just kick your feet up.
Angela: Nothing’s given to you, because once you get the opportunity, you still have to put in the work. We’re hands on [with the business]: We have meetings, take calls, choose what we like, what we don’t like. We pick colors and fabrics.
Vanessa: At the end of the day, men lie, women lie, but numbers don’t. Results have motivated me to keep going despite challenges or naysayers.
LESSON 2: Working with a relative can have its challenges, but who better to work with than someone who knows your quirks and strengths?
Angela: It’s an advantage because it’s easier to be 100% real when it’s your sister. More than likely, she won’t get offended if I don’t like something. Disputes can happen, but you learn to let personal things go and move on.
Vanessa: Angela went to school for fashion and I studied business. We build each other up, and we try to come to reasonable compromises.
LESSON 3: It’s more than a good idea to tap into the network and resources that are right under your nose.
Vanessa: Best business/money advice from dad: Take what you’re doing seriously, but always have fun. Also, put away at least 10% to 20% of your paycheck for savings. And find other people to partner with and creative ways to grow your money.
Angela: Be organized. Make sure you know what you’re spending, where you’re spending it, your taxes — just know your overall financial picture.
LESSON 4: Breaking into the fashion industry is no cakewalk. You still have to do the work to see success.
Vanessa: Embody the three P’s: Persistence, passion, practice: Have passion for what you do, and just love it and go for it. Go to the Web and research. Go to Barnes & Noble for a day and read the books that are part of the industry. Get the knowledge any way you can.
Angela: It’s definitely not easy. Be persistent, believe in yourself, and do the work.
Lesson 5: Start small and continue elevating with your dream/business/brand based on your consumer base.
Vanessa: I’m particularly proud that we developed a sneaker line just to see how it would go, and it went above and beyond what we would have expected… We’re making really cool clothing you can work out in and also clothing that you can wear to go out.
We’re now developing a basketball sneaker for girls and planning to work with the WNBA players. We want to be able to have different types of sneakers that will fit women’s physical fitness regimen.
Angela: Yes, the athletic basketball shoe is going to be amazing. We have the Box of Chocolates line and athletic wear… We want to encourage young women to work out and continue building our empire.
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