In Conversation with Judiann Romanello of DamnAged Vintage
Describe your business in a few words?
DamnAged Vintage is a carefully curated vintage clothing store that specializes in womenswear ranging from the early 1900’s to the 1990’s.
What made you take the leap to start your own business?
I was inspired to take the leap to start my own business when I hit a creative wall at Cartier. Working with fine jewelry made me miss working with clothes and I didn’t see myself going to any other companies. I knew I had to make a big change.
What was your background prior to starting your own business?
I had 7 years of experience working in luxury retail in visual merchandising. Having been involved in store openings and closings gave me some idea of how to go about starting my own business and opening my own shop.
Did you always know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I always felt like I would be most successful working for myself. I have always been driven and hardworking, I would put in the time and go above and beyond for my employers, but in my heart, I wasn’t totally happy. I didn’t like working endless days for someone else when I could be putting all of my energy into something of my own.
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?
I got the word out via Instagram. I would market myself online every single day by posting stories about the clothes I was selling. I would dress up in the clothes and show people how to wear them, I would post old Hollywood actresses in similar pieces to show how timeless they were. I launched my business out of my little East Village apartment with one rack of clothes. I transformed my living room into a small shop. My bathroom and bedroom became dressing rooms and girls would feel like they were shopping in a speakeasy for clothes. I handed out glasses of champagne and gave each customer my undivided attention. The word started to get out and then each week I began getting new customers.
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 think the biggest challenge about having your own business, (especially when transitioning out of the corporate world) is learning how to self-motivate. It’s tough! There is no one checking in with you to see where you’re at with your to-do list. That is entirely up to you. The most difficult part is just getting started. How to prioritize the tasks at hand. There is no blueprint for how to start no matter how many books you read. For me the biggest hurdle was putting the financial “business plan” aside to focus on what I knew and that was buying clothes. I will never forget my father just telling me to start buying. Screw the business plan and just start already! I didn’t go to business school, I was never good with numbers, but I knew how to score a deal on clothes, so I just kept going with what I knew best. The financial part came after once I figured out how much I was willing to spend on a piece.
What is the accomplishment you are the most proud of to date?
I am most proud of following through with my dream. Never losing hope when I wanted to give up. There were so many times that I wanted to quit, but I never did and now I look at my beautiful store that started on a single rack in my little apartment and I have to pinch myself.
How has your business or industry been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic?
My first year in business has been a series of challenges especially with the pandemic. I signed my lease for March 1st, 2020, two weeks later NYS announced the shut down for a global pandemic. Not having to rush to open the doors allowed me to ease into building out a brick-and-mortar shop while launching my first website. I still had to pay my rent so the online piece would help keep me afloat before opening my doors. Sadly, wedding season, prom season, holiday parties were all canceled this year, so fashion needs have definitely changed. I went from selling gowns out of my apartment to selling tee-shirts, jeans and robes out of my store. Luckily vintage will not go out of style so I will hang onto the strong pieces for future seasons.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned in 2020?
The biggest lesson I have learned in 2020 is that the energy you put out is the energy you get back. I mean that both mentally and financially. The more positive I stay, the more clarity I have in my mind for creativity. The harder I work, the more money I make. Also, consistency is key when having your own business. Your customers will notice.
What do you know now that you wish you knew when you were first starting your business?
I wish someone told me that in order to be successful you need time to organize yourself. For me, that means taking the time to rest and reset and to write down what needs to be done. My father has had his own business for 35+ years. Since I was little, I remember him coming home and taking out his journal to write down what happened at the end of each day and what he needed to get done for the next day. I am old school; I have to write everything down and cross off things on my list. I am most successful when I write out what I need to do.
How have you managed to stay grounded this year?
I have managed to stay grounded this year by working on something that brings me such joy. I realize how fulfilled I am now that I am doing what I absolutely love. The saying is true, do what you love and never work a day in your life.
Do you believe in work/life balance? What are some of your best tips?
Absolutely. I listen to a lot of women in business podcasts and Ted Talks and the biggest regret for so many successful people is that they had wished they had taken more time for themselves because life is so short. You have to find balance and learn when to turn off. Obviously when running your own business, your workday really doesn’t end. I think learning to manage and delegate tasks is so important in order for you to grow but also it is so necessary if you ever want to take time off. Being able to take a day to catch up on personal things is imperative. I hired someone early on to work 2 days a week because you can’t do everything on your own if you’re trying to grow. You have to let go a little.
What are your top 3 tips to stay productive each day?
I think sticking to a routine is helpful. I wake up, I make my bed and start my day. I make a list and prioritize what needs to be done. I try to stay on top of my list of things to do, whether that be doing laundry for the shop or shipping out packages. I have to stay on top of things because then it snowballs and it becomes overwhelming. Lastly knowing when you need to walk away. You’re only human and when you’re a one woman show, you need to do yourself a favor and leave when you’ve hit a wall. Keeping a clear mind is key to being productive and that also means taking care of yourself. Work out, eat healthy, and do things that make you happy. I fall off the bandwagon at times, but once I reset, I see and feel what a difference that makes in my personal and professional life.
What does being an Entreprenista mean to you?
Being an Entreprenista means being a boss babe, a self-starter, a person who inspires others to go after their dreams. The hustle is what fuels me.