This week, a textile designer looks for help reaching her strongest market. — Dan Beyers

The entrepreneur

Kate Hougen’s company began as the result of a New Year’s resolution. An artist by training, Hougen long dreamed of designing her own line of artisan textiles during a more than 15-year career in marketing and management.  Advances in printing technologies, coupled with an increased demand for sustainable products, created a special business opportunity – and the Arlington resident seized it. In January 2014, Mira Jean Designs officially launched.

The pitch

Mira Jeans Designs produces an artisan line of textiles and home decor products, from light upholstery and window treatments, to decorative pillows and throws. Each design begins with a watercolor painting, which serves as an inspiration for the pieces. All are custom printed in the United States on natural and 100 percent organic fabrics, using eco-friendly inks.

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In the company’s first year, the focus was on building a strong foundation. Activities included designing the collections, developing the brand and logo, fine-tuning the products and taking them to market via arts and crafts shows and local pop-up shops. The natural and organic qualities seemed to resonate with consumers.

The challenge

Despite positive feedback and early sales, the brand’s growth seemed to stall in year two. Since textiles are available by the yard online – Hougen’s pricing structure did not reflect competition in the marketplace or include discounts for those in the trade who make use of the fabrics. The people who tended to frequent craft shows wanted artisan products, but at a mass-produced price. In addition, the local events provided few opportunities to meet with the company’s primary audience, interior designers and the trade community. In short, Mira Jean Designs was marketing to the wrong audience.

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The advice

Hougen turned to Ed Coleman, an expert with the D.C. chapter of the business mentoring group SCORE. He helped Hougen narrow her focus to interior designers. Coleman then tapped another mentor to assist: Ellen Brotman. Brotman was the founder and sole proprietor of an award-winning, local interior design firm for more than 40 years. Together, the two suggested changes that included revising the pricing structure for all products to more accurately reflect competition in the marketplace, updating the website to support marketing Mira Jean Designs textiles by the yard to the trade community, joining the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) as an industry partner, and making plans for a spring 2016 trade-only launch event.

The reaction

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Almost immediately, the company’s new focus attracted interest. A well-established and highly respected interior design boutique, Red Barn Mercantile, offered its venue for a spring launch event. ASID marketed the event to its regional audience of interior designer and trade partners and attendance exceeded expectations. A notable, local designer included Hougen’s textiles in a concept board for an upcoming design showhouse. Red Barn Mercantile’s boutique now carries the line year-round and as part of its trade program offerings. Plans are underway for marketing year-round to interior designers in order to continue to expand and grow the business.

SCORE is a nonprofit association focused on entrepreneur education. Looking for some advice on a new business, or need help fixing an existing one? The greater Washington D.C. chapter provides confidential counseling and mentoring from more than 60 executives across the region. Contact capbiznews@washpost.com or request a mentor at www.washingtondc.score.org.

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