Meet Meghan Campbell
Meet Meghan Campbell, founder of Meg Campbell Golf, an up and coming ladies golf/ tennis and lifestyle collection. I worked with Meghan years ago when she was first starting out in the industry. When we recently got reconnected she told me about how she had successfully launched her own collection. I just knew I had to interview her! She is so open about her business and the struggles she has gone through to get to where she is today is incredible. Anyone dreaming of starting their own line I know will be able to learn from her and resent with her story.
I moved to NYC a few months after graduating from college. It was early 2002, and the industry was a little unstable at that point. It was impossible to find a full-time job. I actually moved to the city with no job, and nothing more then an interview lined up with a headhunter and a prayer. Freelance was where it was at, at that point, and the only work I could find in the industry was a freelance job in production.
Its the catch 22 that a young, newly graduated design student faces. How to find a design job when experience is required to get even an assistant design job? For me, it was to take anything offered so I could start to build a resume. I quickly learned that even though production was not where I wanted to be, it was an invaluable education that actually made me a better designer! I can’t tell you how many talented designers I meet that have no idea how to actually produce a product on a mass scale. My father had always told me that I needed to learn and understand the business of the industry if I ever wanted to have my own label. He could not have been more correct.
From that freelance job, I was able to eventually parlay it into a full-time design assistant position at IZOD. I stayed there until I made associate and was confident I could manage a team. I then spent a few years at different companies, as a head designer, until I was ready to start my own thing.
Finding The Right Backer…
I grew up wanting my own business. My father had his own company for close to 30 years so that entrepreneurship drive runs deep in my blood. I grew up in the arts; painting, pottery, photography, you name it I did it. I also had a thing for paper dolls when I was a kid. At some point, I started sketching my own paper doll clothes and that sort of naturally piqued my interest in design. From there it was progressed into wanting to design actual clothes.
I think I knew I wanted to do this by the time I was 16. Since I have been so singular in my thought, for so long, it was a conversation that I would have with my family quite often. We would occasionally plot how I could accomplish this when the time came. It’s more than just having an idea and a design in mind, you need to also have a plan in place for how you are going to achieve it financially.
We had talked about going the traditional route with my going to a bank for a loan but then my father sold his business and decided he wanted to invest (once a risk taker in business, always a risk taker). This has been both a blessing and a curse. I don’t have to pay interest on the loan, but there are times I would rather answer to a stranger at a bank.
Turning Meg Campbell Golf Into Country Club Chic…
Meg Campbell Golf is a womenswear sportswear clothing line specifically for golf, tennis, and resort. I like to refer to it as country club chic. The line is inspired by where I grew up and the women that I grew up around. I’m from Connecticut, the land of the prep! I love the look, and I always wanted to design a golf line that had all the technical properties one would expect from a performance line, while at the same time being sophisticated and something you could wear anywhere.
I know there has been a huge athletic/leisure wear moment going on, but I believe that we are starting to a see shift back to “dressing” for the occasion more. Don’t get me wrong, I love leggings as much as the next girl, but I don’t want to spend every day in them. Sometimes I just want to look cute, or polished and put together.
I didn’t start off thinking I would do a golf line, but sometimes the universe just presents things to you and you have to listen. For my portfolio class in college, I pulled golf for my final project and that’s actually where some of the silhouettes for this first collection came from. Which shows just how classic and timeless the pieces are as they were still relevant when I started designing this line. My first real design job was doing men’s golf wear for IZOD. Then I got another job in design for golf, and from there I just kept getting little signs that it needed to be a golf/ tennis line until I finally listened to what the universe was telling me and said, ok I hear ya!
Getting Into Stores…
I had some fabulous friends who do marketing that suggested I use an automated personalized sales email. I still did the old school grind of searching out the places I wanted to target. Spending some solid hours researching places I created a database of hundreds of golf clubs and boutiques that I felt we’d be a fit for. It was important to me to take this personalized approach as I am being very precise in how and where I want to place my line. I envision this as a lifestyle brand, so I am already thinking of how I want the brand to look in 5 years. I used Woodpecker, which I love, to set up my email campaign and by then I had close to 500 contacts to put on my list. Hit send on my first campaign and within two weeks I had my first store.
Pitching To New Stores…
How I pitch to stores has been an ever-evolving strategy. When we first launched, I was reaching out solely through cold emails and cold calls. My focus was on getting appointments to show the line in person. I am still reaching out this way, but I am now looking to do more trunk shows rather than trying to sell them the line outright.
