“Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Confucius
Today, I wanted to share with you one of the most intense, restless and terrifying experiences of my life: entrepreneurship and my story with Heimstone.
I was often asked how I started it, how I had landed in fashion, what I was doing before that... So I'll tell you, but I'm here also to talk about the extraordinary experience and challenge it is to have your own business and what it has brought me on a personal level. Because yes, Heimstone revealed me.
Creativity as a punishment
As I already said, I grew up in a very creative environment, where I had the chance to travel a lot, to spend a lot of time in art galleries and museums. My mother is an interior decorator, she has always been self-employed, and my father worked in the advertising industry for a long time and then became the CEO of a big international company. Finally, that was until a few months ago because they are now both retired!
As a child, I loved drawing, painting, knitting, I liked colors, patterns, fabrics, more than just fashion. I had a rather easy schooling, without trouble, it has to be said that we were in a Catholic school in Paris, where the less we stood out from the others and the more we followed the flow, the better it was for us.
My twin sister and I were super tall! In the class of sixième (first year of high school) we measured 1,77 meters, basically we were much taller than all the other students, we put on shoes size 41, and we wore blue shirts that meant that we were only in sixième. I remember being ashamed every new school year because I had the feeling that al the parents would think that we were the two big stupid girls who had repeated three times the same class. Throughout my schooling, I felt that we had to keep a low profile with my sister, the less we would express ourselves, the better it would be for us. So I was discreet, which was easier for me than for Caroline who was pretty "a big mouth".
A funny little anecdote: Caroline was thrown out of school in the class of quatrième, because one of her teachers had said: "After the rain, the fine weather." It had made Caroline gone crazy, she had retorted, "Euh, no, not necessarily!". Caroline insisted, as usual, at the same time she was quite right... Not necessarily! Three days later she was expelled for insolence.
From that day on, I made myself smaller than ever, I was hugging the walls. This is when I started to draw for real, it was my way to be quietly concentrated during classes. It's also what got me a dismissal. I never understood why, but it was well written in black and white: "Spend more time drawing than listening to teachers." At the same time, I had my little average of 12, I didn’t draw attention, I was just drawing.
My point here is to tell you that my first approach to art and creativity was a punishment. Not easy.
In short, after having passed my bachelor degree (baccalauréat), I did a year of preparatory art class at the Atelier de Sèvres in Paris. I wanted to do interior decoration or architecture, like my mom.
The chrysalis and the butterfly
This year of preparatory class produced a liberating effect on me. Everything was possible, everything became feasible, we could realize small or XXL projects. It was so possible that it was getting dizzy. That year was the moment I set myself free. Strangely, all the projects I was working on had more links with fashion than with architecture.
It’s also one of reasons why I decided to apply to some Styling and Modeling schools in addition to other major Art schools. Why? Just like that, out of curiosity because I can’t say that I was super attracted to a fashion school with blue-haired teenagers wearing a three-armed jacket (that's pretty much the image I had of the people inside).
I chose the Atelier Chardon-Savard for the simple reason that they validated my application in May (so very early before the start of the school year), and I like to do things in advance. I hate the last-minute rush, it’s still the case today. But also and especially because they had a mesh workshop with knitting machines. My twin sister Caroline (@threesevenparis) and I are crazy about knitting since we are little.
I stayed there for three years, and everyday I was the first to arrive and the first one to leave. I only had one friend, Martin, and that was all. I chose to learn modeling and it fascinated me. This also allowed me to understand how to build a garment, and surely also because, symbolically, there is something close to architecture in this discipline.
During my schooling, I did some internships, especially in the press, and I quickly realized that it was not for me at all. Then I had some internships at designer’s, including Michel Klein, who allowed me to get my first job as a stitch designer, just after I graduated in June 2005.
At that time, I did not ask myself any questions. Everything was so easy, obvious, limpid, I was completely driven by what occurred to me and whom I met. When I arrived at Michel Klein's, I was 22 years old, and I had so much to learn. It was life and the world of work that I finally had to learn.
