Lori Fields, Serial Entrepreneur: Handbags, Pets and Custom Hoodies
One of the nice things about angel investing is not only meeting and working with incredible entrepreneurs, but the network of angel investors that I work has proven to be pretty incredible too.
I was introduced to Lori Fields by some other angel investors. More than likely because of my background in the schmata industry. They were right. I so get Lori's business and am impressed with what she has done after buying the business from someone who originally grew it and then let it implode. She saw an opportunity and went for it and now Neighborhoodies, which allows customers to design their perfect hoodie, is well on its way back to a healthy growing business.
Lori grew up in Mammoth County, NJ. Her mother was a special-ed teacher and her father was a finance guy for an apparel company...so apparel started in her blood a long time ago. After graduating high school, she went to the Philadelphia College of Textiles and Sciences. Lori knew she wanted to do something entrepreneurial in the fashion industry so she began with the design end.
During Lori's summer she worked in the garment center. Her first gig was with Isaac Mizrahi when he was working out of Wooster Street in Soho. Next stop was Gitano.
It was the heydey of the 80's in the schmata business and it was a very different place that it is now. I know because I was in it too.
Gitano was backing Isaacs business so the move there made total sense. After graduating, they offered her a job and she took it.
She started designing separtes and coordinates. After one year, she moved into accessories. The job was not only about design but production too and she began to travel overseas where the product was being made to Korea, Taiwan, China and the Philippines. She was making moderate priced fashion jewelry for Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters and Wet Seal. She then moved to handbags, within the same company and primarily traveled to China.
The ability to design a product, get it manufactured and then see it hit the retail stores and sell is an invaluable experience.
Someone she knew was working on building a company called Promgirl. It was 1999 and the company was backed by J. Barry (a dress manufacturer). She decided to get involved from the get go. It was exciting to be in a start-up. The business took off, growing organically and now sells about 70,000 dresses a month. Lori decided that she could either stick around to vest but she really wanted to start her own business and so she took the risk and jumped ship.
She really saw a void in the pet market and at that time there was, it was 1999. She built a company called Pet Voyage.
Lori had designed an entire product line for pets. She started selling to large companies such as Target, growing the company's revenue to $3 million.
After doing it for 5 years, she sold it to Vo-toys and then stuck around for another 5 years to consult and create an entire other line of cleaning products and treats. She was not only consulting for them but other pet companies.
Still in her entrepreneurial mode, she was ready for the next. Through friends she became aware that Neighborhoodies was available to buy. She thought it was an interesting opportunity. She really wanted to turn this into more of an ecommerce business vs a brick and mortar business which is originally was. The timing was right and she bought Neighborhoodies.
Lori talks about how starting a company vs taking one over is a very different experience. You are basically walking in someone elses shoes for awhile, although you eventually find your way.
There were dumpsters to clean out, things weren't as organized as she wanted, there wasn't enough customer service. She basically had to update the brand and streamline the process. The opportunities weren't being met from working with large companies to create products for their employees to ecommerce. The thing about a customized business is that it creates a lot of efficiency and information for the end client creating a relationship that hopefully will last.
Lori has a small shop in Dumbo although the bulk of the business is coming from large customers and ecommerce the store front is a nice addition to the area. She is now on a roll. The key has been communications with the customers. I really like what Lori has turned around and created. It is a wonderful business that could scale to a place where it will provide the perfect life style business for her.
Is she a woman tech entrepreneur? Perhaps, because it is the web that has allowed Lori to evolve her business efficienctly. Let's count her into the statistics and BTW, the product is super comfy and soft.
Based in New York City, Joanne Wilson, aka Gotham Gal, started working with web startups folllowing a career in fashion. She is now involved with various startups as an advisor or investor, including Curbed (Eater/Racked), Food52, Red Stamp, Ricks Picks, Hot Bread Kitchen, Gotham Gym, The Moon Group and MOUSE. She has also invested in a few restaurants, is an early supporter of the Highline project, and sits on various non-profit boards.
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