Wednesday, March 29, 2006

How Knitted Thongs Helped A Couple To Launch Fashion Business

Vicky Prazdnik and Lori Mozzone Story

With so much competition nowadays, a small business needs to create buzz and excitement to survive. That’s exactly what Vicky Prazdnik and Lori Mozzone did in their startup fashion business Curliegirl

The duo designs and creates crocheted and knitted hats, bags and scarves, but it was their sexy crocheted cotton thong underwear products that got them lots of attention at the start! As Mozzone says, “The thong has gotten us a lot of attention in the past. In fact, we tried removing them from our website a few times to make room for new items, and without fail someone emails us asking, "what happened to them?" This has earned them a permanent spot on the site!”

Prazdnik and Mozzone, avid knitting and crocheting hobbyists, knew that they needed to create something beyond the standard fare of knitted hats and scarves for them to succeed as a fashion company. They stumbled on the idea of dainty crocheted thong underwear, and went on to create the design and develop the right prototype. Once convinced that they have the right design, they tested the market’s reaction by showing the crocheted thongs in a Valentine’s theme party in New York. Their product got a wild response!

Prazdnik and Mozzone work together in a New York company as web designers, and became fast friends. Mozzone took up knitting as a hobby and shared her newfound interest with Prazdnik, who in turned shared her skill in crocheting. As Mozzone describes their start, “Both Vicky and I are very creative people who went to art school. When you are an artistic person by nature, you need an outlet for it... So, Curliegirl was born out of a hobby of knitting and crocheting.”

They became passionate with their hobby that they soon started an informal group of women who enjoyed knitting and crocheting as well. The two then created the usual knitted and crochet products – hats and scarves – that got complements from their colleagues and immediate circle. “We used to do an informal knit/crochet group with our friends, but got bored with what we were making,” says Mozzone. “That is when Vicky started experimenting with making the cotton lingerie, which eventually turned out to be our signature product!”

The duo formally launched their company Curliegirl in 2003. Mozzone explains the name, “Curliegirl was a personal URL of mine (for my curly hair), and we started using it as a temporary website. People thought it was cute, and so it stuck.”

Slow but sure, Curliegirl has attracted a growing clientele. They have also expanded their product lines - offering hats, scarves, handbags and other small accessories in addition to the thongs. They also have some salespeople who help distribute their products to other areas of the country. Right now Curliegirl is sold in boutiques around the USA.

“Our fashion philosophy,” according to Mozzone, “is we make what we could see ourselves wearing. We also like our products to be practical and cute. We want our creations to be different and to make the woman who wears them feel good.”

At the start, Curliegirl was a two-women show, and Mozzone and Prazdnik used to do everything themselves -- from crocheting every single product to shipping the orders. Now that the business has started to gain momentum, things have improved somewhat to allow them to focus on other important aspects of the business.

Mozzone explains, “When the business first began we were a one-stop shop with us doing it all, and in some ways we still are. We started outsourcing to get our items made which has freed us up to do more marketing, sales, and everything else to make the business work. Finding a manufacturer was very difficult for many reasons – quality control concerns, distance, cost and minimums. We wanted to find someone who communicated well, had a fair price, and a reasonable minimum.”

Even with limited manpower, these two business savvy women have an arsenal up their sleeve: they understand the power of media in influencing the fashion business. In fact, Curliegirl has received a fair amount of media exposure and mentions, including interviews in publications such as Redbook Magazine, and product inclusion in fashion spreads of YM and Jane magazines.

As Mozzone says of their strategy, “In fashion, getting endorsed by the media is very important. For a small company like us, paid advertising doesn't do much.. But when a magazine editor chooses your item to feature in a photospread, or wants an interview to tell the Curliegirl story, that is far more meaningful to consumers and they react really well to it, both in feedback and in sales.”

While Curliegirl continues to make inroads in the fashion business, the two women are still taking their entrepreneurial journey slow. In fact, they are only doing the business on a part-time basis, with the two continuing to work full-time on their day jobs!

According to Mozzone, “It is extremely difficult at times to balance a day job, Curliegirl and our personal lives. Forget about "free time!" There's a lot going on right now for both of us, so we just do the best we can. We are lucky to have a wonderful, supportive husband and boyfriend who help us out whenever they can. If Curliegirl were to one day become financially lucrative enough we would consider quitting our jobs. But as I said we take it one day at a time. It doesn't seem necessary to put that kind of pressure on ourselves at this point.”

Two years into the business, however, their partnership remains strong. Mozzone says, “We both handle the majority of things, but balance each other out in areas where one of us is stronger, the other is weaker, and vice versa. We easily pick up where the other left off.”

Nonetheless, Prazdnik and Mozzone have lots of plans for Curliegirl. “We are considering expanding our consumer base and experimenting with baby wear, but that is something for the future. We'll see what happens, we take it one day at a time,” says Mozzone.

Their advice to aspiring fashion designers and entrepreneurs: Be persistent, and don't wait for opportunities to come and find you... YOU have to go and find THEM!”