In fact while leaving my school of fashion, apart from model making, I didn’t have the feeling I have learned so much, obviously I did, but in a fairy tale version: at school, we learn how to draw fashion silhouettes 60% of the time, then to make a collection during the last year for three months, but apart from that, I could not even tell you what else I had learned.
Yet, I loved the Atelier Chardon-Savard. In fact, I have the impression that we are not taught the basics: how to calculate a cost price, how to negotiate prices with suppliers, how to manage the balance between seasonality and cashflow, how to carry out a production etc. You will tell me, in this case, you should have gone to a business school, but no, the creativity and the real world can’t be separated.
Michel Klein was such a good school, because I was able to learn in express speed everything I had not learned during my three years of school. As it was a very small team, working at Michel Klein gave me the opportunity to work at every level: production, technical files, I designed mesh collections, I was a cabin model for their showroom... I was able, in such a short time, to have an overview of this industry, the wholesale, production, fashion weeks, deadlines etc. For this job, I traveled a lot, I went back and forth to India in the production sites, and I met the one who became my partner at the launch of Heimstone, Delphine.
In short, I was 22 years old, I was discovering the world, the world of work, I was very motivated and above all I felt like a sponge: I wanted to learn everything and to know everything. I can remember I was also fascinated by the graphic designer of the firm, an adorable Japanese guy who was excellent in drawing softwares (Illustrator, Photoshop etc.). I felt that I had to be as good as he was, so I spent a lot of my lunch hours next (glued!) to him trying to suck up all his knowledge and precision.
To be driven by instinct
After 10 months with Michel Klein, in May 2006, I started to go around in circles for different reasons, and above all I felt deep inside me that I needed to move forward, to do something bigger. I needed to test myself, to get started.
In fact, to be honest, I did not "need" it, but I felt that I wanted to let myself fall into the unknown, I was attracted like a magnet by what I didn’t know. I spoke with my friend Delphine whom I worked with and I told her that we should launch a small collection of accessories for the upcoming summer. The seed was planted.
In early June 2006, we started working on our collection of accessories, necklaces and bracelets in industrial bolts. By the end of June 2006, the accessories collection had become a collection of swimsuits, and on July 12th, we both resigned from Michel Klein.
At the beginning of August, we were both in St Tropez, free as the air to walk along the beaches of Pampelonne with our "Heim" swimsuits, with a basket on the shoulders to sell our first models to all the girls that came across. Our concept of bathing suits was great: we had developed a seamless pattern for top and bottom, the jerseys just had to be tied. Instead of pearls, we had put industrial bolts, it was our trademark. Above all, each one was unique because they were all cut in vintage XXL "rock" t-shirts, so we could end up with Michael Jackson or AC/DC on the buttocks. At the end of the summer we had sold more than 600 pieces, and decided to launch our brand, but this time a ready-to-wear one.
To us, it was obvious. Everything was so obvious. Delphine and I were super complementary from a creative point of view, and we were, at that moment, a rock-solid duo. The only thing is that we wanted our brand to be different and that girls have a real reason to come to "Heim". So we decided that Heim would exclusively sell dresses, dresses for all occasions: go to the office, to wear on Sunday, formal dresses, casual dresses, nothing but dresses, to wear as if we were wearing jeans, so designed with pockets.
From September to December 2006, we worked on the development of our designs, we went back and forth to India to develop our first collection that we financed thanks to the revenues of the sales of our bathing suits. Our goal was to be ready to present our first "Heimstone" collection, AW07/08, in January 2007 during the shows.
We changed the name because we found that "Heim" was too cute, too feminine and that "Stone" gave more anchorage and more determination to it. We had calculated that we needed to sell 360 dresses to cover our expenditures. I can remember that we sold 1300 items! We were 22 and 24 years old (Delphine) and we had the feeling we were on the highway of success.
