Famed designer Cynthia Rowley has moved beyond apparel into tech accessories, home furnishings, and even surfing gear. Here, she tells Inc. editor-at-large Kimberly Weisul the reason she's never taken on investors, why she tries to keep headcount down, and best advice she's ever gotten.
How did you decide to design office supplies for Staples?
A lot of my friends work from home. I asked Staples what their top-selling items were, and they said boxes of copy paper. If you're working from home, the box is sitting out, and you see it all the time. I said, "Let me design the box. I'll make it beautiful." If you give women the option to buy a beautiful box, they will. We outsold the Star Wars design.
What effect has e-commerce had on people in your industry?
It's so liberating. All the filters are being removed. It's so much easier to put your work out there and create an audience on your own terms. You can be so much more creative in every part of your business because of it.
What advice do you have for entrepreneurs who are flummoxed by social media?
It's not just putting your stuff out there. It's also seeing what other people are thinking about and doing, and creating that conversation. You need to make content that's timely and relevant and personal. That's really key to driving sales through e-commerce.
How do you create that personal content? How personal is too personal?
We're not doing social media so I can get a seat in a restaurant. We're doing it to drive traffic to our site and sell product. What we make is completely in sync with the lifestyle I'm leading. Even though I say this content is personal, it's not really about me the person. It's more about the brand created by me, which now has a life of its own. You'll never see a selfie of me in the mirror, wearing a bathrobe with a towel on my head.
Why did you launch Pretty Penny, which invests in startups founded by your employees?
I've always wanted to do things outside of fashion. And starting a company is not that hard. You can just start small and build something. And if someone has an idea that really has cultural relevance, then I want to help. It's more about collaboration, and less about me mentoring new entrepreneurs. It's not like I know everything.