High School Dropout Ebony Swank Used Forward Thinking to Build MultiMillion-Dollar Brand
Dropping out of high school was no hindrance to this fashionista’s determination to reach her goals.
Detroit native and nationally recognized fashion entrepreneur, Ebony Swank, may not have followed the typical educational path to become the successful businesswoman she is today, but the fashionista is a significant asset to the fashion industry’s ongoing evolution of systemic change and efforts to address issues of inclusivity. Known for creating the World’s Stretchiest Jeans, Swank is the founder of Swank a Posh, a quality and affordable clothing brand she has grown from a small business into a multimillion-dollar company in less than a decade.
Swank is a forward thinker, which led her to finding an ignored niche in the fashion market. Affordable, stylish clothing that accentuates women’s curves and appeals to all body types accelerated Swank a Posh’s popularity among consumers.
The self-taught business owner shared her journey with BLACK ENTERPRISE, from being a high school dropout, to building a successful brand, and now mentoring and counseling young, African American businesswomen.
Navigating success with no degree
“It’s not just I’m a high school dropout,” Swank says. “I only have an eighth-grade education. When I decided to take my GED, which was very early on, I just went in and just took the test and passed.” Swank explains that taking the test was just something she decided to do.
Calling herself a forward thinker, Swank says she broke into the accounting world and made sure she was actively working to gain experience.
In Swank’s department, she shares that it was pretty much a requirement to have some type of degree in order to be at a higher level. “My thing was always to make sure that the person that mattered, like the CFO or the controller, knew my name [and] knew who I was so that they could give me more things to do.” Such strategies ensured that when it came time for a position opening or promotion, Swank’s name would come up for consideration.
Being an active forward thinker, Swank was able to climb her way into different departments; taking her from the data entry department, to becoming a collections specialist, over to being an accounting manager, and then a financial analyst.
Swank ‘loves failure:’ Opens first store in a luxury mall, then closes down
The fashionista says she was so excited when she quit her job and opened her first store next door to Nordstrom in a high-class mall.
“I spent tons of money, but I didn’t make any, so I had to close.” Swank felt if she wasn’t profitable, her store was pointless. “That’s why I just love failure,” she says, reflecting again on not graduating from high school, only having an eighth-grade education, and coming from a single-parent home.
The forward thinker knew she had no desire to return to work, so she gave her store another try and reopened with $12,000, and this time she was successful.
Creating her multimillion-dollar baby, Swank a Posh
Swank applied her accounting principals, placing her focus solely on the customer. She developed a plan that made sense and found a name that stood out. She used part of her $12,000 budget and flew out to shop in a district in Los Angeles.
“I needed to be able to control my pricing,” she says.
Swank says she researched the Juicy Couture brand, digging into who their customer was: “the young, Black girl. I started researching more of who the young, Black girl was and what she was interested in,” Swank continues, saying she did everything as it related to her target consumer.
Using this unique strategy, she noticed her store took off. She opened a second store observing success from both locations, before she launched her online store.
As she continued to scale, Swank was approached by a company to buy nearly 50% of her business for a million dollars, which she knew was no money. “I knew that I never wanted to get into a situation that I would regret,” she says. This propelled her to invest more money into her business. Swank started running ads, learning about digital media, and then eventually hired other people to perform company tasks.
Swank has grown from starting with $12,000, which was all she had, to building a $40 million company. The brand saw a record one-day take from $1 million on Black Friday to $2 million by Cyber Monday.
The Swank a Posh brand considers the Black woman first. She says making clothes specifically for Black women is her responsibility.
Swank says she makes sure Swank a Posh clothing provides stretch in specific areas like the hip, thigh, and butt where Black women may be a little heavier. “Nobody has ever made clothes specifically for Black women,” she says. “It’s my responsibility to make sure that whatever I touch, whatever fabric I use, that it has the amount of stretch that’s needed,” she says in regards to fit.
It was all about showing girls clothing that was inclusive to all sizes. “Body positivity is where I really went in,” Swank says, sharing her view that she wanted young women to love themselves. “We have clothes that will fit everyone,” Swank says, noting that larger companies have used the Swank a Posh verbiage for their own platforms.
Swank a Posh clothing also considers length, arm size, and women who are chest heavy. “I’m heavy-chested and I’m bottom heavy,” Swank shares, recalling her time shopping at stores and struggling to find clothes that fit.
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Advising and giving her employees real careers
The self-taught entrepreneur says teaching the young people key points and tools such as how to dress properly, create resumes and cover letters, and give firm handshakes is part of her commitment to prepare young professionals for success. “No one showed me how to do that,” Swank says, adding that youth mentorship was part of her mission before she got to her current status with her company. “I was able to hire them and give them a real career.”
Swank says although she doesn’t require a degree to work with her company, she does love when people have them, as she believes a degree gives you structure. “That’s my giveback. My giveback is giving to those that possibly didn’t have the chance to go to college or the money,” she says, adding that she allows them to work for her business, builds them up, and then promotes them.
“You definitely have to be able to work for, including have the skillset, but I am a really great teacher,” Swank continues, priding herself on being able to accelerate the careers of those who get experience working directly with her.
Expanding Swank a Posh
According to Swank, her stores are profiting way more than before. She is working on opening her own factories and having more control over the volume that’s going in and out of her company. Swank has multiple brick-and-mortar stores and her brand has amassed more than a million combined followers.