Over a cup of tea with a fashion designer Neima Sitawi
I met Neima around 4 years ago in London by accident (as usual :))… Shining with openness, enthusiasm and energy she right away made me want to get to know her better.
I was lucky enough to have had this opportunity and was both enthused and inspired by her decision to follow her passion by opening her fashion label. Seeing people following their heart always makes me very happy. I’d love to share her story with you. Perhaps it will “tickle” something within you too.
After having globe-trotted for almost 7 years, Neima now lives in Italy with her husband and two beautiful children and runs her fashion label Neima Sitawi. Her journey in finding her path wasn’t straight-forward; she has tried quite a few things before until she has decided to follow her “natural inclinations” towards fashion. Here is what we chatted about while sipping a cup of tea…
When we met in London now almost 4 years ago (wow, time flies!), you were a bit on a different path… you made the switch to fashion just recently – a year or two ago, right? How did you find / realize this passion of yours? What inspired you to get on this path full-heartedly?
After over 10 years in corporate I decided to “come out of the closet” about my very strong artistic calling. Trust me, soul-searching, re-positioning and launching was not an easy exercise. I have had only a few reoccurring dreams my entire life. One of which is to run a global fashion house with me as an independent designer of women’s apparel.
After discovering that I really CAN be a respected businesswoman AND a fully recognized creative professional, I decided that it was time to put my reconciled self to the test.
After having moved to Bologna, Italy for family reasons, I decided to in fact go into business for myself. I opened my own luxury fashion house in the heart of Italy.
If I remember correctly, once you decided to make this switch, you basically put everything together just in one year, isn’t it? Great illustration of the power of the push we get once we go in the right direction… You designed your first collection, created a website and launched your collection with a great launch event. How did you approach this whole step of “deciding to switch” and “making the switch”? Did you plan your launch carefully or did things just fall in their own places?
Of course I had a pretty detailed business plan at least from the strategic side (which has of course evolved and mutated over 50 times). The implementation kind of happened on its own.
I created a sort of Gantt chart to manage the planning of my project and used other business tools for decision making and goal setting. Once you know what needs to be done, and give yourself a realistic deadline, you can really work backwards to today and define a critical path. The most important part is to stay focused and disciplined about the roll out.
As for the creative side, it is funny. Very much of what my debut collection reveals is the lack of quality staples that I had in my own wardrobe. My goal was to design a series of core foundation pieces or wardrobe cornerstones where women can always be sure fits all occasions and will match everything they already have. So the designing of the collection came all to me in one big blast and within a week I had everything down on paper and ready to present to the pattern makers and master tailor.
I work with quite a few entrepreneurs who always look for creative ways to launch their ventures on a budget. Would you mind telling us a bit about your own launch campaign? How did you approach it? How did you orchestrate it? What type of help was the most important? Which channels / tactics were the most effective?
A great deal of my success I owe largely to an army of interns that I hired as soon as I set up my business. I credit my timely delivery, my global presence and my local mar-comm team to my amazing internship program. In order to work on a tight startup budget, you need to hire able, quality employees who have a lot to gain from your experience and could benefit from the exposure and the vicarious networking.
My interns come on the scene knowing that this is a very tough role and that they will be required to dedicate to the role as if it were their full time job. They do not get coffee and run errands, these are experienced MBA students who are living abroad and looking to tap into my industry. The experience is more of a mentoring program rather than an internship.
I was always transparent into the faults and successes of the business and leaned on them for true advice and support. I put my business in their hands and they took it to heart as if it were their own.
It was a total win-win and I have been very lucky to have met such bright young men and women and look forward each time to a new experience.
In addition to this, I work very closely with local businesses, forming partnerships and strategic alliances to insure a more commercial win-win.
My advice is to know the strength and pull of your sector and find out who offers a complimentary product and shares your interest in a specific target market. If they are already established and seeking new customers, you would be surprised at how willing they are to support your events, projects and ideas.
I know that you used quite a bit of social media to create the buzz, a lot of bloggers featured you in their blogs. Could you tell a bit more about this? Which social media channels did you use and what was the most effective for you? Looking back, what will you do differently in your future campaigns?