The sinews of war
It was great, we were overwhelmed with joy, the success of this first season gave us incredible strength and confidence. We drank every second of adrenaline that this launch brought us. With Delphine, we were complementary. We liked the same things but had completely different ways of conveying them. Delphine was more rock and masculine, I was more feminine. We did not panic about the same topics, it was great.
Except that, we had not anticipated a major problem: how could we finance the 1300 pieces in production? Obviously, at that time any customer or very few of them had paid us a deposit. It is true that we do not think about it... We never figured that we could go bankrupt because we had sold three times more than what we had planned! We were both stylists and to be completely honest, we went forward day by day, but soon enough we were caught up in the reality and in what seems to me to be today the key of a healthy business: cash and the need in working capital.
Delphine was dyslexic and hated dealing with figures, so pretty quickly I had to look at this part of our business, opened an Excel sheet for the first time in my life and watched our expenses, our money, and checked where it got stuck.
On top of that, we opened our Heimstone store in October 2007 at 23 rue du Cherche-Midi, 75006 Paris (which is still our current shop!) and had no idea how many dresses we were going to sell. Well, we missed the whole process!
All of a sudden, the costs were soaring: we needed a management software for the shop, and therefore also production, we were sold in wholesale (at dealers) all over the world, we had to put the mark in all these countries, and so on... At every level money was stuck: we bought too much, we had too many stocks of materials because we did not calculate with sufficient accuracy our fabrics needs, our margins were not large enough, wholesale customers (department stores, concept stores etc.) who bought our collections did not want to pay a deposit, and in addition to that paid us with a six-month delay, while obviously our factories were asking us to pay them before the truck was unloaded. The collections were selling very well, but the more we sold, the more we were digging the hole.
Cash is a vicious circle, once you are in the eye of the storm it is very difficult to get out of it because it takes a lot of energy to change the momentum especially when we are in the growth phase and in our industry, the rule of seasons do not allow us to step back or take a break.
That's the moment when my dad got a foothold into the company, first as a mentor, and very quickly, as an investor to support our launch. Cash was the biggest fight of my career. It may sound silly to say it like that, but it's true. We often think from an external point of view that being a manager or having a brand is easy and maybe fun, but not. at. all. When you have your own brand, reality is: you spend 20% of your time doing what you love (the creative part, designing the collections), and the remaining 80% of your time is spent fixing problems.
Yes, 80% of my time was devoted to administration, treasury, accounting, negotiating prices, moving forward, backing down, falling, facing a wall, getting up... But I had to make up my mind very quickly, to learn to like the administrative, the accounting, to make decisions in record time, because I understood that it would be my daily life, so I decided it would be easier to do it with love!
At the time, we were very well advised thanks to my father who had literally opened his address book, whether for the council, banks, big bosses, etc. It was great to be able to talk about visions with these great managers. I remember I was drinking their words, and even though I think there's a world between being the head of a huge company and being a business owner of a start-up, I could project Heimstone on their advice or in any case their advice gave me ideas to advance on the Heimstone project.
I remember one of them. When I presented my cash table, which was written down to the last comma, he told me that I complicated myself with all these figures and that in the end "We were not close to 10 000 euros.". I told him that I was not actually close to 10 000 euros but rather 10 euros, it made him laugh!
In February 2009, Delphine and I separated, and so I found myself in total command of Heimstone, with a sense of freedom mixed with fear, the same one I had when I started working at Michel Klein. Finally, I was now alone on board, which meant that only my decisions, choices and doubts would have an impact on the company.
Never too far from me, I was still pretty well surrounded by my family, my parents, my twin sister and my brother. And what is really extraordinary to me is that when I look back now, 12 years ago, all the ups and downs that made up Heimstone, all the doubts that I could have had, never anyone nor my parents or no one in my family gave up or told me that it would be nice to move on to something else, and that's worth all the support in the world.
