Zoë Damacela is a dynamic, young entrepreneur that we'll be following in 2013. She's a NFTE (National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship) alum whose business plan for Zoë Damacela Apparel took top honors at the Chicago Citiwide Business Plan Competition and placed second in the NFTE National Youth Entrepreneurship Challenge.
We'll follow Zoë through this blog as she manages her business and juggles school and other responsibilites.
Understanding my customer and understanding myself
In the retail industry, the most important thing to understand is the customer. It seems obvious, but a clear understanding of who is actually buying the product is essential to the success of any business.
When I first started my company, I was fourteen years old and designing for other fourteen year olds. The fact that I catered to a customer that I knew very well was probably the biggest reason why I was so successful right from the beginning: I was the customer I was trying to target! All of my friends were also the inspiration and the base of forming the brand aesthetic, the price point, the marketing strategy, etc.
As I got older, I found that my understanding of my customer was beginning to get a little muddy. By the time I was eighteen, I still wanted to design for fourteen year olds, but I was also trying to expand and reach older girls who were my age.
Not surprisingly, the fourteen year old customer was very responsive to the new brand aesthetic that featured more mature design details, silhouettes and color palettes. But the eighteen year old customer was not too thrilled to shop a brand saturated by pre-teen customers.
So by elevating the aesthetic to target eighteen year olds, I had shifted my customer base from suburban and Midwestern fourteen year olds to more style conscious fourteen year olds from major cities, but was struggling with the older customer.
In the following years as my design aesthetic matured, I thought less about the specific age groups and brand identity and focused more on my own personal creative process; designing clothes that I thought were pretty and interesting. I wasn't really thinking about or trying to maintain current customers or attracting new ones.
Interestingly, by letting go of the brand identity for a while and getting back to the creative side of designing clothes, I noticed that my customer base had jumped from almost 100% teenage girls to over 60% women ages 35-55. Because my clothes and my brand had matured and grown with a focus on design and not so much on age, I had organically attracted a new mature customer who was reacting to a much more elevated product, along with the novelty of a young designer.
Today, having reached out and found loyal customers in a range of ages that I want to keep, I've split the brand into Zoë Damacela Collection for the mature customer and ZDA for the younger girls. I still design clothes that I love, but I've brought brand identity back into the business.
Everything from concept to production and distribution is now more clearly aligned with the respective customer. Most importantly, I've matured as a designer and business owner and am able to understand my customer. I no longer simply design garments that represent my own aesthetic as a whole. Instead, the assortments are by age, price point, and even geographical region, so customers get exactly what they want.