As an entrepreneur – and in daily life – it’s easy to fall into the trap of pleasing others. There might be stakeholders and suits to answer to, your business partner or team, a significant other, children, pets – you name it, the list goes on. We all strive for acceptance and reassurance and it often seems that the easiest way to get it is to surrender and let everyone take what they need from you. The burning truth however, is that you can’t please everyone all the time—that’s a fact. In business especially, it’s essential to figure out what you’re committed to and make decisions with those people or goals in mind.
After winning the Walpole Brands of Tomorrow Award, DeMellier – known then as Milli Millu – started to gain traction internationally, and Mireia felt that the brand didn’t align with a global market. She realized that the name she’d launched her collection with was “more and more disconnected” from the products they were offering. For a label that relies on word of mouth and social media as its main form of advertising, that’s a tough call to make, but Mireia brushes it off: “To evolve and grow, you have to make difficult decisions,” she says as matter of fact. And it’s true—the most successful businesses are agile and adept at change.
That doesn’t mean blindly navigating the course though. Before triggering the rebrand, Mireia consulted a focus group of top customers, involving them in the decision-making process to the same degree as her team. They sent every customer a personal letter after the launch of DeMellier too, explaining why they’d made the decisions they had and rolled this communication out through email and online. This is what we mean about being committed to a cause—when you work directly with the people you want to please, it makes decisions more guided and empowered. Here, Mireia talks us through the ins and outs of her rebrand and why it’s more important to be customer-focused than competitor-focused.
HOW THE REBRAND STARTED WITH THE NAME
Last year we won the Walpole Brands of Tomorrow Award and started growing internationally. We realised that the name we had launched with [Milli Millu] didn’t resonate as well internationally and was more and more disconnected from the products we were offering. We felt we needed a name that better reflected who we are. And last year while at my parents’ home, I found an old box which revealed my grandmother’s family tree. As I looked through I realised that her stories I had listened to so closely as a child were true – she was a descendent of knights, lords and marquesses whose family can be traced back for more than 500 years to the South of Spain, not far from where our bags are made today. Everything fell into place and DeMellier was born. De is a tribute to my family’s heritage, while Mellier comes from my name of French descent, symbolising the mix of old and new, of heritage and modernity.
THE REBRANDING PROCESS FROM NAMING TO LAUNCH
Once we decided on the name, the next step was to check that the name was available across all our key geographies. Once that was confirmed, we filled to get the brand trademarked, which can between 6-12 months. At the same time, we started developing the logo and our new packaging. We wanted to time the launch of the new brand with the launch of the new website and the arrival of our new AW17 collection so there were lots of different fronts we were working on ahead of the launch.
We consulted a group of our top customers who I knew before we decided on the new brand name. And when we launched, we sent our customers a personal letter from me with our new branding explaining the rationale and our vision. We did the same for our email list and we also communicated through our site.
Raising investment for the first time last year meant we were able to invest in the necessary resources to make sure the rebrand was done properly, build the team and implement all the initiatives we had in mind to continue to grow the business.
THE ART OF THE PIVOT
Business in general is hard – and fashion is probably one of the hardest industries – but to evolve and grow, you often have to make difficult decisions. Deciding to rebrand wasn’t an easy one at the time, but we thought long and hard about it and tested it with customers and people in the industry, so even though it was a risk, we knew it was the right decision. It’s not something to take lightly but if the business metrics and your gut sense tell you it’s a good decision, then go for it. There are many companies that have done it and have come out stronger like Sezane, for example.
ON USING HER CUSTOMERS AS A SOUNDING BOARD
We always look at what’s happening in the market and what our competitors are doing, but the most important source of information for us is our customers. They are the ones who will tell us if we are missing a shape in the collection or if there is a colour they prefer. It’s them who will ultimately make the purchase and the reason why we exist, so we will always be a customer-centered company. I think many brands in fashion often forget this and try to please all the different stakeholders and that’s when problems arise….
USE YOUR CORPORATE EXPERINCE AS A FOUNDATION FOR YOUR BUSINESS…
Working for Bain & Company gave me an invaluable set of skills that I apply to my business every day, from how to tackle new problems and apply an analytical frame to important decisions, to being very detail-oriented. Going to Harvard Business School gave me the guts to become an entrepreneur. Working at big corporations taught me that you need to know what your core business is and that you need to stay focused on what you are good at. It’s very easy to get distracted and lose sight of what your strengths are and what your customers want.
JUGGLING MOTHERHOOD & A START-UP ISN’T IMPOSSIBLE
I launched the business on my own with a small amount of savings and grew it very organically. In the beginning it was just me working from my studio at home, with my toddler running around. The front end was very professional (the site, the packaging, the product), the back end was me doing everything, from designing to picking up customer calls. Because I started slowly, it allowed me to have time for spending time with my daughter while building the business. And I continued to grow the business that way until my third daughter was two, at which point I felt it was the right time to take on investment.
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