Saved by determination
In February 2009, after my partner left, I was more determined and motivated than ever. I had a wonderful team by my side which included my friend Jehanne De Wavrechin, a kind of Swiss army knife who loved to unravel all kinds of knots, solve problems and be on the ground.
I woke up every morning stronger and more motivated than the day before, I collapsed sometimes at certain times of the day or I usually went for a jog for one hour. I came back with oxygen bubbles in my head and increased energy and what could be a problem an hour before was no longer a problem. I thought that everything was possible and understood that much of Heimstone's success was only depending on me: of my energy, of my work, of my will, and of my ability to see a problem from different angles to find a solution. What a freedom!
I worked like crazy, I generally arrived at the office around 6 in the morning, and between 6 and 9 o'clock (when my colleagues arrived), I felt like I had already done my day. I was very organized, I used to treat the problems one after the other very methodically, I had so many topics in mind that I needed to complete each mission to be able to get rid of it. I was, and still am, like a little robot, but I'm still convinced that rigor and organization allow us to move forward much faster. In short, I was convinced that in order to understand how a business works and to make mine operational, I needed to have an overall vision, and thus be somehow unbeatable on all subjects.
So I started to do my own accounting, invoice entries, accounts receivable, suppliers, I needed to understand the basics, everything, VAT collected, deductible VAT, read a balance sheet, learn the terms, make cash charts, etc. I needed to feel credible and confident to be able to negotiate an overdraft at my bank, I also needed to know that if I made a mistake it was by no means lack of rigor or work. In short, in a few months I had become the queen of management. But not yet profitability....
I became much more confident in myself that to this period of my life because I was constantly learning or doubting, and I understood that nothing was fixed and that things could change and evolve permanently and that I had to adapt to that. I forced myself constantly to get out of my comfort zone, to find solutions in what was unknown to me, rather than to hang on to what reassured me. I forced myself to learn to think outside of the box, it taught me the meaning of the word “effort”, and especially it gave me an incredible confidence in me. It also gave me a lot of pride, erased some regrets, and allowed me to put a distance. The important thing is to have tried, whatever the result, and still today that's the way I think: "Just try, it does not cost anything, on the other hand the only chance you have is to win."
I have to admit that I was also extremely stressed, so I was running for an hour a day and I took a subscription to the Thai massage center at the bottom of our office and I used to go there at least twice a week, and most importantly, I was saving myself by sleeping the most I could. But I was so happy, I felt alive and I celebrated all the small victories, all of them because between these victories it was nothing but dizziness. I was crazy in love, I spent my life between Paris and New York, I was at home only in my company, and this freedom is worth all the trouble in the world.
Beside that I continued to create my collections with a lot of joy, spontaneity and ease, I was bringing back my ideas from my travels and I took all the time I was spending in planes to do my sketches! I recently came across this quote from Picasso, which I find very accurate: "When inspiration comes, it will find me working hard". And it’s so true! My inspiration came from everything: from my travels, but also from my Excel charts and from all this new world that has opened to me.
It's quite funny because writing this article is taking me back to my past and I feel that the first seven years of Heimstone was like another life. So much has happened, I have reworked, redesigned my business model so many times, tried so many things, what an energy I’ve had to deploy to sell some dresses!
I'm still thinking of my husband, Onur, who has had his own companies since 2007 (Found and The Refreshment Club) and who told me he wanted to write a book about entrepreneurship that would call "The art of fucking" :
Chapter 1: The art of getting fucked
Chapter 2: Learning how to fuck
Chapter 3: The art of fucking
I think it’s hilarious, because in a way, it’s exactly the way it is…
Destroy everything to rebuild everything
On several occasions and at different Heimstone times, we have looked for an outside funding, which has never been successful. Why? It's still vague in my mind. I saw friends around me who brought investors into their companies when they had huge losses or others who managed to raise millions with a super simple business plan just done on Excel. As far as I was concerned, my only problem was my need for working capital (BFR), which is ultimately common to many companies in times of growth. It always gave me the impression that I was in an in-between situation: too small for big funds or too big for business angels. As a result, I was always in the mud. In short, nobody ever wanted to put a foot in Heimstone, and I also wanted to free my father from his investment within the two upcoming years (if Heimstone was still alive...)
