Startup Diaries: Building A Business That Fills A Gap

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Vivian Sayward talks to TheNextWomen about her success story and shares some of the great tips she has learned on her journey.

I love being asked why I started my business and how resilience has enabled me to continue growing. I know first-hand how important transparency is; I watch and marvel at entrepreneurs who have dominated my industry and appreciate their openness.

I am able to learn from their struggles, challenges, triumphs and pivots. I would like to do the same for TheNextWomen readers. My business is constantly evolving and I’ve learned so much about myself and about the process of building a business.

Here are my 6 secrets behind every successful business; things I have learned from taking my high-end sportswear line, Vivacity Sportswear, from concept to conception and from small to scalable.

1. Is your business idea/product solving a problem?

My business idea was inspired on the golf course and my closet! I started my business, Vivacity Sportswear, because I could not find anything well made, comfortable and fashionable to wear on the golf course.

A few years back, I started to play golf with my husband John, an avid golfer. He soon grew tired of waiting for me as I went through my closet figuring out what the heck I was going to wear on the course; an outfit that did not make me look like a undersized man (i.e. men’s polo shirt cut short and called a woman’s top) or worse. Finally one day John called me on it: I’m tired of waiting for you every time we plan to play golf. I’m also tired of hearing your complaints. Either do something about it or deal with it!?

Never being a woman to shy away from a challenge, I accepted. My husband’s response was my impetus to start my own line. I had one minor…ok, MAJOR problem. I didn’t know anything about design, manufacturing, or fashion.

My background was in biotech/pharmaceuticals and I was growing tired of my corporate life and wanted to get my hands into something that I could create and grow. I didn’t let the learning curve keep me from stepping up. Hence Vivacity Sportswear was born.

 

2. Research, ask questions and act: not necessarily always in that order!

Of course I did some research when I first explored the possibility of starting my own line.

You can take the woman out of biotech but you can?t take the biotech outta the woman!

I’m always doing research, even after a few seasons of collections under my belt. I went to textile shows, trade shows and talked to fabric vendors, other designers, pattern makers, retail store owners, etc. At local golf courses I would walk into the pro shop and ask the retailers what brands were selling and why, who was their typical female customer, what issues they had, etc. From there I gathered a profile of my typical target customer. My data confirmed my target market: it was me and my fellow golfing/active female friends!

3. Learn on the job: you can’t have all the answers from the get go.

Even though my training and background was not in fashion design, I have learned ‘on the job’ what needs to happen in order to develop and merchandise a collection. The sewers and cutters with whom I work in San Diego have been invaluable resources for me. They appreciate that I’m transparent about what I know and what I don’t. They appreciate the fact that I truly respect and value their work, expertise and details and that I seek to learn the why behind the what. They take pride in their beautiful craftsmanship and they know that I am truly excited about showing off their work at pro shops and resorts throughout the country. My fabric and trim vendors have also been amazing resources and have become champions of this venture.

All this once again proves that you simply can’t run a business alone: you MUST reach out, collaborate, learn, learn, and did I mention, learn?

 

4. Go with your gut: it’s one of your best assets!

Early on, I spoke to a few men in the golf apparel and equipment industry about starting my business. Side note: I learned early on what the old boys? network the golf industry is and who is welcome there (being a Latina woman, I was even more of an anomaly in the golf manufacturing world). When I spoke about my intention to create a women’s golf lifestyle line and to manufacture in the US, I definitely got some push back from a few of these ‘industry leaders.’

A former CEO of a golf equipment company told me that there was no money in women’s golf apparel. It was always the money losing segment of the typical golf pro shop. When I explained that I just thought that manufacturers were not creating product that women wanted, he ignored my comments. A few weeks later, I found an article in the PGA (Professional Golf Association) Magazine admonishing pro shops about what a poor job they did in merchandising ladies apparel: no wonder women’s golf apparel was losing money! In my gut, I knew I was right.

I also dealt with the naysayers regarding manufacturing in the US. When I brought this up with some of the men in golf, they told me the same: labor costs are too high, quality manufacturing no longer exists in the US, etc. I’m proud to say I’m proving them wrong. I have made it a mandate to manufacture all my pieces in Southern California, specifically in San Diego where there are some very talented local contractors who do beautiful garment work. I’ve worked long and hard to find amazing sources in San Diego who work closely with me and my team to deliver the best quality product for our customers.

There will always be naysayers and sometimes you just have to be the one that spearheads something new and needed (read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow).

 

5. Your team will make or break your business!

Hiring/managing team members is extremely difficult. One of my first ‘hires’ was a woman who had worked in golf retail and had some experience in designing. She talked a great gold game but continuously missed deadlines and alienated other team members and vendors. When I finally reviewed our (lack of) progress with her, she realized she had run out of excuses and quit of her own accord. I thought I would not be able to finalize our first small collection, but I did it, thanks to the support of my contractors and vendors.

Within the next few months I was introduced to now Vivacity’s Creative Director, Christina Zeller, who right away understood what I wanted to do. We have since worked together to create a beautiful collection of tops, skirts, pants, dresses and jackets with flattering feminine designs (take that golf polo shirts!), high quality, easy to care fabrics and details such as Swarovski: crystal trims, piping, color blocking, a truly fresh look at golf/resort wear! I learned that following your gut about your hires is just as important as deciding what new process to implement.

You waste money keeping people who “don’t get it”.

There are some things you can train but you can’t rework someone’s integrity or drive. Eliminating my first hire made the space for the talented Christina.

 

6. Enjoy the journey

It’s so easy to get caught up in the day to day minutiae of sales calls, production forecasting, and operations. Don’t lose sight of the inspiration behind your venture. You are creating something that helps/responds to an unmet need in the market. You are providing new jobs and growing the economy. And you are doing it all on your own terms. It’s quite empowering, and it keeps me going.

No matter what obstacles I face along the way, I hold on tight to my why. When business is hard, finances are not where they need to be, I get in touch with my purpose and it  invigorates my drive.

Vivian Sayward is founder and president of Vivacity Sportswear? a high-end sportswear line designed for and by women, and designed and produced in Southern California. The company was established in 2011 and it is carried in golf pro shops, resorts and boutiques across the US. The collection combines sport with haute couture; head-turning silhouettes with everyday comfort; and refined detailing with wicking, anti-microbial fabrics. 

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