It’s not every day you get Oprah talking about your company especially when it is been listed as one of the five things to have in 2011, that’s what happened to Rochelle Behrens’s start-up “The-shirt” and since then she hasn’t looked back.
Rochelle Brehrens is the founder of The-shirt. All I can say is that ladies you don’t have to feel so self-conscious or restricted again.
This is the Interview.
Hi Rochelle, thanks for joining us on YHP, how are you doing?
Hi, very well, thank you for having me.
Can you quickly give us some background information about yourself before we move on?
I graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, double majoring in Art History and Political Science. Having developed a strong interest in politics (I interned for The White House during a semester in college) I moved to Washington, DC to begin my career.
When did you know you wanted to be an entrepreneur?
I come from a family of entrepreneurs, individuals who work for themselves, set their own schedules, and who all started something from nothing. I don’t think I set out in life to be an entrepreneur – it’s simply what I understand.
Tell us about The Shirt and how the idea came about?
Working in politics – particularly in Washington, DC – as a young professional female, I had to make my clothing choices for work very carefully. The line between youthful and inappropriate can be blurred quite easily. Button down shirts became my work ‘uniform’ and I filled my closet with them. They’re professional, polished and go the distance from day to evening. The only problem is they never fit right, particularly across the bust. My shirt would gape open between the buttons at the chest, and the more I paid attention, the more I realized this was a rampant problem affecting a lot of other professional women I saw.
The issue is that the one piece in my wardrobe I was selecting to project professionalism, was doing just the opposite as I flashed my colleagues (inadvertently, of course.) Tired of safety pinning my shirt closed as has become my routine, I had had enough. The technology I developed to close the gape is now patented!
What makes The Shirt different any other shirt company out there?
In my experience, if I wanted a shirt to fit across the bust, I had to go up a size, meaning it was blousy and big elsewhere. If it fit along the body and shoulders, it pulled and gaped at the chest. I wanted to create a shirt that simply fit – everywhere. The Shirt comes in regular sizing. If you wear a medium then you’ll wear a medium in The Shirt.
I remember feeling self conscious in meetings that my bra was showing. Women feel like their movement is restricted – they can’t raise their arms or arch their back for fear their shirt will gape open. The Shirt helps women perform better because the focus is no longer on manipulating their clothes to fit and stay closed.
How have you funded the company so far?
The Shirt has been self funded from the start. We have been diligent about growing the business from sales.
What would you say was probably the most difficult part of starting the business?
Sourcing materials and finding the right manufacturing. Fabric makes a garment and so finding the perfect fabric – one that wears well and that washes well is not a simple task. Also, locating good manufacturing that still will enable us to meet our goal of keeping The Shirt’s price point is a constant effort.
How do you balance social & work life?
My life is The Shirt so at this point, there are few boundaries. I try to entertain a lot. My guests are accustomed to having dinner near boxes of samples, garment racks and fabric swatches.
What effect has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey show as one of 'five things to have in 2011' had on your business?
The mention by Oprah Winfrey put The Shirt on the map, giving us immeasurable exposure. It is now up to us to continue to turn that opportunity into an even more thriving business. Ms. Winfrey’s audience is dedicated and trusts her. It’s an incredible relationship she has built over her career. We are obviously so lucky to have been a part of her final season.
What’s the toughest feedback you’ve ever received and how did you learn from it?
I love speaking with customers. Most of the time it’s positive. I mean really positive. Customers really identify with the brand and fortunately, with me, so their letters, comments and words of encouragement really help me stay focused. Occasionally a customer is not satisfied for various reasons, and just as there is an open forum for compliments, there is equally opportunity for customers to give critical feedback. Long ago I decided to not take it personally – afteralll The Shirt has become an extension of me to a degree – and have really used those comments to better the product.
Tell us some of the key lessons you've learnt so far on your journey as an entrepreneur?
Self promotion – something I have a hard time doing! – is very important. Use opportunities to talk about your product. There is always someone with a good idea or a person you should meet. At the same time, make good, intuited decisions about your business. It is up to you as an entrepreneur to sort through all the options and decide what is best for your business. Trust yourself. We will all make mistakes, but some of them could have been averted had I just listened to my gut.
Afterall, I know my business best. There isn’t a job you can’t do. Everyday, there is something absolutely new that I need to be an expert on. To be honest, a lot of being an entrepreneur is making things up as you go and sometimes those serendipitous outcomes are really good. Think big. This was instilled in me from my parents. Entrepreneurs get told ‘no’ a lot, but if you believe in your business, are committed to it, and have an idea of where you want to take it, you’ll bulldoze over those ‘no’s’ and just seek out the ‘yes’s’
Where do you see yourself and your business in 5 years?
At The Shirt, we’re committed to innovating and creating products that inspire confidence in women of all ages. We will soon be expanding our categories of shirts, adding new styles, colors, patterns and fabrics. Our goal is to be the “go-to” shirt company for all needs – work, play, weekend, fashion, while still ensuring our fit is fabulous. We also plan to expand our retail reach and add new doors so women all over the world will have access to The Shirt!
What advices can you give to entrepreneurs out there looking to get involved in this industry?
Make sure you have a clear vision for what you want to accomplish. The fashion industry is not easy to break into. Buyers, editors and consumers are very sophisticated, so offering something different, with a clearly articulated vision will help you get noticed and stay around.
Thanks for your time Rochelle.