We’ve launched Secrets of Success, a new weekly interview series here at Web.com’s Small Business Forum. I’ve asked some of the smartest, most innovative, most successful people I know to share their insights and success secrets.
Meet: Heather Thomson. While Heather is a fashion designer, stylist and entrepreneur, you might recognize her as one of the stars of Bravo’s Real Housewives of New York City. Heather became an entrepreneur driven by personal need, founding Yummie by Heather Thomson after a frustrating shopping experience looking for shapewear after the birth of her first baby. When she didn’t like what she saw, she took to her sewing machine, and a business was born.
Rieva Lesonsky: What did you want to be when you grew up?
Heather Thomson: From a very young age I loved fashion. I have a love affair with clothing. My first job out of college in the industry was for Cypress Apparel, and my boss sent me to Turkey for three weeks by myself! It was a culture shock, but a catalyst for my own growth.
Since then I have traveled the world, and my experiences have taught me crucial lessons that I still apply in my work today. After four years with Cypress, I moved to New York City and started my first job there with Calvin Klein, which jumpstarted my career. Calvin is such an icon in the fashion industry, and I hung on his every word—it was an extremely impactful experience in forming myself as a designer.
Lesonsky: Why did you start your own business?
Thomson: I had been in the fashion business for years; half of it spent working for Beyoncé, Jennifer Lopez and Sean Combs founding their respective fashion collections. Like so many women, I struggled losing the baby weight after having kids—I gained over 60 pounds with each child. I went in search of a shapewear garment that would give me that little boost of confidence while I worked to get my body back in shape…and it was impossible to find! So I dusted off my sewing machine, and created my Original Yummie Tummie three-panel tank—a comfortable, functional and sexy shapewear solution that is an essential and works for any body type.
Today, my Yummie brand includes leggings, denim, tanks, slips and bottoms, and I am launching bras this spring. I pride myself on building an inclusive brand for every woman that offers her the essentials for the foundation of her every wardrobe need.
Lesonsky: Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?
Thomson: I think there have been many, but when I was working for Puffy [Sean Combs], he showed me what I was made of by challenging me from every angle. There was an unparalleled expectation from Puff—he had passion, drive and an unstoppable work ethic. I played hard and I turned my intimidation into power, and we hit a home run with Sean John. In its first four years, we were the most dynamic brand with huge growth. Puff taught me everything I know about marketing; I am forever grateful for my years there.
Lesonsky: What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?
Thomson: “It’s only a mistake if you make it twice; the first time, it’s a lesson.” I always encourage others: Learn from your mistakes, ask yourself how you can improve and don’t get too discouraged, because it is tough work! But if you embrace your mistakes and keep moving, that’s when you’ll experience success. It allows you to hone in on your skills, your assets and your weaknesses. I wouldn’t give one mistake back
Lesonsky: What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?
Thomson: I’m a firm believer in protecting one’s own intellectual property. It’s often a topic that small business owners don’t think of right away, but it’s so important.
From the time I founded Yummie by Heather Thomson, I knew I had an idea that was innovative and unique, and I applied for my patents to protect my original ideas. I now hold 13 patents on my Yummie Tummie three-panel tank and continue to enforce those patents to protect my original ideas.
Lesonsky: Do you have a 2014 small business prediction?
Thomson: I think small businesses will start to leverage the data they now have access to, to predict and plan their businesses. We are not in the dark anymore.
Visual platforms like Pinterest and Instagram have exploded in the last two years and I think video is next for 2014. It will be a way for brands to reach their consumers on an emotional level and further build the relationship—it’s a way to show instead of tell. Businesses are still learning how social can contribute to the bottom line and have learned that social media is there to build the relationship with the consumer. There’s a lot to come in terms of tackling the social space and learning how to best utilize it.
Lesonsky: Do you have a favorite book?
Thomson: I love biographies—they’re mostly what I read, but I do love getting lost in a great novel. I loved the Stieg Larsson Girl with the Dragon Tattoo trilogy—so brilliantly written and all-consuming.
Lesonsky: Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?
Thomson: “Individual commitment to a group effort—that is what makes a team work, a company work, a society work, a civilization work.” —Vince Lombardi
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