My #1 Mistake Involved Ralph Lauren, Madonna and Bill Gates
In the early 1980’s I decided to open a preppy clothing store on the west-side of Houston. Back then, that little store was pure magic. As crazy as it sounds, business just exploded and we enjoyed success from the get-go. It became a neighborhood hotspot and clothing seemed to just fly off the shelves. We made it look easy and back then …and it was. (You can read the whole story in our book The Seven Women Project!)
Sometimes success is all about timing – being at the right place at the right time – and Houston in the 1980’s was definitely that right place for a small business owner like me. Soon I had opened a second store in a different part of town, then a third and then a fourth.
Our target market was well defined… WOMEN! And we had that market covered! Moms, collage girls, career women, teens, grandma’s and even girls in junior high(they bought monogrammed belts and barrettes) loved the store. That classic, Ralph Lauren Preppy looked crossed all generations and business was GREAT!
Then August 2 1981 MTV came on the air (Happy Birthday MTV). MTV – Music Television and as they say video killed the radio star and my teen-age business. Well not at first… actually they stopped dressing preppy after 1985 and it was Madonna’s fault. Her hit Like a Virgin was the game-changer. Young women wanted to be like her, confident and strong and, they quickly began to emulate her style and dress.
Bye –Bye teens.
I dug in my heels and just worked harder!
Then…in the early 1990’s technology innovators like Bill Gates and Michael Dell knew that employees would work better if they were comfortable and relaxed, and casual work dress was born. The idea exploded into the biggest anti-fashion phenomenon our culture has ever seen.
Human Resource departments breathed life into the trend by offering casual dress as a perk. They allowed their employees to wear jeans, khakis, polo shirts and sweaters to celebrate the end of the workweek. Casual Friday became the norm in mainstream corporate America, and workers were excited and I was depressed
It didn’t take long for Casual Friday to become “Casual Every-day.” As the trend spread to the rest of the week, the deterioration of corporate style started to creep in. If workers wear casual clothes on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, then what makes Friday special? People started digging way back into their closets for the Saturday stuff, like leggings, oversized tees and flip-flops. “Oh, it’s Friday,” They said, “I’d better wear something more casual than I wore all week. Hmm, I mowed the yard in this. Perfect!”
My smart, stylish, exciting career women started dressing down, trading in their zippers for elastic, their gabardines for knits, their fitted, crisp white blouses for oversized tees. Women were giving up their power suits for baggy clothes and for some women there was no turning back.
By the mid-90s business was down. Women stopped caring about fashion. They stopped ironing. They packed up their blouses, suits and their panty hose and got comfortable.
My business was down 50%…and I dug in my heels and worked harder.
By 1997 Preppy was dead and so was my business….
The HUGE Lesson learned – Open your eyes to the trends-Don’t put your head in the sand and thing that just working harder is the answer.
Today we have so many different ways to communicate our message!
Social Media opens the doors to communication and we can connect directly with the customers, decisions makers, and influencers!
Don’t live under a paper bag- Embrace Technology, Keep on Learning,