Over the past 20-plus years, I have transitioned from solo stylist to CEO of an ever-expanding, multifaceted company that encompasses a styling studio, product development department and a digital media group. I learn something new every single day, and I'd like to share a few insights that have been particularly invaluable throughout my career:
1. Trust Your Instincts. First and foremost, go with your gut. Warren Buffett constantly credits instinct as a secret weapon, which is one of the many reasons I consider him a personal hero. I am very much a creative person, without formal business training, but I have always had a strong intuition about which paths to pursue and instinct has been my most valuable source. For instance, when I first wanted to launch a daily newsletter, I encountered some skepticism since I knew so little about digital. But four years later, The Zoe Report is one of the biggest parts of my brand and it helps fuel every other aspect of my business. The bottom line is that if you’re confronted with critics, take their words with a grain of salt. Look inward, then move forward.
2. Connect To The Customer. I like to connect directly to my customers whenever and however possible through social media, public appearances and retailer feedback. It is so crucial when it comes to gauging what is and isn’t working with your product. I do as many in-store events as I can because I love to get in the dressing rooms with women to hear what they love and to see how my designs fit different body types. This is also the best way to troubleshoot problem areas. For example, I initially designed all of my pants with a 38-inch inseam, because I reasoned that women all hem their pants to their height – but I learned it actually deters people from buying when they have to make those changes. Now I sell my pants with a 34-inch inseam.
Also, when it comes to determining your brand’s signature: some of the best advice I ever received came from Diane von Furstenberg, who said, “Don’t stress over trying to figure out what you’re known for – your customers are going to figure it out for you.”
3. You Can’t Please Everyone. All of that being said, it is also important to know that you can’t make everyone happy. As a designer, I made the mistake in the beginning of listening to too many buyers, and it was like having too many cooks in the kitchen. I lost my vision for a little bit because I was trying to please everyone. The lesson here is to find a balance between acknowledging and implementing feedback, while still staying true to your identity. I never want to chase trends; I’d rather stand behind what I believe in, and I’ve found that if something I put forth doesn’t pick up in the spring season, if I stick with it, by the time fall hits retailers people will love it. Consistency and staying true to your authentic self are key.
4. Empower the Right People. I would never be where I am without the support of an incredible, ever-growing team. As someone who worked independently for years, I was hesitant in the beginning to ask anyone else to help me. I’ve learned that by letting go and empowering talented individuals to do their job (while not micromanaging them), the sky is the limit for what can be accomplished.
5. Stay Open: Styling is my baby. I never thought I’d be more than a stylist, because I was happy just doing that. I was truly driven by passion and not money – which is the key for success. It was my love of what I do that led me to write a book, launch a digital media company, produce a TV show and, scariest of all, become a designer. By staying open to any possibility and moving forward when my instinct pushed me to do so, without any kind of blueprint, so many incredible things have come to fruition. So, never say never – and seize opportunities if your intuition gives you the go-ahead.