Fashion Group International Hosts Entrepreneurship Panel Discussion

Sophie Buhai Karen Harvey Lisa Mayock Vena Cava

Photo: Getty Images

Vena Cava's Sophie Buhai (left) and Lisa Mayock (right) with Karen Harvey

M.A.C. & Milk’s Fall 2011 Fashion Week may be long over, but both sartorial and business types came out in droves to Milk Studios in NYC's Meatpacking District for a panel discussion hosted by Karen Harvey Consulting Group and the Fashion Group International.

The topic at hand? Entrepreneurship in the new economy—a subject Harvey herself is certainly familiar with, thanks to the 2001 launch of her now-international consulting firm (which has counted Burberry, Tiffany, and Michael Kors among its clients).

After a brief cocktailing, Harvey took the moderator seat and put the spotlight on her panelists, Vena Cava’s Sophie Buhai and Lisa Mayock, Opening Ceremony’s Carol Lim and Humberto Leon, and Rent the Runway’s Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss.

“We didn’t intend to start a business,” Mayock said of the label’s humble roots. “We intended to have a barbecue and show a few clothes we had made. A friend recommended that we do it during Fashion Week!” she laughed, adding that neither she nor Buhai ever thought of themselves as “entrepreneurs.”

After recounting a story about trying to find a factory in the Garment District by going to “every building on 8th Avenue that looked big enough for a factory,” Mayock told the audience, “That naïve quality can really be an asset. You don’t know what you’re doing wrong, so you take risks.”

Leon and Lim (like the Vena Cava duo, also college friends who decided to start a business together), spoke about the importance of going with your gut—a theory that got tested when their plans for Opening Ceremony were stalled by September 11, 2001.

Now Opening Ceremony operates four separate outposts, with two in New York, one in Los Angeles, and one in Tokyo—though they try to maintain the feeling of discovery in each one. “We’re trying to bring back that digging thing,” Leon said, referring to the triumph of picking up a treasure that can’t be found anywhere else.

“We’re going into our ninth year, and people still want to discover with us,” added Lim.

Jennifer Hyman  Jennifer Fleiss Carol Lim Humberto Leon Lisa Mayock Sophie Buhai Karen Harvey

Photo: Donald Bowers, WireImage

(From left to right) Jennifer Hyman & Jennifer Fleiss (Co-Founders of Rent The Runway), Carol Lim & Humberto Leon (Co-founders of Opening Ceremony), Lisa Mayock & Sophie Buhai )Co-Founders/Designers of Vena Cava) and Karen Harvey.

For Hyman and Fleiss, the idea of newness is just as important. “Ninety percent of our customers rent a brand they’ve never worn,” Hyman said. Rent the Runway, a company that rents out dresses by the likes of Prabal Gurung and Proenza Schouler (along with jewelry and handbags) for a fraction of the retail price, has only been around for a year but has already racked up 800,000 members.

Hmm … clearly these panelists are onto something.