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Business Rx: Designing a strategy to find investors

The entrepreneur

With a grandmother working in the Iranian fashion industry, Sofia Samrad became instantly addicted to the design of clothes. Half Persian, half British, Samrad grew up in London and moved to Washington when she was 16 years old. Since moving to the United States, the fashionista has tried her hand at modeling and designing, all while balancing her schoolwork and other activities. Her interest in fashion remained strong through her schooling, leading her to launch her own clothing line this month at the age of 19.

The pitch

Samrad

“Digitalebas is a clothing line that combines unique London fashion with a Persian flare. The concept behind the name was the blending of a digital modern London society with the Farsi word for clothing, ‘lebas.' I started designing and making clothing at age 14 in London, and since I moved to Washington I have been modeling and designing clothes while attending school at the University of Maryland, College Park.

“I launched my spring 2011 collection on March 4, 2011 at the Beauty Is Skin Deep Fashion Benefit for Skin Cancer at the French Embassy. I will also be launching customizable dresses in the following months. My target market is women ages 18 to 30 and I am specifically targeting my clothing toward sorority girls in the Washington, New York City and Los Angeles regions. I'm only using social networking to expand my brand, including starting a blog on which students from all across the country to help market the line.

“I designed six dresses and had 50 made of each. The first three are sold out and I only have about 10 remaining of each of the other three. I am making a small profit, but it is very minimal. I've been selling to friends to get the clothing out there. Eventually I'd like to sell my clothing in local retail stores and possibly open up my own store. To target the sororities, I'll be holding fitting days. It's been going really well so far.

“My main question is how do I go about obtaining funding to expand my line. My parents have been helping so far, but I need to find other sources of funding for the company.”

The advice

Harry Geller, entrepreneur-in-residence, Dingman Center for Entrepreneurship

“Have you looked at some of the fashion Web sites where you can post your fashions and people can preorder clothes? There's FashionStake and Garmz and quite a few others. FashionStake includes a group-sourcing-for-investment function that allows people to look at your design and decide to invest with you. You might want to try that.

“Also, try the friends-and-family financing route. You said your parents gave you some initial seed money. Ask other relatives if they are willing to help get your company started. Otherwise, it's hard to finance an unknown designer. You are doing the right thing by getting these fashions out to your friends. Start-up financing is always tough and you really have to shake the trees.

“As for marketing, try any sort of social media angles you can. Create a Facebook page and have your friends ‘like' it. All of your media references are credibility statements. I think holding events for sororities will be a great thing for you to do as well.

“You said you are a model. Can you bring a dress or two to your next modeling job and try to show it to the other designers? You've got to throw a bunch of things against the wall and hope that a few things stick. You are already in where you need to be in the fashion industry, so leverage it as much as you can.”

The reaction

Samrad

“I will definitely try to take advantage of the fact that I already have some ‘ins' in the fashion industry. That's a great idea to try and show designers my dresses -- I will bring samples to my next modeling event.

“As far as financing goes, I know I've exhausted my seed money from my parents, but I can try to reach out to other family members to see if they can help. And those sites you suggested are definitely something I plan on researching more.”

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