Monday, April 14, 2008

Meet Michelle Adams of Rubie Green

My friends and I often talk about starting our own companies but it's a little daunting trying to figure out where to start. Then one of them wondered aloud how the blogger behind the site M.A . Belle started her organic fabric company Rubie Green and it got me wondering too so I decided why not just ask her! Turns out that M.A. Belle is really Michelle Adams and she was kind enough to share not her story but some really great practical advice on how to start a business.

Michelle has had a quick rise to the top! She graduated in May 2006 from Michigan State University with two degrees, one in apparel and textile design with a minor in interior design and another degree in advertising. While in school she worked for Pottery Barn for three years but one week after graduation she went to work for Domino as a Market Editor. Can you imagine! She assisted Tori Mellott for a year and a half before she left to start Rubie Green! Amazing!

Michelle said that Domino was the most incredible experience of her life. "It opened my eyes to so many people, styles and ideas and I'm POSITIVE I could not have started Rubie Green without having worked there." She also said she had always been really intrigued by textile designers. "As early as high school, I was clipping articles about Rachel Ashwell and Cath Kidston, and studying what worked for them versus what did not." In college, she continued to research and explore different designers, and took a sustainability course which opened her eyes to the importance of environmentally friendly design. "Our professor taught us that if we were going to put more products onto the earth then we needed to do so responsibly. It's a concept that has stuck with me throughout the entire manufacturing process, despite the fact that it would have been twenty times easier to manufacture in traditional ways." See, some students do listen in class!

As for starting her business, Michelle says it was actually a LOT easier than one would think! "I am 25 and have a creative brain, not a business oriented one, and so far have been able to figure things out one day at a time! My basic structure for figuring things out is as follows, and I will break it down below: 1) reach out to contacts. 2) attend relevant trade shows to ask questions, meet pros and learn more. 3) establish a niche market. 4) utilize free in-state resources. 5) call upon competitors. 6) GO FOR IT!!"

"So basically, when I left Domino in September, I honestly had NO CLUE what to do, so I started by making a list of contacts that seemed even REMOTELY relevant. I tried not to narrow the list down since you never know who will know somebody else! Then I began by reaching out to my contacts for advice and to see if anybody knew of any reputable eco-printers in the states. Once I had exhausted my leads (and learned quite a bit!) I attended an Organic Exchange conference out in Monterey, CA. where I was introduced to printers, suppliers, manufacturers, designers, ETC, who were all incredibly knowledgeable and thrilled to help! I also attended a women's business event hosted by Design Sponge and Oh Joy blogs, and ended up meeting fellow female entrepreneurs who I still chat with today! Lots of us bounce ideas off each other so the meeting was an invaluable experience. (And was free!)" We love free!

"When I came back, I went into research mode and searched for a manufacturer, which actually ended up taking me about 3.5 months!! It wouldn't be as hard if I weren't manufacturing eco-friendly items though, so don't be turned off by that. In the meantime, I worked on my designs and branding so that I could launch it positioned the way I wanted it. (Just wait till you see the final site! It's going to be SO CUTE!) I was lucky that my interests in eco-design happened to already be a niche market, since having some sort of niche is crucial to success (You have to figure out why somebody would want your product versus another and really play up that reason). Great Advice!

Next, I scheduled a meeting with a business advisor who is available to meet for FREE with residents of New York City (each state has a similar program) and can discuss anything from naming my company to helping me file for taxes and marketing! I went to him to figure out how to legally register my company, since I HATE research and wanted to be lazy and have him TELL ME how to do it, which he did! Happily! And for free! The NYC website can be found HERE, and again each state has their own." I just want someone to tell me what I need to do too so I found this advice from Michelle invaluable!

"Once I got my company legally registered and also filed for my trademark, I was all set to apply for a tax ID number and start up business! Along the way I cold called some of my competitors and was honest with them and explained who I was and what I wanted to achieve and asked whether I could ask them some questions, and you'd be surprised by how many people were willing to help me! Harmony Susalla of Harmony Art and Design was particularly AMAZING and helped me out immensely, as did Dawn Oliveira of Oliveira Textiles! I basically owe them my life! Along the way, I also paired up with a friend from college who has a business brain, and he's been there to ask questions and bounce ideas off of. He will play a larger role in supply chain management once my company starts to take off." Michelle runs her company from her 350 square foot apartment on the Upper East Side and says, "I don't even have a desk and couldn't be happier!" Woo hoo!!!

I always say it but it's true that the best part of blogging has been all the amazing and inspiring people I've come into contact with. I want to thank Michelle Adams for taking the time to tell us how she was able to "become her dream." I hope her story and advice will prompt you to begin thinking about starting your own business. I know it did for me!


Photos by Peter Wang and Patrick Cline

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