Female Founders of Malone Souliers, Keeyahri and Jessica Rich Talk Visibility, Finding Success & Sustaining It at the 2023 FN CEO Summit

In an industry filled with a constant flow of new designers, product drops, launches, collaborations and more, standing out from the pack can be difficult. It’s especially challenging for women.

Only 2% of venture capital is going to women-led, women-founded businesses, for instance. It’s a jarring fact FN Style Director Shannon Adducci brought to attention during a panel at the 2023 FN CEO last week in Miami. She sat down with founders and designers Keya Martin of Keeyahri, Jessica Rich and Mary Alice Malone, creative director of Malone Souliers. All of which are women, who spoke on their own journeys to success, from starting their own business to finding ways to sustain it.

For Martin, she’s just at beginning stages after launching her label in 2020 and is currently looking for funding. “It’s been tough. Raising capital is just a different world for me. I don’t have the network or the resources so it’s just about me networking and putting myself in positions to meet different people,” she said.

What is key for an emerging brand’s growth, said Rich, is visibility. “My genius is marketing, social media. I’m thankful I do not to have to hire agencies, but I think now, to scale where I want to go, I need resources. Going into retail stores has been a great help,” she said.

Though, like many designers know, securing relationships with retail partners is no easy feat. Martin said that was one of her biggest obstacles before landing in Nordstrom in 2021 and in Saks this year.

“What I did was go to a lot of networking events. I flew to New York, became a member of different fashion group. It’s pretty much me, putting myself out there, contacting, networking and developing,” she added.

“Once you get one big retail location, then the rest kind of happens slowly like dominoes, but getting one person to trust you, that’s the hardest part,” Malone, who has been in the business since 2014, echoed.

For the Malone Souliers designer, hard work and great product has been critical for her brand’s success through the years.

“As far as most designers, creatives, founders, I am not very visible. And I’ve done that almost on purpose because I’ve spent the past almost 10 years building my business. So I know all the heels that are being made, I know all the lasts that are being made, I know how they fit. I spent so much time trying to build a really formidable business and a really healthy business to serve customers. So far, it’s been a good strategy. It’s about being able to give a beautiful product at the end of the day, consistently,” she explained. “It really has been me focusing on the back-end of the business that has got it there.”

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