One of the perks of attending New Jersey Full Figure Fashion Week was the opportunity to network with lots of other divas in the plus-size fashion industry. One person that I had the pleasure of meeting was entrepreneur Renae Bennett, proprietor of online boutique Ms. Full Figured, which has the tagline, "Full Figured & Fulfilled." I was delighted to have the opportunity to interview her for what turned out to be one of the most inspiring entries into the real-life Curvy CEO series. Check out what she has to say below!
Tell me about your business. I am the CEO of RedBird Enterprises L.LC. Under this corporation, I operate several businesses ranging from media and entertainment to corporate destination event planning and retail. It sounds like a handful but these are the areas where our strongest and proven experience has prevailed.
Our retail division is the plus size online boutique called Ms. Full Figured, where we have developed a collection of trendy and affordable clothing and accessories for women between the ages of 15-55. I chose this avenue for our retail division because I have always been approached by ladies about where to find my shoes, my dress, my earrings something but what really pushed me into retail was women buying my things straight off my body! On one occasion, I had to go home in flip-flops because this woman just had to have my shoes, the more I said no, she added another 20 dollars! That was my sign to get serious about plus size retail. With this boutique I focus primarily on every woman’s desire to be unique and stand out from the crowd in class, grace and fun! Our slogan is "Full Figured & Fulfilled," which means that you need to be in a mental place of happiness with yourself and your body and mind at any weight or size to enjoy all the rights of being a fashionable woman.
Currently our boutique is available to women everywhere online. We focus on providing as much information as possible to convey the fit and we are available for questions if a lady is concerned about her measurements to a particular product. We are also working on a retail venue and trying to identify the perfect central location in the Tri-State area. Women can click "shop" and support our goals to bring them the unique and lovely merchandise that we find for them!
What inspired you to become an entrepreneur? I really don’t know where the inspiration comes from for entrepreneurism but the way my mind sees the world is: I see nothing but opportunity and the ability to connect a need with a viable service or product. Both my parents are entrepreneurs as well as my grandparents so it’s kind of in my DNA, but the truth is: I really I have been an entrepreneur my whole life. I have been engaging in business since I was 10 years old and I convinced my Mom that her cakes were good enough to be sold at stores across the Bronx. I became her delivery girl and collected the money, bought the ingredients and helped in the baking process. After that I went to Jamaica and attended an all-girls high school where that Bronx hustler met “proper Caribbean British Schooling.” It was like oil and water because I found a way to sell American candy to the proper British Caribbean School girls. While my business made me successful and popular, it also a target for disciplinary actions, so I had to disperse my products amongst other girls who were interested in working with me and we split the profits.
I have come a long way since then and would say that between that time and now I have had at least 10-12 businesses models that I have developed while working at jobs I hated, or the inability to find a job to hate (smile). I have created businesses utilizing my education, work experience, some of my natural talents and some simply based on opportunity for marketing a particular good or service. Now that I really think of it, my philosophies are the inspiration; I don’t think there are any mistakes or wrong turns in my life. Everything and everyone that I have come in contact with has afforded me a link to the next step in my objectives. With that mindset I have allowed myself to be driven by opportunity; therefore, wherever I look all around me, I see an opportunity to do something different or start something new.
What has been the most challenging thing about having your own business? Honestly, this question is a lot more serious for women entrepreneurs than men. The most challenging thing is partnership in your relationships. To be an entrepreneur, you have to be committed to your goals, like, obsessed with your goals where you forget to eat, can’t sleep and will give every waking minute of your time to that goal and while you are doing that there is someone or something being neglected. It is very difficult for us as women to have that intense focus on the realization of our own business objectives and at the same time be the nurturers, the caretakers, and sometimes the second seat in a household. When you have made up your mind that your business takes first chair to everything and everyone you will have real challenges. Being a boss in your business is not easy when, as women, sometimes our partners may feel pushed to the side and at times many men are intimidated by a woman who can and will do it and get it done. So I would say the most challenging thing to me is how you balance your can-do-get-it done-alpha-female-personality with those around you.
What has been the most rewarding thing about having your own business? There is a place between your dreams and the realization of the dream that I call G.G.H.S.S. or Grass Grows Horse Starve Syndrome. In that place you experience the miniscule growth of your dreams and you are alone in the dark with a dimming candle. In that place it is very easy to get discouraged and lose sight of your goals. You may want to give up and give in and throw in the towel and then there is a phone call, an order or even a word from an unexpected place and you realize that SOMEONE out there GETS IT! The transference of an idea, the sale of merchandise or a desire for something that began in your mind is the most rewarding experience ever! It is like the universe saying back to you: YES, you are valuable and we need you to keep doing your thing! I feel that every time I sell a single item or make a major deal and it motivates me to keep going.
What advice would you give to would-be entrepreneurs? I have a 5 part answer to this question, but its worth the read if you are an aspiring entrepreneur!
1) START WHERE YOU STAND! Many people think that you need a lot of money to start a business, but sometimes you already have everything you need and don’t even realize it. As I said before: I see opportunity in everything, even food stamps! For example if you are a lady with a good stove and getting food stamps and a recipe for the best banana nut bread in America, you are more that 75% on your way! Make samples and look around you for places that need your product and get on your hustle, someone out there wants what you have to offer if you present it in the right way.
2) SELF GROOMING. Take care of your appearance! Groom yourself to look like the part you are trying to play. If you are not great at speaking publicly or approaching strangers, join your local Toastmasters. Sit in on a free seminar at your local library. It doesn’t matter what the topic is but you need to witness public speaking to emulate it. Answer some of the questions, take notes and pay attention to the speaker and the use of body language and tone. Also a few books don’t hurt either. Speak to others frequently, share your ideas and engage strangers in conversation wherever you get the chance - this will build confidence when asking for a deal. These things are essential to pitching your product, merchandise or ideas to others because sometimes you are judged on sight and sound before you even open your mouth and you need to shatter the perceptions with your use of language, charm and appearance.
3) RESEARCH! Read up on the viability of your goal or industry that you are trying to reach with your product or services. Due diligence affords us the foresight to see and avoid pitfalls before we fall into them.
4) JUST DO IT! Aft all your research, if you are still motivated and ready to get your business going, just go ahead and get it done! There is something to be said for ACTION. When you put action behind your thoughts, you begin to see your ideas take on a life of possibilities and others around you begin to see it too! It’s very easy to sit around and say “No one will help me and I don’t know how to start this business.” But if you don’t do it, who will take on your dreams for you? Remember, every business out there today, no matter how grand, started somewhere, small and humble. You need to find that smaller version of the grand thing you are thinking of and materialize that so you have a seed to grow into a mighty oak!
5) FIND LIKE MINDED INDIVIDUALS. Connect with people who are like-minded and interested who can support your ideas - emotionally, spiritually and even financially. Your family has NO obligation to GET your idea. They can’t see what you see, so you need to surround yourself with like-minded people who are experienced and qualified to encourage you or tell you plainly about the business you are thinking of starting. Getting a mentor who can throw some knowledge your way isn’t a bad idea either!
Well, there you have it! I don't know about you, but I feel like I just went through an MBA crash course! Be sure to check out Renae's shop at www.msfullfigured.com. You can also keep up with her through Twitter and Facebook.