"Work Hard, Stay Humble, Be Kind": Fashioning a Dream and a Positive Message
By Pam Stucky HuffPost Contributor
"Fashion doesn't always have to scream. Sometimes it's just a whisper, softly telling the world that I am here and I am beautiful."
Britney Keeler thought she was going to be a physician. Instead she's an entrepreneur of a boutique clothing line with a message of kindness and a goal to make a positive impact on the world. Sometimes we find our dreams; sometimes our dreams find us. I first heard about Britney as a young entrepreneur with a company that promotes a positive image and message. "A beacon for young aspirational, female entrepreneurs who need a role model," I was told.
With an introduction like that, how could I not be intrigued?
I reached out to Britney for a Q&A to find out more. Below, she shares her story, her mission, her challenges and her goals. After chatting with her, I agree. "Work hard, stay humble, be kind," she says. With a life motto like that, I know she'll go far.
Q: Hi, Britney! Thanks so much for chatting with me! First, the name of your company: Love & Bambii. How did you decide on this name?
A: It sounds silly but my friends and I have always said that my "spirit-animal" is a deer or more specifically "Bambi," so it was important for me to incorporate that into the name, henceforth... Love & Bambii was born! I added the extra "i" to avoid potential backlash from Disney for using a character's name, better safe than sorry.
Q: You're only 23 now, and already you have your own clothing line. Tell me how this happened! When did you first come up with the idea? What, exactly, was the initial idea, and what did it blossom into?
A: Honestly, I never really planned it; I've always loved fashion but I never really thought it was something that would end up as my career. It all started when I went to Coachella for the first time a few years back and decided to make an outfit for myself (a very colorful ensemble), and while wearing it I was stopped more times than I could count by people asking where I got it or if they could take a picture of me for their fashion blog. I was a bit surprised but more so intrigued by the fact that I had created something that a lot of people seemed to love. From there my mom suggested that I make a few more and to put them up on our favorite shopping website Etsy, and the outfits sold within a week. After that, it had a bit of a snowball effect and it all just fell together.
Q: Having an idea is one thing, but acting on that idea is a completely other thing -- and, I'd guess, the part of the equation that stops a lot of people. After you thought, "I want to have my own online boutique," what did you do next?
A: As I touched upon in the last question, it was never really something that I planned. I was actually aspiring to be a physician and had just gotten my EMT license to make sure I liked working in the medical field when this all happened. I just never thought I had the personality to be in fashion, by nature I am a very shy and introverted individual but once I started, I realized that didn't matter and that there was a place for me in this industry that I have since fallen in love with. The beginning was a bit chaotic since I had very limited experience in fashion. I never went to fashion school or worked in retail so I truly had to learn on the job. My mom jumped on board with me early on and we have worked together ever since, building up our Etsy shop which has changed a lot over the years. We started out making costume pieces and slowly evolved into clothing. We now even have a children's line that was launched just a few months ago.
Q: Did you find any mentors to help you? Who, if anyone, helped you take your idea and make it into a reality? How did you find them?
A: Someone who really inspired me was a woman named Kimberly Gordon; she is the owner and co-founder of Wildfox. I came upon her Tumblr a few months into starting up and was incredibly inspired by her story as it was quite similar to my own; she and her friend started making tee shirts for themselves in her bedroom and it has turned into one of the world's largest fashion labels. I only recently met her at a networking event, which only strengthened my respect for her.
All of this aside, my biggest mentor would definitely have to be my business partner, my mother. She is one of the most headstrong, albeit stubborn people I have ever met but she has always been my biggest supporter and would do anything to see me succeed. Being my mom, she isn't afraid to give me her opinion and even though we butt heads sometimes, we are a great team. She has owned a business alongside my dad for 15 years so she's better with numbers and the technical side of things than I am, which allows me the flexibility to focus predominately on the designing side. We're a great team.
Q: Do you design all of the items yourself?
A: Yes, all of the designs are a collaboration between my mom and me. One of us will come up with a rough design and bring it to the other and we build it from there. We each have massive notebooks filled with jotted-down notes and seeds for ideas that we come up with while on the go or while working. Half of them never see the light of day, but it's still fun to go over what we have come up with to see if any of them are viable designs.
Q: Do you do the production of all the items yourself?
A: We do not make the base pieces ourselves but we hand decorate each piece from our studio in North Hollywood. We work with sequin fabric a lot so I love finding pretty new sequin colors to design with. Our studio literally looks like a unicorn exploded with sequins hiding in every nook and cranny; I oftentimes come home to find sequins stuck all over me. We only recently started working with printed designs but I especially love it as it allows me much more creative freedom than sequin patches do. My favorite new addition though is definitely the kids section, I feel like I am building my future child's wardrobe and kids are much more fun to work with!
