When you think about buying jeans, does the thought fill you with dread? Well, fear no more as one Gen Y entrepreneur, Julia Kastner, wants to change how women shop for and buy jeans by launching Eva & Paul in New York City.
As a first-time entrepreneur, Kastner’s path to founding Eva & Paul did not unfold overnight. She made numerous strategic decisions and developed key skills before taking the entrepreneurial plunge. As detailed below, Kastner shares six key lessons in hopes that they will assist fellow Gen Y women aspiring to launch their own start-ups.
1. Know the problem you’re trying to solve.
Kastner always loved jeans, but shopping for them was incredibly frustrating. She found the entire shopping experience time consuming and disappointing due to the lack of customer service in stores, and brands that failed to be gorgeously designed and perfectly fitted. She also learned about the recent frequency of factory fires in apparel production, child labor in cotton farming, and the water use involved in making traditional jeans. By founding Eva & Paul, Kastner aims to marry fashion, technology, and corporate social responsibility into her e-commerce business to enable women to shop for and buy that perfect pair of jeans.
2. Inspiration can strike anywhere.
The genesis of founding Eva & Paul and designing a line of fairly traded, organic denim started when Kastner was working in Mexico for Kiva — a company that provides microloans to entrepreneurs who cannot access capital through traditional channels like banks. With Kiva’s small loans of even $500, farmers were able to scale their businesses and transform their lives. The CSR-focused mission within business models such as Kiva’s made a lasting impression on Kastner when she entered Harvard Business School in 2010. While at HBS, she read many case studies on companies that infused CSR principles into their businesses and most admired the approaches taken by TOMS, Timberland, and Patagonia.
3. Choose your city
Upon graduating from HBS in May of 2012, Kastner set her sights on launching Eva & Paul in New York. The “We Are Made in NY” campaign focused on the growing number of tech and digital startups in New York struck a chord with Kastner. She adamantly believes that New York’s increasing cluster of “fashion companies with a tech focus” such as Warby Parker and Birchbox will enable Eva & Paul to grow even faster. She also credits New York’s unique position as a fashion, design, media, and finance hub for attracting incredibly smart and creative talent. This talent pool has allowed Kastner to quickly scale Eva & Paul from a business plan to designing the first pair of Eva & Paul-branded jeans — her “favorite pair of jeans ever” — and launching a fundraising campaign on Kickstarter on May 7, 2013. In addition to the Kickstarter campaign, Kastner has launch parties scheduled to introduce Eva & Paul jeans to customers in New York, Boston, San Francisco, and Washington, D.C.
4. Learn about your target customers.
Before launching Eva & Paul, as part of an independent study project at Harvard, Kastner researched common frustrations with apparel and jeans in particular, conducting one-on-one interviews with women in her demographic as well as online surveys. Kastner believes that her target customers — the Gen Y woman or eco-fashionista — will appreciate buying jeans that are not only gorgeously designed but made with organic, fairly-traded cotton grown on small family farms in India. She believes that an increasing number of women are seeking a “Scandinavian minimalism” or less-is-more approach to shopping. In addition to buying fewer clothes, Kastner contends that women are interested in clothes that are not only well-designed, flattering, and pretty, but also made in a sustainable manner that avoids wasting water and pays that farmer growing the organic cotton a fair price.
5. Know your appetite for risk.
Kastner encourages women to take the plunge and start a business despite the uncertainty of success. “You have to be fearless,” she admits. According to some statistics, 90 percent of startups fail. Kastner notes, “Women are risk adverse. It sometimes keeps us from doing the right thing.” However, she firmly believes that “doing something that has a potential downside is a good thing. You push yourself harder and you learn.”
6. Develop a toolbox of hard and soft skills.
Most importantly, Kastner believes developing a toolbox filled with hard and soft skills is essential to be a successful entrepreneur. Kastner credits studying economics at McGill University in Montreal in acquiring hard skills to think analytically and critically. She gained additional hard skills in strategy and finance by working for Kiva in Mexico and at the New York City Economic Development Corporation before studying business at HBS. Kastner also cultivated several soft skills — cross-cultural communication and global thinking — by studying, working, and traveling outside the United States.
Entrepreneurs — what did you learn the first time you launched your business? Tell us in the comments!
Kastner got a lot of experience by working for Kiva. Watch our Office Hours with Julie Hanna, Chair of the Board at Kiva!