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‘Modern Entrepreneurs’ Serena Williams and Huda Kattan Are BoF's Newest Cover Stars

Dramatic changes in the business landscape have made entrepreneurship a truly global phenomenon. But what does it take to build a successful venture in today’s turbulent yet opportunity-rich world?
Serena Williams and Huda Kattan | Photo by Allyssa Heuze for BoF
By
  • Imran Amed

To get your special print edition of The Business of Fashion featuring Serena Williams and Huda Kattan, join BoF Professional today.

LONDON, United Kingdom — These days, it seems more and more people want to build their own businesses. Entrepreneurs are the new rock stars, they say. But it's not just about the potential upside or the thrill of the ride. It's also about finding the kind of personal freedom and professional fulfilment not available in more traditional career paths.

At the same time, dramatic changes in the business landscape have made entrepreneurship a truly global phenomenon. Breakthrough technologies and new waves of talent are unlocking new business opportunities and more people are going after them. According to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor, there are now more than 583 million active entrepreneurs around the world, up from 400 million in 2012.

The fashion and beauty industries are no exception to this phenomenon. Social media and affordable, off-the-shelf e-commerce tools like Shopify mean it's easier to start a retail business than ever before. This has given rise to direct-to-consumer companies that design, market, sell and ship their products themselves, bypassing middlemen. And so, more consumers are buying razors from Dollar Shave Club, eyewear from Warby Parker, clothing from Everlane, sneakers from Allbirds and makeup from Glossier.

Serena Williams | Photo: Allyssa Heuze

Funding for direct-to-consumer brands reached record levels in 2018, with more than $1.2 billion raised in the first eight months of the year alone, three times the $426 million raised in all of 2013, according to CB Insights. With all this money sloshing around, valuations are skyrocketing too. At press time, Glossier had just closed a $100 million funding round, valuing the business at an eye-popping $1.2 billion.

In our latest special print edition of The Business of Fashion, we meet with modern entrepreneurs from Kolkata to Dubai, and Shanghai to Berlin, and delve into their professional and personal journeys, unpacking the valuable lessons they picked up along the way.

So what traits do modern entrepreneurs have in common?

Many are focused on the burgeoning direct-to-consumer opportunity, whether it is cover star Huda Kattan, whose blog and YouTube channel gave rise to a beauty business valued at $1.2 billion; Gabriela Hearst, whose low-key retail store in New York carries exclusive versions of her sustainable luxury handbags; or Sabyasachi Mukherjee, who has leveraged Instagram to become the go-to bridal designer for big fat Indian weddings.

Our subjects are also more connected to their customers. Stefano Pilati, an elite fashion designer who used to design from the ivory towers of his lofty roles at Yves Saint Laurent and Ermenegildo Zegna, now gets real-time feedback from his customers on the Ssense e-commerce platform, where his Random Identities brand is sold. Davide de Giglio, the quiet co-founder of New Guards Group, the Milanese holding company that has birthed and scaled many of luxury streetwear's top brands, including Virgil Abloh's Off-White, has built a portfolio of brands helmed by architects, DJs and other creatives, harnessing their unique relationships with global communities.

And all of our entrepreneurs have faced major setbacks and disappointments: Sabyasachi first showed his designs at New York Fashion Week, before he pivoted his focus back to India; Gabriela Hearst shuttered contemporary fashion brand Candela to give way to a thriving luxury business focused on sustainability; Pilati’s potential partnership with a fast-fashion giant disintegrated at the last minute; De Giglio’s first business over-expanded and was forced to sell to a private equity firm; and Huda Kattan had to start from scratch when a major product launch was a bust after Kylie Jenner launched her lip kits first.

Huda Kattan | Photo: Allyssa Heuze

Make no mistake. Building your own business is hard. It can be gruelling at times. It requires a unique mix of courage and naïveté, bravado and humility, vision and meticulousness to get an idea off the ground and make it a reality. It also comes with risk, uncertainty and ambiguity that can make the entrepreneurial journey feel more like an emotional rollercoaster than an inexorable rise to the top.

But the topic of mental health as it relates to entrepreneurship is not often discussed. According to a study undertaken by researchers at the University of California, San Francisco, entrepreneurs are 50 percent more likely to report mental health conditions. They are two times more likely to suffer from depression, six times more likely to suffer from ADHD and 10 times more likely to suffer from bi-polar disorder. The tragic suicide of Deciem founder Brandon Truaxe late last year was a cautionary tale of entrepreneurship gone wrong.

So, having a strong mental conditioning is just as important to the entrepreneurial journey as a good business plan and an excellent management team. This is where Serena Williams, our other cover star, comes in. While she is just at the beginning of building S by Serena, a direct-to-consumer brand that she launched last year after several failed efforts at cracking the fashion business, Williams is no stranger to overcoming challenges. Over the course of her record-breaking tennis career, which spans more than two decades and has seen her win 23 grand slam singles titles, Williams has bounced back again and again, showing the same kind of resilience and tenacity that it takes to successfully build a business from scratch.

Lest you think these stories are only for people running start-ups, look around you — start-up culture is everywhere. It’s in the standing meetings and agile processes that big companies are adopting, and in the DNA of the incubators they are building to launch their own disruptive companies.

We can all adopt entrepreneurial mindsets, wherever we are working, and we can all learn from these truly inspirational people who reflect the future of our industries.

Also included in this special issue is Start-Up School, a practical guide to modern entrepreneurship, brought to you by BoF and designed to help entrepreneurs at every step of their journey, from the inception of your idea, all the way to your exit strategy. Each step is bolstered by helpful advice from some of our industry's most capable entrepreneurs. Start-Up School and the accompanying Entrepreneur's Toolkit will be available here on BoF on April 9th, as part of our online learning tools and courses over at BoF Education.

If you're an annual BoF Professional member, your special print edition should arrive after the week of 21 April. We hope you enjoy the latest additions to your BoF Professional membership.

Imran Amed, Founder and Editor-in-Chief

P.S. Check out Huda Kattan in our new video series 'None of Your Business' debuting today on the BoF Youtube Channel.

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