Q: How did you figure out who would be the right people to handle the production?
A: We always make sure that our base piece supplier's use fair trade methods in their production and have ethics that align with our own. Our biggest supplier is Alternative Apparel who are a certified Green Business meaning they use sustainable methods to create their products.
Q: Do you have a personal or company mission statement or philosophy -- an idea or set of ideas that drive how you run your company (and life)?
A: Our company's philosophy is this: "Fashion doesn't always have to scream, sometimes it is just a whisper, softly telling the world that I am here and I am beautiful."
We believe that your clothing should be a compliment to you, not something that takes away from who you are and more importantly it should make you feel good about yourself. One of my biggest problems with current fashion is its obsession with negativity. It seems that teen culture is obsessed with slogans than demean one another, shirts that make young girls think it's okay to be rude, self-absorbed individuals. I think that many people in the fashion industry don't truly understand the impact they are having on girls' lives and I want to turn the trend that seems to focus on the negative, to instead focus on the positive.
Personally, the number one quote that I live by is, "Work hard, stay humble, be kind." I try to live my life by this and ever since I have, my life has changed for the better. I always look for the good in bad situations like yin and yang, and this has really helped me get through hard times both in life and work, and I try to exude this message in everything I do.
If you look at a Love & Bambii piece, you will find notes of positivity hidden everywhere. My personal favorite is our hangtag that reads, "Be kind. Work hard. Stay humble. Smile often. Stay loyal. Keep honest. Never stop learning. Be thankful always and love." I hope my customers who who read it, will take it to heart.
Q: What have been some of the greatest challenges in setting up your own business?
A: The list is truly never-ending, there are thousands of clothing designers out there, new ones popping up every day. With this constant influx of new faces, and it can be hard to be seen amongst the crowd. Fashion is a business of incessant ebbs and flows, one month I'm overwhelmed with the amount of orders coming in and the next, I find myself wondering where everyone has gone! This can be extremely disheartening especially since this is my sole form of income. It can be hard sometimes to resist throwing in the towel for a more reliable and consistent job but then I look at what I do, what I am trying to do and realize how much I truly love it and know that I can't give up. Running a small business requires a massive amount of responsibility to be put on a very small number of peoples' shoulders and in my case, that means just my mom and me. It's extremely hard work; I never get actual days off because even if I'm at the beach on a Sunday, I'm still answering dozens of questions and emails, helping my mom keep track of inventory or the thousand other things it takes to run a business without any employees to delegate to. Hopefully we will be able to bring on some full time assistants in the not-so-distant future.
Q: What aspects of your personality do you think have helped propel you to success?
A: Despite a few years in teenhood that we all go through at some point or another, I have always been an extremely optimistic and positive person. It takes a lot to upset me (I get this from my dad) and I handle stress extremely well. I've always believed in "killing people with kindness." Nothing good ever comes from showing animosity; you may gain respect out of fear but people aren't going to like you. This all has led me to gaining and keeping amazing connections with people I have met over the years as well as most importantly, enabled me to deal with stresses as they come and work through them calmly and professionally.
Q: What are your goals for this company?
A: My main goal is to make an impact on the fashion industry in a good way (however small this impact may be). I want girls to grow up believing they are beautiful and for people to be kinder to one another. I know this sounds a bit far-fetched for a clothing company but clothing is a lifestyle, you wear what you feel and this is especially true for young girls. You look at almost any clothing line and it will have a "vibe," and I want Love & Bambii to radiate good vibes! I hope that one day I will have made an impact on at least a few people, whether it be bringing a smile to a person who needs it when they see my shirt on the street or by a teen girl who feels just a little bit better when she sees her shirt from Love & Bambii's tag reading "You are beautiful in every single way" after she was just made fun of at school.
A goal that I only recently surpassed was selling to twenty-five countries. I just shipped out an order to Brazil, which marked number twenty-five!
Q: What have you learned about yourself in the process of bringing your own business to life?
A: One thing that really stands out is the day I realized that I needed to discipline myself into becoming more assertive. I was at a networking event and I was talking to a girl at my table that has been extremely successful in fashion blogging, it genuinely took me a good thirty minutes to work up the courage to hand her a business card just to ask her to check out my website. I was so intimidated by her success that I was actually afraid to just hand her a dang business card. It was after that event that I made a genuine effort to become bolder not only in my work but also in life.
Q: If you could go back and give yourself advice at the outset of your journey, what would you tell yourself?
A: I would tell myself "you can't always make everyone happy." I've always been a people pleaser and it was a rough road at the start when I would receive tough criticism in reviews or feedback. It took me a while to learn this, but if I had understood it a little better beforehand, it would have saved me long stressful hours and sleepless nights over issues that I would now be able to solve and put behind me in a heartbeat.