A university campus is an ideal point of entry for a fashion business. From a marketing perspective, students are attractive. They are a defined group—18-30 demographic with a reputation of being impressionable. Businesses target students in their marketing campaigns, but no one has a better opportunity to promote their brand than a student herself.
Ana Richie, sophomore sociology major began her jewelry line, Lilian + E, as a summer project; As her brand gained traction so did she.
Richie handcrafts, “fun, simplistic earrings and accessories” for confident, bright and free spirited women. Her pieces have evolved from pom-poms and tassels to chain links and gemstones.
“I free-hand my pieces.” Richie said, “I don’t measure-I use my friends as a reference.”
Richie’s organic approach to her craft and business dealings, at times, are unplanned, but her methods are strikingly similar to a well-marketed fashion business.
Fashion-line’s have three general marketing rules applied to their conception: the target customer, the brand story and the marketing mix. According to the Business of Fashion, these principles are the means to a successful fashion company.
A university tradition generates excitement; if a label targets their product to the source of the excitement it too takes part in the action. UTSA Football has gradually captured an audience, and Lillian + E adds to the overall experience with her gameday fashion collection.
“I market to people who like to wear jewelry and dress up for gameday, and tassels are a big part of that,” Richie said, “In my website you can go in, and you can select your team.
Lilian + E’s selection of gameday colorways fit collegiate and professional sports teams, like the ‘Runner orange and blue, and have grown upon request. Popular colorways reappear in her website, and she expressed a willingness to experiment with other colorways in response to customer feedback.
Gameday fashion is a niche directed to her target customer, but Lillian + E jewelry is designed to reach a broader audience.
“I grew up in the suburbs; I’m into the boho style,” Richie said. “I never really got into streetwear, though. A lot of other African American women do wear the style; it’s not me, personally. So when I started the brand, I wanted to change the narrative.”
Richie described her jewelry to be similar to brands that inspire her: Altard State and Madewell being the most influential.
Involvement in UTSA organizations have grown Richie’s network immensely. She is on the executive board of the Black Law Student Association at UTSA, a Student Government Senator, an active member of the NAACP UTSA Chapter, an advisory board member of the African American Studies Department and a Black Student Orientation Chair. Richie said her social media reaches a broad African American audience which helps promote her brand, but she intends to design her products to be as inclusive as possible through her decisions in outreach, marketing and design.
“I love turquoise, I feel like it goes well with every skin tone.” said Richie. “The colors I use are very strategic.”
Lillian + E is a handcrafted brand directed by Richie. As a buyer she weighs a range of factors in her decisions. She visits wholesale sites, festivals and local art and craft stores–it’s primarily a hand-selected process.
Richie said particular chains that she uses are wholesale, but explained that despite receiving advice to fully adopt wholesale to cut expenses, she would rather strike her own balance between wholesale and other suppliers.
“I still want my tassels to be handmade and other parts of it handmade,” Richie said. “So that I’m the creator of my jewelry.”
Overlap of a southwest aesthetic sensibility and Richie’s late grandmother’s fashion sense and sensibility define Lillian + E brand story.
Lillian Snow Burley, Richie’s late grandmother, inspires the Lillian + E line. Burley travelled extensively, embraced cultures she encountered and acquired an impressive collection of jewelry that Richie, to this day, draws inspiration from.
“She (was an) African American ivy league woman. She broke a lot of barriers,” Richie reflected.
Richie has a range of goals for her brand’s growth which apply marketing mix principles. The marketing mix (or the 4 P’s) refers to four levels of a marketing decision: product, price, promotion and place.
Richie’s brightly-colored accessories are nickel free and hypoallergenic, but ultimately Richie would like her brand to follow fair trade policy, a social movement which works to achieve better trading conditions, particularly in developing countries. Advocates of fair trade accomplish this by paying higher prices to exporters, as well as improving social and environmental standards, making it difficult for new brands to practice fair trade and offer their products at a reasonable price.
“One day I would like to get to that stage where all of my jewelry is ethically made,” Richie said.
Lillian + E product prices range from $9.99-$39.99. With every purchase, Richie sends a personalized thank you and business cards. She works to ensure that each customer is satisfied with accessories that last.
Etsy, an e commerce website, has helped young entrepreneurs efficiently sell their products. Richie enjoys Etsy’s accessibility and flexibility. It allows her to track what she sold, choose her payment options, build a tab, pre generate shipping labels and other helpful tools to ensure she can capitalize from her efforts.
“It’s really like your paying rent,” Richie said.
Etsy is Richie’s primary place of sale, but Lillian + E is available in a brick and mortar location. She works at Uptown Cheapskate and has developed a partnership with their management. There you can find Lilian + E pieces and examine them in person.
Promotion propels brands into new territory, and Richie doesn’t take its power for granted. In addition to hosting giveaways and collection campaigns, Richie fosters partnerships with fellow UTSA students, who shoot her campaigns and model her products.
“When they’re part of it and they’re having fun with the shoots students are more likely to post the pictures on their social media, which helps gain followers.”
A stronger following and community partnership can drive Lillian + E’s mission by helping her customers tell their story through their wardrobe and accessories.
“My grandmother, at 93, could remember where she wore this outfit and where she was going,” Richie said about a photo of Burley she shared. Burley’s distinct memory attached to her wardrobe, despite battling dementia, made Richie realize what someone wears can forever be part of their personal story.
Students can tell their story through Lillian + E or through their own fashion business. A college campus is flush with opportunities to sell and network. Richie advises not to get bogged down in preplanning. Running a business consists of a lot of experiential learning, the knowledge that makes ideas flourish.