The fashion market is saturated in general and retail has been hit hard, with so many people preferring to shop online, so I think retailers and pro shops are being a bit more cautious as to what they are willing to find space for on their floor. Approaching them now and asking to do trunk shows is a win-win for everyone. I’m getting to sell, we both make money, and if it goes well they are looking to put me in their shop the following season because they know they have a client base for the line.
I have also expanded my presence on social media, Instagram in particular. You can’t sell a line, no matter how great it is, if no one knows you exist.
I think you are constantly surprised by how much you don’t know. I started off assuming I had a pretty strong grasp on what was entailed, and I am still finding things I need to learn. Also, I have discovered what I don’t like, and that includes the marketing and sales portions of the business. I am a creative, and I would rather spend my time creating new designs and working to get them produced. However, that’s not feasible when you are first starting off. You have to wear many hats, and I have found that some of those hats are a tight, and uncomfortable fit.
There have been times, where I need to sort of interrupt my natural workflow and research how to do something. It has made certain things take a little longer but in the long run, I am grateful for these learning curves as I will have a firm understanding of all angles of the business, which I can only imagine will help me as the company grows and I start to take on employees.
Finding A Work-Life Balance…
The stress struggle is real! You think you know how much work it’s going to take to be a business owner, but you really have no idea until you dive into it. I was lucky as I had learned first hand just how much work goes into design and production, and I was used to long hours and weekends lost, but even I was overwhelmed.
They say you find out who your real friends are when you start a business. This is so true! I rarely see my friends these days, and I am a social creature and have an outstanding group whom I love and adore and that I rarely get to see or converse with. I’m so grateful they still love me when I do reach out. It’s funny because I am a social creature, and yet starting your business can be a lonely experience. You would think I would have thought of that beforehand. Things are starting to even out now and my life is very slowly starting to balance out again. But the first couple of years can be rough!
Growing An Online Presence…
I think with the shopping trends being what they are these days we will eventually see more sales and growth online. However, I do believe that we still need to be in brick and mortar as you need that direct connection to the customer. There has to be somewhere they can go to see, and more importantly touch the line. I think this will be important for us to establish brand loyalty and repeat customers.
That being said, I am already seeing how Instagram is going to be the real MVP for us. The exposure has already resulted in my being contacted directly through our company’s IG account as well as receiving emails through our website for orders and/or inquiries. We also have recently established a brand ambassador program and we have some fun collabs coming up that I am really excited about.
Social media, in particular, Instagram for me, has changed not just me and my business but the industry overall. It’s incredible to me, especially when you consider the significant change that has happened in such a short period of time; maybe just the past 5 years or so? IG is the new way to shop, especially if you are someone who likes to find new and independent brands. You are able to establish a direct link to customers in a way that’s never existed and it’s a great way to sell and get immediate feedback.
Creating A Brand Ambassador Program…
Collaborations are key!! Our ambassador program is going to be big for us, I think. It’s an instant way to expand your viewership. I have found that micro-influencers (those with 20k or less in followers) are the sweet spot for us. For one thing, I am not paying per post. We have a system worked out where everyone benefits; the influencer, myself and the customer. Secondly, a good micro-influencer in theory already has your target customer following them, and they see value in seeing this person wear and live in the clothes. I’m about to announce our next brand ambassador and I am really excited to work with her. It will be very interesting to see how it directly affects my business. At this point, I would say we are conducting the majority of business through Instagram and I believe this is where everything is headed.
I like to say we are in the toddler years; we’re just starting to learn to crawl. I was finalizing designs and sourcing fabrics and trims about 2 1/2 years ago. It took me close to 6 months to source the right fabric at the right price, and I had an extensive contact list to start with from my years in the industry. It drove me a little nuts but it so was important to take that time as I saved a substantial amount of money in the long run by finding the highest quality at the best price.
I decided last summer to produce a limited run of pieces to have on hand. Even though we technically are launching right now, this spring/summer 2017, I wanted to be able to say yes to events where I would need product on hand. It was a gamble but I am starting to see it pay off. I started off using a sample room in the fashion district in NYC that a friend recommended. It was great but when it came time to produce bulk quantities I needed a slightly larger manufacturer.
Made in America…
Makers Row was invaluable for me. There’s a yearly fee associated with the site, but they have a database of tens of thousands of manufacturers and vendors. I found my trim company there, my button company, my embroiderer, and eventually MCM Enterprises which is based out in Brooklyn. They are a perfect fit for me as they can produce the clothing and as we grow, they can do pick and pack for me (which means they will be able to pick orders for me, pack them and ship them out).
