How Rachel Wexler is drawing on the beauty of the traditional with her womenswear brand Black Iris
Describe your business in a few words?
Black Iris is an elevated womenswear collection, drawing on the beauty of the traditional to create pieces for modern women. The brand conveys nostalgia for a time of better quality and fewer things, with pieces that are intended to be worn over and over again, and passed down to the next generation. Black Iris is for the woman manifesting her own destiny, making a mark, and carving her own unique path as she transitions throughout roles in day to day life with ease and grace.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I always wanted to work in the retail world, but becoming pregnant with my first child was a major catalyst to make the move. When my son was born, I felt more strongly than ever about pursuing something that I was deeply passionate about. The bar was suddenly raised and I was highly motivated to follow my dreams.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
Prior to starting Black Iris, I worked in finance, researching and investing in large public companies, with a focus on the retail and consumer industry. It was completely different from fashion, but prepared me well for the level of analysis, attention to detail, and focus required to launch a successful womenswear brand.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I am not someone who grew up knowing I wanted to be an entrepreneur, and I started my career in the corporate world. It was only when my partners and I shared ideas for what was missing in the fashion world that I decided to take the leap!
Take us back to when you first launched your business, what was your marketing strategy to get the word out and did it go as planned?
We launched Black Iris with a fashion insider dinner and a party celebrating our launch with friends and family. Both were a success in helping to grow brand awareness and earn our initial sales. Because our business was bootstrapped, the decision to grow organically instead of through a PR or digital ad blitz was the right choice for us. We were fortunate to attract wholesale interest at the onset from all of the buzz that our events created!
We always learn the most from our mistakes, share a time with us that you made a mistake or had a challenging time in business and what you learned from it?
I have made countless mistakes, but always try to monitor our data and outcomes closely so that we can take swift action. The sooner that you recognize that you’re going in the wrong direction, the easier it is to rightsize the ship.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am proud of how quickly we pivoted in order to serve our customer base and our community during the pandemic. We went from manufacturing silk dresses to making reusable, cotton face masks nearly overnight, and expanded from there to stay relevant during an unprecedented time. We donated both face masks and dollars to help essential workers, and feel great about making a difference when it was needed most.
When hiring for your team, what is your go-to interview question? Please share any hiring tips you can share from your experience?
In my experience, people are the most important part of any business. I am lucky to be part of a team of 4 incredibly talented co-founders, as well as other individuals who are a hugely important part of our team. Having the right people in place can absolutely make or break your business. I always like to ask what people did and didn’t like about past jobs, to determine whether a role is something that they would truly enjoy. This business started from a place of passion, and we want everyone who works with us to feel happy to be on our team!
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
High end, occasion-driven fashion sales were practically ground to a halt during the early days of the pandemic. Apparel supply chains were also challenged with factories shut down in New York City and around the world. Black Iris pivoted quickly and introduced drops that met our customers’ needs during an unprecedented time, including face masks, bandanas, belt bags, and pajamas, in addition to continuing our core, elevated womenswear collection. We’re now seeing our customers look forward to dressing up again, and re-entering the world with style and confidence!
What’s next for your business? What can we expect to see over the next few years?
Black Iris successfully expanded into new verticals such as accessories and loungewear out of necessity during the pandemic, and we expect to continue to do so going forward. We will always continue to offer our core sophisticated, elevated collection, but you can expect to see more exciting drops in the future!
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
If I have learned anything in the past year, it is that the world is impossible to predict, and the same goes for business. No matter what you think lies ahead, it’s hard to know what the future will look like. In the past year, Black Iris has evolved, iterated, and adapted to serve our customer during an ever-changing time. This period taught me the importance of staying lean and nimble so that we can be responsive to any environment that we are faced with.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
Before launching, know your raison d’etre. Why does your business need to exist, and what can you do better than everyone else? If someone else can do what your business does, there is probably something else more deserving of your time and effort.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
In a year that was so difficult for so many people, I am constantly reminded how grateful I am for my family’s health and well-being. The world has endured so much suffering this year, and business has been very challenged, but this period has showed me what truly matters and what doesn’t.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
I believe in work/life balance, but an important part of that is letting go of the expectations of what we should be accomplishing every day. In my experience, work/life balance over the course of a day, or even a week, is often impossible, but over the course of a month, it’s attainable. Some days I am highly productive but don’t see my kids as much as I would like, and other days, but I don’t finish everything that I set out to complete, but sneak in quality time with my children. Try to ride the waves and not stress, knowing that over time, work/life balance is achievable.
What’s something our audience would be surprised to learn about you?
I have always loved fashion, but spent most days wearing a simple suit or shift dress to work during my finance years. I wish that Black Iris had existed then!
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
1) Keep a to do list; 2) Set objectives for each day; 3) Assign blocks of time onto your calendar to get through the tasks on your list, so that your schedule doesn’t fill up with meetings.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means taking a leap and making things happen! I am constantly in awe of the incredible women I’ve met through the years, juggling many priorities simultaneously in pursuit of their goals. A true Entreprenista also helps other women as they progress on their own entrepreneurial journeys.