American Express OPEN Forum
September 2014 - part of Katie Morell's longstanding Building an Empire column
A frustrated and pregnant Ariane Goldman was suffering from a sleepless night in mid-2010 when she sat down at her computer and started searching for fashionable maternity wear. Typing “chic maternity” into Google brought up nothing but cheap, circa-1999 trends (remember the empire waist?). Entering “how to look hot while pregnant” also brought up nothing of note.
And that's when a light bulb went off: Why not create a luxurious, high-end maternity collection?
“Yes, there were other nice maternity designers out there, but the styles were uncomfortable and not me—lots of snaps and buttons,” Goldman says. “I wanted to create something chic and elevated.”
This wasn’t the first time Goldman had been struck by business inspiration. Back in 2007, while planning her wedding, she struggled to find fashionable bridesmaids dresses. Inspired by one of her mother’s wrap-style dresses, Goldman decided to make a wrap dress of her own, working with a local factory to produce enough for her bridal party. The enthusiastic response her design received from wedding guests led her to found twobirds Bridesmaid, a brand of bridesmaid dresses now sold online and in stand-alone brick-and-mortar locations in the United States, United Kingdom, Canada and Australia.
In November 2010, Goldman gave birth to her daughter, Charlie. But instead of relaxing during her maternity leave, she started thinking of ways to make her maternity collection dreams come true.
“I remember it like it was yesterday; I bought a clothes rack and brought it into my apartment,” she says. “Then I took some of my preliminary designs and things I loved wearing while pregnant and hung them on the rack with Post-its on how I would tweak them.”
In March 2011, a friend of a friend (who happened to be the editor of a well-known fashion blog) stopped by, took one look at the clothes on the rack and turned to Goldman with her mouth gaping. “She said, ‘Wow, you're going to be very rich,’” Goldman says. “It wasn’t the rich part that got me; it was the fact that I knew I was onto something again.”
Seven months later, Goldman launched HATCH Collection and, she says, “Here we are, three years later, and we're on fire.” The brand, which employs a team of nine people out of the same New York City office as twobirds Bridesmaid (which Goldman also still runs), is sold through the HATCH website and on Shopbop. Celebrities are photographed almost weekly wearing HATCH clothing, and Goldman says she's looking forward to opening a retail location “in the next 12 to 18 months.”
OPEN Forum asked Goldman, now pregnant with her second child, how she got HATCH off the ground, the business challenges she faces and how she keeps it together on a personal level.
Let's start from the beginning. How exactly did you launch HATCH?
I decided to really go for it in March 2011. In just a few months, I had hired my creative director and came up with a strategy. I really wanted this brand to be about giving back, so I partnered with Christy Turlington and her charity Every Mother Counts, which helps improve maternal health across the world. I didn’t know her personally, but I had a friend who was connected to her, so I asked if she could introduce us.
We met for breakfast in the West Village, and I was so excited! She was one of my idols when I was a kid, along with Kate Moss, and she signed on immediately. From there, I approached Gilt Groupe. I asked them if I could showcase my clothes on their site for 20 percent off as a preview sale the week before launch. As part of it, some of the proceeds would go to Every Mother Counts [a portion of HATCH’s proceeds still go to the charity]. We ended up having an event in October 2011 at the W Hotel Downtown, and Christy hosted it. It was incredible!
Wow, what a creative way to launch. Did sales go through the roof after that?
Unfortunately, no. Initially, we [had orders] from the launch, but then it was crickets. I cried myself to sleep every night for the first five months we were in business. I remember telling my husband that I think I may have lost the bet—no one was buying.
When did things start picking up?
By March 2012, traffic was getting better and transactions were coming in. I think it was a combination of things: The [New York Times’] Style section picked us up for a piece. InStyle magazine wrote something on us. Bloggers started covering us. I’m not sure what the tipping point was or if it was just a matter of having patience and letting people get their hands on it.
I thought that once we built a website and turned it on, the audience would be right in front of us. But it didn’t work out that way.
Now it looks like both of your companies are running smoothly. Are you facing any struggles these days, or is it smooth sailing?
Oh, there are still challenges. One of the biggest ones I’m facing is that, as the companies grow, I find I'm less innovative and more of a people manager. While I’m smart about the market, I’m not the greatest leader. I find that you have to grin and bear it and suck it up and listen to people under you. Innovation takes a hit.
I'm raising money for HATCH right now partially because I want to be able to delegate. I don’t want to worry about fulfillment and going back to the factory to check buttons. I want to have a team to do that.
How's the fundraising process going? Do you have advisors that you lean on in the process?
It's just me and my gut. I’ve been very fortunate because I’ve been meeting with venture capitalists and private equity firms, and everyone gets it—they see the opportunity. So now I’m in a position to decide who my partner will be. I am very close to making that decision.
What are you going to do with the money once you get it?
Tons of things. First, I'm going to market—we haven’t had a dollar to market with from day one. All of our growth has been organic. There are a lot of people who haven’t heard of HATCH, and I want to change that.
Second, I want to re-platform our website. Right now, I can’t pull data on the backend, so I'm not able to understand where our customers are in their pregnancies. That is hugely important information to us, and the manual pulls are painstaking.
And third, I want to hire someone to grow twobirds. The business is pretty level right now, not falling or growing. It's a beautiful business, and there is potential for that brand. So I want to hire someone to move that business forward so I can focus on HATCH exclusively.
How do you run two businesses and manage to stay sane?
[Laughs] I’m not sure. I go through really hard parts, but I'm also really happy, so I keep digging into that happiness for the strength to continue. I can’t let this fail, so maybe it's fear and happiness that co-exist for me.
In a way, it kind of feels like flying. If you put wings on and could fly, it would be the coolest thing in the world and you would keep flapping to stay up. That's me right now—I’m in the air and it is awesome, so I’m going to do everything I can to stay there.