I’m lucky in that there are a lot of talented people and some really good companies based in NYC, I love that we are able to make everything here. It’s something I am really proud of, and I know I can guarantee the quality as I am able to see it firsthand.
Our first collection for Meg Campbell Golf was inspired by a combination of things. As I said before, some of the pieces were taken from the line I designed in college. Those designs were inspired by Ertes (A designer and illustrator that I adore for the 20’s) as well as from fashion from the early 20th century. I love the art deco period and there are elements in my design that reflect this; from our print to some features in our silhouettes.
There is also an element of my childhood and the women I grew up around and were raised by. How my mother, grandmother, and aunts dressed in the 80’s in New England! Old school popped collars and great colors. I love color! Teal is one of my favorite colors of all time and I happen to think its a color that works on all skin and hair colors. So that was a must color and something you will see time and again in my collections.
My newest collection, that I am just starting to design for next spring is inspired, at least color-wise, by a Gucci ad from this season; all the colors in the print and had me designing the collection in my head in a matter of hours. I am really excited for the next collection!!
Looking Long Term…
There are a few things I’d like to accomplish within the next 5 years. First, I want to expand the Meg Campbell Golf line to be all-inclusive sizing. I want to be able to offer sizes from XS to 3XL. But in order to do that justice, I need to develop the fit for plus size. This means two sets of fit samples and two fit models, so we can be sure that we are getting the best fit possible in every size. Obviously, this is both an increase in cost as well as time-consuming so my fingers are crossed that I will get there by this time next year, that next Spring’s collection we will be able to introduce plus size!
I am also interested in opening pop shops over the next few years. Someplace south in the winter and up here in the summer. Just to open for a few months in a different town each time and make it a limited engagement with fun events planned throughout the months its open.
Long term I want to expand the line. Men’s first and then maybe children down the line. I’ll have to see where this journey takes me.
No One Gets A Free Ride…
I have always admired my father professionally, I think he’s just the best, and the brightest when it comes to business. He built up his company from nothing, without a college degree, to huge national shipping and logistics company and I could not possibly be prouder to be his kid. Besides the obvious success, I was always struck by how devoted his employees were to him. It was easy to see why, my father worked just as hard as anyone else in the company, and it showed.
I remember my first summer working for him, making calls all day to make sure deliveries were on time. On the first day he told me, “Meghan, you have to work harder then everyone else here, you can’t expect to get the best out of your employees if they don’t think you value their time and effort, and as the owner’s kid you need to set an example and show that no one gets a free ride and everyone needs to do their job and do it well.”
That really sunk into me, and it was the start of what became my work ethic. It’s what I strive for even today when the only person I need to set an example for is myself. No one else may be watching, but that doesn’t mean I can slack off. I wouldn’t be where I am today if my dad hadn’t shown me what it looks like to accomplish even this much. Eternally grateful!
Finding A Mentor…
I’ve had a few great mentors from when I was in the industry. My first boss out of school was Toland Washington and he taught me everything about production! I still go to him until this day when I need advice about manufacturing. I am hoping to make him my first real hire some day.
My boss at IZOD, Ann Graceffo, was also the perfect boss for me. She gave me confidence in my ability to design and taught me processes I am still using to this day.
I would have never met either of these amazing people had my father not given me the best piece of advice I’ve ever received. I wanted to start my line straight out of school; thought I knew everything there was to know. My father said to me, take at least five years and go into the industry. Learn the business and make connections as you will need people to help you along the way and you need to hone your skills before striking out on your own. He was of course, as usual, correct.
4 Great Tips For Newcomers…
- Be a sponge! Go out into the world, and be open to taking a job that may not be exactly what you saw yourself doing. The industry is constantly changing and the economy goes up and down so be flexible and be enthusiastic about whatever job you do get. You will be amazed what you will learn, even in rolls that may not be quite what you are looking for and then absorb everything.
- Be the one who offers to stay late and work on that project. Not to kiss up to the boss or to advance your place in your team or company, but because these moments will be the ones that help you to sharpen your skills.
- Listen more than you speak. Take advice and criticism and don’t take it personally, instead take the information received and grow from it. You won’t be perfect at your job right away, everything takes time and mistakes happen. But own those mistakes, find solutions, and keep it moving.
- Hard work trumps everything and if you are teachable and really ready and wanting to learn you will go very far!