Whatever you want to do in life, chances are, someone else has been there, done that. Instead of admiring—or envying—their success from afar, savvy entrepreneurs tap one to be a mentor.
Fashion designer Isabella Rose Taylor did, and it’s landing her juniors clothing line on a rack in Nordstrom this fall. The Austin, Texas girl was eight years old when she attended a sewing camp. Soon after, she started making her own clothes. Her designs drew compliments, then her friends started asking her to sew clothes for them, and just a few months later she held her first trunk show in a local boutique.
Customer reaction was overwhelmingly positive and, when Taylor was nine, she and her parents realized it could be a business. She had the creative part down, but she needed help learning production. Her parents, who both work in the medical field, found Liza Deyrmenjian, founder of Fashion Accelerator 360, a New York-based fashion-business coaching firm.
"Liza taught us everything—from blocks to sourcing fabrics, finding models and creating samples," says Taylor, who turned 13 in March. "She showed us the whole process—something we couldn’t have done on our own."
Deyrmenjian had worked in fashion for more than 25 years, opening her own clothing factory in Vancouver, British Columbia at the age of 19. She built her company into a 60-worker shop, producing clothing for large brands as well as her own label, Go Girl. She sold her business and moved to New York in 2003 and became an apparel consultant.
One of her first clients was Jay McCarroll, winner of season one of Project Runway. "He told me, ‘I learned more from you in half an hour than I did from a whole year apprenticing at Banana Republic.’" says Deyrmenjian.
A good mentor will coach you from where you are, respecting your expertise, says Deyrmenjian: "Isabella has a very honed aesthetic. She’s very on point with her market and is an incredible creative director. I helped her with other aspects."
As an industry insider, Deyrmenjian coached Taylor on things like the fashion cycle, how retailers buy, how to sell wholesale, and how to leverage a trunk show. She helped Taylor release a collection twice a year for three years, slowly building her brand.
"It can take two to three years to build a following," Deyrmenjian says. "When I mentor, I’m always pushing the strengths of the designer so I can get a lot of eyeballs on their designs. But they must be prepared to financially sustain, produce, and sell during the time they’re creating their story."
When Taylor’s brand, Isabella Rose Taylor, matured, it was time to go after larger retailers. Deyrmenjian helped Taylor get the right publicity, so a large store would pay attention. Local press led to an appearance with a larger Austin, Texas designer who was showing at 2013 New York Fashion Week. That led to an appearance on NBC’s Today show. Then she was asked to be on Steve Harvey.
"It was a slow process of building buzz," says Deyrmenjian. Taylor’s team reached out to Nordstrom, whose buyers had already heard of the young designer.
"And an amazing thing happened," says Taylor. "They liked my clothes."
Jennifer Jackson, the merchandising manager for children's clothing at Nordstrom, told Women's Wear Daily that Taylor has the "unique ability to create fun, stylish clothes that really represent her customer, who are also her peers."
The Isabella Rose Taylor line, which is being called "hippie-grunge, yet feminine," will debut in August 2014 for the back-to-school market, with 10 to 15 pieces in 10 Nordstrom stores.
Deyrmenjian says she can teach her clients the backend, but the mentee must do their part: "If you’re not out there sharing your story and selling your clothing, you’ll find it discouraging to keep creating lines that nobody is buying. You must be confident in moving forward."
Taylor says the key to her success has been blood, sweat, and glitter. "Blood because it takes a lot of passion and sacrifice," she explains. "Sweat because of the time and hard work you must do. And glitter because of the imagination and creativity. There must be a dream behind your business."
While Taylor is the youngest client Deyrmenjian has worked with, age was never a factor in their mentor-mentee relationship: "Talent-wise, Isabella wasn’t at all different from my other clients," says Deyrmenjian, who has also coached Rochelle Behrens, founder of The Shirt, and Gretchen Jones, winner of season eight of Project Runway. "Her age was actually an advantage; because she was young and wasn’t jaded and had no fear. Her vision was clear—and she’s an incredible designer."
"Liza has given me a good foundation and an understanding of the industry," says Taylor, who was home-schooled and is now studying fine art as a freshman in college. "Fashion will be a career for me. I want to do this forever."
[Image: Flickr user Garry Knight]