Brooke Trevitt, Co-Founder, Cooei: Tackling the Style vs Comfort Dilemma!

The NextWomen September Food & Fashion Theme.

Brooke Trevitt is one half of the sister duo who founded Cooei, a new line which tackles the style vs comfort dilemma head on. We all know that style can sometimes inflict pain, and comfort can sometimes leave a lot to be desired, asthetically! Cooei’s goal is to combine the two in a very special way. 

The Cooei Companion Bag and Flips, a chic nylon clutch packed with compact foldable flip flops, is their first product, with more on the way. Designed to tackle the agony of uncomfortable high heels, the bag converts from a clutch into a shoulder bag once the flip flops have been removed, allowing the high heels to be carried.

I spoke to Brooke about how her smart fashion brand stands out; the mistake which led to her spending two days in a warehouse with a packet of sharpies; and the secrets of the fashion startup scene!

AJM: How did you get started in smart fashion?

BT: I moved to the US and and we started slowly, as we needed to become accustomed to the US market. In the beginning, we did not commit 100%, it was just about learning, asking questions, networking and understanding while still working and living our regular lives. This slowly developed into experience, working in jobs/industries, which offered a further insight into the business. Working as art director for Louisville Magazine and later as Brand Manager for the Vera Wang Sunglass line I gained experience in publishing, design, manufacturing and distribution. While Cassandra worked in various high profile business roles, gaining knowledge in business, marketing and customer experience.

AJM: When did you first decide that Cooei was right for you?

BT: Sometimes times things move like gravity when it is time to make a change or start something new in your life. It was like that with Cooei. Everything that seemed to distract us us from Cooei, became less of a distraction, even our jobs were not going in the direction we wanted them too.

There were many indictions, big and small that made us realize it was time to leave our day jobs and start Cooei with 100% focus.

AJM: Do you have a formula for smart fashion?

BT: Our basic formula is, style + comfort + quality. But the application of this formula is the key for us. The accessory or item of clothing must be comfortable and styled well for our customers and the detailing that goes into this is very intricate. Every component is looked at with a microscope and tested for this formula. Seams, zips, straps, fabric, metal, material make up etc. We also test each component in all natural settings, rain, hail, shine, running, walking, sitting, sweating, traveling and so on.

AJM: What are some of the key points you look for when you look at smart fashion?

BT: Fabric hand, fabric direction, seam strength, tag placement, correct sizing, versatile color application, non toxic materials, weight.

AJM: What’s the biggest mistake you made getting started in smart fashion?

What could have been our biggest mistake, was ordering too much inventory. You can get caught up with minimums and then numbers start to lose their meaning.

Fortunately for us however, we received some great advice at the 11th hour, which helped put things back into perspective. Managing your supply and demand can be tricky, however, we still believe it is better to have demand. 

A funny mistake we made was to mark all our cartons with the suppliers name, not realizing at the time, when we use other retailers for our distribution, this is not the information we would want anyone to have. Two long days in our warehouse with packets of sharpies certainly guaranteed the "lesson learned" statement.

AJM: What information do you wish you had when you were starting out?

BT: We wish we had more information on how to work with suppliers when you are a start up business. The supplier situation is very different for a start up company, in comparison to an established thriving business, which was my experience.  

It was important for us to find responsible suppliers who treated their staff well. In the end, we realized the best thing to do was to personally visit the factories to see them for ourselves. 

Learning this process took time, trial, error and practice, we could have saved a lot of time and headaches if we knew how it all worked from the beginning. 

AJM: What do you think are the keys to successful smart fashion?

BT: The keys are taking the time to really design one superb item. In the US market, there is emphasis on turn over and seasons, newness and burn and churn with designs. However, we believe for successful smart fashion, a lot of time needs to be devoted to every aspect of just one little item. Our products will be styled basics for women who don't have time to be uncomfortable, so the main key would be to stay true to what you are selling, smart, comfortable and practical fashion.

AJM: What is the difference between you, and all the other smart fashion doing the same thing that you do?

BT: I think the main difference from what we have seen with smart fashion in the market is many people stop at one ("the one hit wonder"), or try to develop more items quickly, neglecting their original concept, so the new products aren't very thoughtful and look rushed. We will stay true to our brand vision, even if that means resisting the temptation to create something new quickly to build our product line. The new products we are developing will be given enough time and focus to remain true to our brand and the concept of smart fashion. 

AJM: How can a smart fashion brand stand out among the traditional fashion industry?

BT: We believe it can stand out, because it talks to a different aspect of a woman's life.

The traditional fashion industry is fabulous, fun and empowering for women; smart fashion feels good against the skin, it moves with your body, it allows you to live your life in your clothes, not to be restricted by them.

AJM: Please share one or two of your favorite, and most helpful resources?

BT: When starting our business we worked closely with The World Trade Center of Kentucky. They were a fantastic resource for us, with personalized assistance, and always hosting current and relevant seminars where we could connect with like minded, helpful people. There is a World Trade Center for every city, so look yours up and join! 

AJM: What’s one of the things that you find most challenging about building Cooei?

Our biggest challenge is not being able to delegate to anyone but each other.

So in the interest of doing everything yourself, you must be all across the business and learn every component from scratch. This is time consuming, exhausting and there are certain areas of the business we don't want to be in, but have to be in. As we grow, hiring employees and delegating work that doesn't come naturally to us or that we don't have time for will help overcome this challenge.

AJM: What’s the favorite part of your day in Cooei?

BT: My favorite part of the Cooei day is the beginning of it. I write a list, and have so much time ahead of me to get everything done. Running our own business means having enough time can be a struggle, so when I have a whole day and (more often than not) evening ahead of me, there is less pressure.  

I love working for Cooei, so starting the day is almost always positive and happy for me, even when I get up on the wrong side of my bed.

We also skype once a week together. These meeting generally include a lot of laughter and productivity, and bring be closer to my family. They are a great part of the Cooei week. 

AJM: What’s a little known secret in the start up fashion scene?

They say there aren't any friends in business, well; there are fewer in fashion. Nothing comes easy or for free and people aren't chasing you down the runway trying to help. 

You have to be willing to do the work yourself, chase whatever luck you can, throw away your ego and just hustle. You have to follow every lead, even if it looks like it will lead to nothing. So I guess the little secret is, it looks so easy and glamorous (as the tale would be told) from the outside, but it is hard, exhausting, muscle work, and you have to have a strong constitution for it. I came to realize this when I was carrying a 2X2 foot box that weighed 50 pounds through the long congested isles of the NY Javits Center, after working a 15 hour trade show day. 

AJM: What does it really take to succeed in smart fashion?

BT: A lot of hard work, a good attitude, being present, focused, having an uncompromising stance on quality; and after all of that, some good luck.  

Where can we find out more about you?

Alyssa Jade McDonald is the founding MD of BLYSS GmbH. The name BLYSS comes from the English word „bliss“, which literally describes a state of profound happiness and joy. Alyssa Jade felt the fusion of bliss and her own name, Lyss, was a commitment to bringing joy into the world via a consciously-indulgent gourmet experience and evolving business methods to bring communities forward together, from addressing diabetes in the Gulf to standards of living in South America.

After years of corporate life which had shattered her health, Lyss began looking for the best solutions for her stomach, environment, and community. She completed the Ironman world championships and threw a handful of naked cacao beans into the ocean off Kona and promised freedom to chocolate. In awe of the intense properties of cacao, she was determined to bring chocolate back to being the food of gods, and find a way to protect it. Three years of research and trial and error sessions in the kitchen eventually led to the science of turning cacao into high quality chocolate through the virgin process.

For more information on Alyssa, click here.

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