In 2012, 80% of my business was based on wholesale, and 20% was dedicated to our shop, rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris. And at that time, no brand had its own e-shop website. 80% of Heimstone was based on two weeks of Fashion Week each season, that is to say a showroom in Paris and one in New York, more concretely on countless sales intermediaries who are often freelancers who have no idea of what they have to do, who were trying to sell my collections to buyers who were there to decide for the rest of the world if my collection was great or not. Convenient.
80% of my business, therefore, was based on this handful of individuals, who could potentially put my collection down because they drunk too much the night before or because they had a bad night sleep. Sometimes we lost huge budgets, not because the collection did not please, but sometimes just because the buyer had mismanaged her schedule and did not have time to go to the showroom. What a joke.
I always thought that wholesale distribution was prehistoric. I thought that it was not possible to work so hard for weeks to develop collections and exclusive prints, and then depend on this handful of strangers. I remember one day calling one of my friends who has a great Australian brand that is very successful and asking her how she was doing. She told me: "I'm waiting for Vogue to come in to destroy my collection.” I thought it was great!
I was also annoyed by the fact that I had to sell my collections, my stories, and finally my life to those buyers who would put them on sales only two weeks after the collections were delivered in store. Honestly, what is the point of working so hard for that?
At the beginning of 2012, just before the showroom presentations, I woke up one morning and told myself STOP. If this system does not suit me then it's up to me to change it. I was tired of having a negative cash flow and make my father lose money (him too!). What is the point?
At the time we had nearly 60 customers worldwide including incredible concept stores like Opening Ceremony in New York, Los Angeles and Tokyo, Galeries Lafayette in Paris, Al Ostoura in Kuwait, IT in Hong Kong and so on… 10 days before presenting my collections, I sent an email to all of our customers in one day, told them that we were stopping the wholesale and that we were not going to present our SS13 collection called Iceberg (the collection with the Beers print!). It was dizzying, because while I was sending my emails, I saw my turnover, that had been so long to build, fall dramatically.
I remember calling my best friend, Marie Courroy (Modetrotter), who also had some troubles with her company at that time to tell her, sobs in her throat "Marie, it's over I'll close Heimstone!" and she replied "No, no! Actually, you already told me that three months ago, six months ago and two weeks ago again, everything will be fine!”. It still makes me laugh today when I remember this conversation...
My decision to stop the distribution was made at the exact same time that I formulated it in my head. It had suddenly become obvious, I had reached the end of what I could bear, and I was fighting against something that exhausted me more than anything else. My plan (apart from not having any!) was to start from scratch, open a new blank page, set a new strategy and break Heimstone free from its shackles. A posteriori, I have never regretted this choice, and during this famous Paris and New York Fashion Week, I cooed under the Australian sun, with my sweetheart Onur, the toes wide open, and I have never felt so free.
Get up by creativity
Start over from scratch is extraordinary, because we have the right to do everything, to rethink everything and redefine everything. And at the same time we start from scratch but with five years of intense experience, so in a way, a step ahead! I needed to rewrite the story, and it started with a big cleanup around me to set me free from all these middlemen, my banks, my accountant (who had taught me so much) and also a part of my team. Attention, I do not denigrate at all these people who supported me and helped me so much in the writing of Heimstone’s story, on the contrary, but I just needed to start from scratch, and it means with new people.
We went from seven to three. Wow it was GREAT. We launched a mini production just for our shop, so we reduced by three our production costs (I take this opportunity to thank once again our great factories who have followed us in this transformation). I cut all the costs I could cut. I remember, for example, that our transportation costs dropped by 70%. In short it was such a relief, my cash table and I, we were dancing out of joy!
