When I first met Laura for coffee at a pie shop in Brooklyn, I remember being struck by her spunkiness and laissez faire 'tude—rare in the New York entrepreneur scene. Who was this mami chula? Fresh out the ocean and working behind a drafting table in Prospect Heights. And moreover, where did she cop such a great perspective on hustling?
Lawd knows business ain't easy. Add on designing, illustrating, sourcing, promoting and selling on top of that and I need a piña colada. Laura does all of this with grace and style—pushing herself day and night, grinds from Monday to Friday, works from Friday to Sunday. BEST collaborated with Novel on Bikini Roadshow, a Jacob Riis Beach expo. This meant 7am weekend workdays, 90+ degree weather, and the "band" right behind our booth. Baby girl never complained once—working the strip, selling her kinis to any gal (or guy) that passed by. I'm constantly in awe of her relaxed, positive, island outlook on life and business. Here we try to uncover her secret. See ya at the swim-up bar, Alison
How long has Novel been around, and what gave you the hutzpah to start it?
I started Novel in 2015, though it feels like longer, since it was in the works long before that. I had been working as the Marketing Manager for a textile design company called KnollTextiles for three years and sneaking in any freelance design and illustration work I could find to satisfy my creative side. I basically wasn’t sleeping! I knew that I wanted to be working in fashion, and I wanted to have my own platform where I could be designing crazy, bright, colorful prints. So I made a business plan and took the leap!
Who are some business entrepreneurs you look up to / looked up to when starting your brand?
Ah! I was blessed with the best mentor in the world—a commercial artist I interned for in college called Jackie Battenfield. She wrote an amazing book called, “The Artist Guide: How to Make A Living Doing What You Love.” It was my bible. I helped her edit it and watched her run an art business, successfully. She continues to inspire me.
I’m a 90s kid and was obsessed with Betsey Johnson growing up. I always dug her energy and bright, crazy florals. And her cartwheels! So many cartwheels!
You’re in the business of slinging suits. Do you have any other employees?
Yes! Thank goodness! I hire part time help all the time. We’re a small operation, so I don’t need full time workers yet, but I hire consultants to help out with photography, sales, and suit fabrication. This Summer, I’ve hired three lovely ladies help me sell bikinis on the beach. They are a godsend.
But for the most part, as a small business owner, I’m doing a lot of everything all the time!
So, what you’re telling me is that you wear a lot of hats? List each of the hats.
Oh yes. So many hats. Design, fabric sourcing, marketing, PR, web design, blogger outreach, sales, photography, social media, retailer networking, trade shows, pop up and event planning, and of course general accounting…fun! Really whatever the day brings!
Which one is your favorite?
Oh this is so hard, but I’d say design is pretty high up there and selling too. I love running my mouth and teaching people about the line. Maybe it’s because I worked as a real estate agent for a year out of college. I’m definitely a saleswoman. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing people wear and love your designs.
What would you say is the single most important thing to remember when juggling a lot of responsibilities / projects?
I always remember to hold on to my perspective. I know my line is different and it isn’t for everyone, but I maintain my vision in every aspect of what I do. And I write everything down in a planner. I’m old fashioned like that.
Something I’ve admired about you from the first day I met ya is your ability to always remain positive. What gives?
Aww thanks girl. Yeah, I like to keep a sunny outlook because it’s hard to run a successful business, so the last thing I need is a negative voice coming from inside my own head telling me I can’t do this. It sounds silly, but from the beginning I kept thinking, there are so many people pushing out so so product that are less qualified than me. If I give this my all, I’m bound to be ok. I don’t aspire to be the next Ralph Lauren. I keep perspective and make personal goals that will make me happy. You can’t compare yourself with anyone else when you’re designing your own path.
Do you approach different people different ways? For example, is there a difference between staying pos with a client vs. a customer vs. someone working for you?
Actually, I don’t! I wear so many hats, so I’ve got to keep my relationships pretty consistent. Plus, there is always overlap. Clients become customers and vice versa.
Are there any “work hacks” you can share that make your job(s) easier?
Ha! Oh my gosh. No. Asking for help from whoever will give it to me!
I guess sometimes I try to remember to let stuff happen when it’s ready to happen. So even though I’m inclined to do it all, I rope myself in and make sure to only stick to the things that are truly important.
The voice, point of view, and attitude of Novel, I would imagine, is what attracts your ideal customer. Is it hard to keep that messaging consistent?
For me, it isn’t, and I think that’s what make Novel special. It’s really an extension of my voice and my personality, so as long as I’m true to that, it shines through.
I feel like Mia and I are pretty representative of BEST as a Studio, and pretty good at showing the kind of work we want to be doing. Yet, there are still some wild cards who come to us for things we clearly don’t do. What’s your suggestion with dealing with these types of clients / projects / life curve balls?
Say no! If something is too wild and out, I turn the other cheek and say buh-bye! Only say yes to the good wild ones that are consistent with your voice and your message. If you don’t trust a new venture or client, stay away! Sometimes it’s not worth the money and aggravation.
Some days the waters are rough. List your top 5 tips for staying afloat:
Take a walk to clear the brain!
Write out tasks in order of importance and cross those puppies out when you finish them. Feels good!
If you get a rejection, treat yourself and remember the good things. Remember that you’ve gotten this far and a no from one person doesn’t mean a no from everyone.
Put on a face mask. Make work a spa day. (The joys of working from home!)
Have lunch with a buddy. It always helps to chat it out with someone you love.
1. Favorite beach Jacob Riis! It’s wear I have my pop ups. Such a scene!_____
2. 2018 Beach Read oooh! I always recommend this one even though it is old because it’s so fun and dirty. Summer Sisters by Judy Blume__
3. Quality you look for in a pool Clear blue baby!
4. Preferred brand of flip flops Ah! The snob in me comes out! I don’t really wear flip flops! This year I’m rocking some vintage Marni sandals.
5. Song you’re most likely to listen to while in a lounge chair Right now, anything off of Janelle Monae’s latest album. Love her.
Briefly describe who you are and what you do and why you like BEST:
I am the designer and owner of Novel Swim! BEST kicked butt with me in creating killer creative content—signs, banners, chic collages, lingo—for my Bikini Roadshow pop up series! I love BEST because of their killer ability to mix chic, modern design with a sense of humor. Everything they make simultaneously makes me drool and makes me happy. It can’t get better than that can it?