The strategy was to engage fashion bloggers and editors who have their finger on the pulse in their local market. Depending on their level of expertise, interest and availability the role could evolve into something a bit more involved. The key for me was to arm a Global Brand Ambassador in every target geographic market.
These individuals were given the authority to represent the NEIMASITAWI brand in their local market. This approach was important not only to spread the word swiftly and on a global level but also to learn from ‘in the field’ about the preferences in various markets.
Currently, I have trusted bloggers in various target countries who are willing to feature me and my brand in exchange for guest passes to my events, exclusive interviews, giveaways and invitations to “dine with the designer”.
Other than the fashion blogosphere, I heavily depended on Facebook to inform interested people about the latest and greatest at NEIMASITAWI. It was also a very casual way to inform the crowd about upcoming events, sales, news and articles.
Looking back, I would have had my NEIMASITAWI blog up much sooner. It is still a work in progress.
Which main tools do you use to communicate with your audience? What works for you best? What would you ideally have?
As of now, I have my website, Facebook and private correspondence with my existing clientele. I would like to roll out the NEIMASITAWI blog as well as a quarterly newsletter, an online email distribution system and take my website to the next level.
How do you grow your brand’s presence online and keep on spreading the buzz? Would you mind sharing some tips with us?
Facebook is still a very effective tool for me, I can swiftly engage with my public and they are not threatened or feel overwhelmed by the level of information I am putting out there. I still think that this approach lacks the necessary sophistication because Facebook’s own branding detracts greatly from the image and branding I would like to maintain with my company. I would like to strengthen my brand image by moving all of my social media “in-house”.
I noticed that at the beginning you had quite a few pages and profiles with your brand on Facebook – Neima SitawiTurkey, Neima SitawiGermany, etc. Why did you decide to do this? Isn’t it too complicated to manage different Facebook pages, especially when one is starting out? Are these pages bringing any tangible value to you? Who is managing these pages for you?
These approaches to Facebook were created by my local brand ambassadors in the various countries. The reason for opening them was to give the local following a chance to engage with NEIMASITAWI in their own language. This would have been a good project but as they were run by interns and interns come and go, the updating is not very thorough. They no longer bring value and will be closed down; all readers will be re-directed to the blog or English Facebook page.
So what is happening “chez Neima Sitawi” these days from the creation perspective? What new collections / ideas are you currently working on?
I am currently working on the Spring/Summer 2013 collection which was exclusively available to my private clientele already in Spring 2012. This is one of the ways in which I honor my current following; a 2 season preview!!
If all goes well, you will find in this next collection a dramatic interpretation of some of my favorite artists of Paris, Vienna and Barcelona. Inspiration is derived from the turn of the century and early 20th century artistic succession and modernist movements. Erte, Gaudi and Klimt will be the guests of honor.
I think that the success of this latest sales campaign (fall/winter 2012-13) will allow me to open up the hiring process and take a look at new strategic challenges.
I know you gave birth to your second child just recently. Juggling the motherhood and your business isn’t that easy, is it? I hope that it is inspiring, though! Have you been thinking perhaps about designing a collection for children?
Yes, I gave birth to my beautiful daughter Nila in January 2012. It is very challenging running a full scale, international business with a small team and on personal finances. But my agent in Germany represents me in Belgium, Netherlands and Germany and is taking a load off of me from the commercial side.
Yes, I have always wanted to do a children’s line. I am so inspired by French baby clothes of the 1960’s and find that there is really very little by way of high quality, classic but sharp clothing for baby boys. I would love to put some ideas down but I need to take it step by step. My original plan was to launch a bebe and men’s line by 2014. Only time will tell if that will happen.
What’s next for the Neima Sitawi? What dreams are you going to make happen?
My greatest dreams for now are to continue to collect inspiration, watch my two beautiful children grow and expand into new markets. Next on the list: France, Belgium, Budapest and Beijing. So much to do, and so much fun doing it!
What advice would you give to someone wanting to starts his/her fashion label?
Make a plan and stick to it! Know your strengths. Leverage your intellectual and network resources. Give all that you can give wholly and fully and be patient. Get a business degree or hire a consultant. Do something you really believe in. Don’t play it safe and take risks to make your dreams come true.