We decided to open a second shop rue Cambon and most importantly, we launched our own e-shop. The e-commerce was our international shop and showroom, which immediately worked very well (at the same time, it's easy to start from 0 euros!), and the shop on the rue Cambon allowed us to reach a different type of customers than the one rue du Cherche-Midi. In July 2014, two years after opening rue Cambon, we sold it to focus on our e-shop and the rue du Cherche-midi shop (which also allowed me to set my father free!). Since that day we have been totally self-financed, free and profitable, and for nothing in the world I would change the story of Heimstone.
Heimstone today and tomorrow
Today, the way we work is very simple with well-thought capsule collections not based on seasons but rather on the weather outside. I’m very pleased that our collections are gaining in size which allows me to spend much more time on the creation process than a few years ago, because we used to have three prints per season and now we have eight!
The simple fact of having simplified my business model also gives me the time to work on other projects than Heimstone. This can be for collaborations with other brands, but also to work in "off" mode that is to say, without communicating on the name of Heimstone or mine for other houses, I draw wallpapers for decoration ones for example, or I can also be asked to make set designs to present new collections for stores for instance.
Besides, it also gave me some time in my head to bring to life our Lifestyle magazine, Empower Women Through Creativity (that you are reading right now!) that has been close to my heart for a long time. For me this journal represents another aspect of Heimstone, where we talk a lot about women and especially about the strength of creativity that we all have deep down in us.
Rethinking Heimstone, it also and mostly gave me some time to start a family, see my daughters grow up on a daily basis and take care of my husband. And this is priceless.
What Heimstone taught me is creativity (not literally, creating collections and prints), but Heimstone taught me to think outside of the box, to stay away from it. I learned that I was an actress of my life and that I could organize it the way I wanted. I do not believe in the ready-made paths, because without any effort, without adrenaline, without vertigo, without disappointments, life is just boring.
I am often asked on social networks for advice to be a business owner, and I really don’t know if I can give some, but what seems to me the most important is to be determined, not to be afraid to deconstruct to rebuild just right after, something what works on one day cannot work the day after and you have to know how to accept it, you have to celebrate every victory, even (and above all!) the small ones, and sleep! We go further in a better mood when we had some rest and we find (often) solutions while sleeping!
Remember that the sinews of war are the cash flow, so as my father would say: "It's the small streams that make the big rivers.", so if you want some good advice, cut all the small expenditures and big expenses which are not essential. And finally, I would say that the most important thing is not how many millions your company makes, but how much results it gives at the end of the year, because that is what would allow you to be free.
For all those who are wondering how our team is structured, here is the answer. Heimstone, today it's 6 girls, between 24 and 35 years old:
Anastasia who does a remarkable job in production, she was doing an internship with us a few years ago.
Léa, our new recruit (former intern also!), she assists me in the development of the collections and she assists Anastasia on the production.
Camille (also former trainee!), our brilliant e-shop manager, who gives life to our website and the capsule collections through newsletters (among others).
Marine, is our charming and caring retail manager that you have the opportunity to see at the shop rue du Cherche-Midi.
Magalie, our new recruit also, is in charge of communication, marketing and our lifestyle magazine Empower Women Through Creativity #EWTC.
And me !
Finally, I think some of you will recognize yourself by reading this article, and I wanted to thank you from the bottom of my heart for supporting me and helping me at some point to give life to Heimstone.
I hope I will not forget anyone:
First my family, my pillar, Antoine, Caroline, JP, Blanche, Jonas and my husband, who is always there to support me or kick my buttocks, Onur, our children, Ellis, Muse, Panda and Jack.
But also and especially to Jehanne de W., Charlotte H., Célia C., Anastasia de R., Marine M., Camille F., Léa D., Mister Bachelier, Hortense A., Clémentine S., Fatima V., Gabrielle L., Amélie G., Ophélie M., Lolita J., Marie C., Catherine M., Rita F., Stéphanie A., Clarisse D., Anil B., Mariola J., Magalie A.