I had the opportunity to interview Meredith Banzhoff, the Creative Director of Meredith Banzhoff, for the latest installment of my women entrepreneurship series, Sparkle Sessions. This interview helps me go towards my 101 in 1001 goal of ten quality interview, this is interview number nine and hopefully you will learn a great deal about Meredith and her line. Oh, and make sure your read all the way to the end her advice on the importance of looking put together, evening in a casual workplace, is amazing!
What are five words you would use to describe yourself?
Type-A, organized, social, love to travel, and constantly on the go.
How do those personal characteristics relate to your brand?
My brand targets the busy woman. Whether single or married with children, the Meredith Banzhoff woman is on-the-go, loves to entertain and enjoys traveling. Keeping that in mind, we create pieces that allow women to be put together in 15 minutes or less. Our blouses and dresses feature natural fibers and performance fabrics and are not only comfortable but machine washable/dryable. My husband handles the laundry in our family and I call some our items “husband proof” meaning he can wash on hot, dry on high and they will survive. Plus, our performance fabric that is wrinkle free, moisture wicking, and UV protectant
I have seen a preview of our latest collection, how would you describe your MBxHF line?
I love mentoring design students and we have a lot of internships available at Meredith Banzhoff. The Heshima Kenya collaboration allows us to empower and teach refugee women the skills needed to become successful in business. When I participated in a Fashion Challenge, I fell in love with the textiles they use to make scarves so I thought, why not incorporate them into our upcoming collections?
Heshima Kenya is an organization that specializes in identifying and protecting unaccompanied and separated refugee children and young women living in Nairobi, Kenya. From countries such as Somalia, Ethiopia, DR Congo, Sudan, Rwanda and Burundi, these young refugees have experienced the detrimental effects of war, the loss of their families, and in many cases, kidnapping, rape, trafficking, unlawful detainment, and torture. Heshima Kenya provides them with shelter, education, vocational training, case management support and advocacy. Through the peer-driven Maisha Collective program, young women are taught leadership and business management skills through the design and production of hand-dyed scarves and textiles.
The values of the Maisha Collective really resonate with my own. I am actually headed to Nairobi over Thanksgiving and going to take the collection with me to show them the pieces I made with their fabric. I want them to understand the life cycle from the sampling and swatches to designing the sample for market. Currently we are in production so they are producing the long yardage while we manufacture here in the U.S.
I have the look book in-front of me, is there any piece that was picked up the most?
The Samantha Swing dress in blue, that blue on blue, was our number one color sold and then it splits between the Liz top in the French Blue and hand dyed bottom, that was our second best seller. (Liz and Olivia shown below) The third was the Olivia fit and flare in black.
You have shown collections for a few years now if someone was brand new to your line what is the first piece you suggest they buy?
I would suggest they start with our white shirting. We launched in 2013 with the Bella Perfect Fit Shirt which eliminates the gape and is a very tailored and traditional shirt. It does not work for all women which is why I developed other styles… some more tailored and some relaxed. The shirts are the foundation of the brand, so I would want anyone new to the Meredith Banzhoff brand to experience the fit and high quality of our fabrics. Then I would suggest branching out in our Brittany travel dress in navy, a color that keeps selling out!
You came from a corporate world, how did you decide to transfer into the world of fashion?
Ever since I was five I knew I wanted to be a fashion designer. I would play with material and my mom would take me to JoAnn Fabrics so that we could make outfits and costumes together. Everything I did from high school to college in products, reports, and research was fashion related. I worked in retail and did internships to immerse myself in everything from the business side of of fashion design to production and event planning for fashion shows. I was really just trying to understand the whole working cost of a fashion business because it is not all about design. I would say 90% is doing the business, 10% is designing. Everything I have done up to this point has definitely helped prepare me to launch and run my own fashion business.
What is one lesson you have had to learn the hard way?
I think the hardest hurdle was understanding selling to wholesale buyers versus retail customers. You have to consider lead times and buying habits of your customers. So it was definitely a transition.
When we first launched we focused only on shirts which was my strength. As an expert in tailoring and understanding the fit of woven garments, I felt most comfortable. Then we branched out into blouses, dresses, pantsuits, etc.
That is so interesting! I read that you handle all customer service inquiries yourself which is so refreshing. Is that difficult to do as your company continues to grow?
No, because generally if someone has an issue I can solve it or delegate it to the correct person to handle. I want customers to be 100% satisfied so if a problem arises, I’d like to hear it from them directly. It’s easier for me to swap out an item or handle a complaint, plus I learn in ways I can improve our product.
What is your favorite quote?
I just went to a privately held speaker series with Iris Apfel who started in interior design and went through the whole hustle of selling, so I asked her, “What advice would you give an up and coming designer looking to make their mark?” She responded with, “When one door closes, go find another one.” Which I found truthful…it was direct and I loved it.
Where do you see your business in five years?
We are growing nicely in the small boutique department however in five years I see our business growing into department stores and larger boutiques. We do sell online but we are focusing more on wholesale and volume sales.
Who would you like to be your first celebrity ambassador?
Gwyneth Paltrow. I get her newsletter for Goop and I feel like I can relate to her, she shares information about food and lifestyle and her articles speak to me. I know she doesn’t do all the writing herself, but I feel like she is the Meredith Banzhoff woman –professional that is always put together.
If you had to give advice to other female entrepreneurs what would you tell them?
Network. Network. Network. Always make friends and never burn bridges.
Lastly, is there anything you would want to tell my readers?
If you always look put together people have a bigger sense of respect for you, especially in the workplace since it has become so much more casual. When dressing up, you can command a room and feel more confident…which can easily translate into being the right person for a promotion or job. People notice you.
– – – –
Thank you Meredith for a great interview and Sparkles and Shoes readers, I hope you feel like you know about Meredith Banzhoff now!