A Passion for Fashion: Melissa Shea & Beth Smith Connect & Inspire an Industry with Fashion Mingle

How Melissa Shea & Beth Smith combined fashion, technology, and passion to form Fashion Mingle, a unique tech start-up.

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Co-founders Melissa Shea and Beth Smith used their passion for fashion and technology to create a powerful networking platform that brings entrepreneurs in the local fashion community together. Fashion Mingle is an online platform that’s in the process of building local fashion directories in 107 metro areas, giving professionals the opportunity to connect with experts and resources that will help them grow their fashion brands and businesses.

Fashion Mingle members each have their own directory listing and can access a private fashion industry social network as well as a number of Mingle Marketing Tools.

We caught up with Melissa and Beth to find out more about their entrepreneurial journey.

What did you eat for breakfast?

Melissa: Lately I’ve been on a Siggi’s yogurt kick. My favorite is coconut with a chopped pear and cinnamon liberally sprinkled on top. Yum!

Beth: A green smoothie with chia seeds. I’ve grown to love it despite my husband commenting
about the color every single time I make it.

What’s your workout?

Melissa: I like to have a lot of variety in the way I workout. Some days I go to the gym, some days I do a Sunrise Salutation yoga routine. On the weekend I take long bike rides.

Beth: Tabata which is a type of high-intensity interval training. You cram a tough workout into a relatively short amount of time and then follow it with 10 minutes of meditation. It covers all bases in 50 minutes! Perfect.

What picture is on your phone’s home screen?

Melissa: My granddaughter loves to go to Renaissance Faires and I captured a photo of her howling with laughter at actors on a stage. She was wearing butterfly wings and ribbons in her hair. The picture perfectly captured the moment.

Beth: Beautiful sunset in Nantucket, a place my family loves. In a week or so I’ll definitely change it to something more seasonal.

Tell us about your work. What inspired you to start your business? Where did you start and where
are you now?

Melissa: I was running my own web development business but was in a position to meet many passionate people in the fashion industry. As I saw them struggle to create a profitable business, I began to realize that they were not adopting technology at the same pace as other industries. In fact, they were incredibly behind the curve. I started thinking about how I could use technology to help fashion businesses maximize their marketing and PR efforts and the idea for a nationwide fashion directory was born. Fashion is like many creative industries, it runs on volunteer labor and it’s difficult to make a living. Creatives also don’t enjoy marketing or technology, they don’t want to learn new business strategies, they just want to create. So we designed Fashion Mingle to simplify the process of promoting your business and help you find the resources you need to grow your business. We launched the platform in July and are currently focused on growing the local fashion directories in over 100 metro areas.

Beth: My first business was born out of a need to balance work and life as a new mom. My logic was if I can’t find the right work situation for my family, I’ll create a business that affords me the flexibility I need. How naive! While I did indeed work from home, I can’t say starting a national print magazine for mom entrepreneurs with a newborn necessarily leads to balance! Since then I’ve worked on several start-ups, all built to help women entrepreneurs succeed in business. I met Melissa at a networking event when she was just starting to take the Fashion Mingle concept beyond her initial city of Austin to a more nationwide strategy. I immediately felt a connection to the work she was doing. Fashion fails to keep up with other industries in the creation of technology-driven solutions and we want to change that.

What do you see for your future?

Melissa: We want Fashion Mingle to “change the fashion does business”. Many members first reaction to the platform has been “It feels like home”, “this is a game-changer”, “we’ve needed this for years!”. Fashion Mingle is fashion’s future.

Beth: In 2018 we plan to unite key fashion industry organizations across the United States. An exchange of ideas driven by the necessity for thriving local fashion communities is a mission we’re very passionate about and one upon which our community was built.

How large is your business? How many employees do you have?

Melissa: We currently have 4 people but rely on several experts for specific skill sets.

Tell us a success story about funding your business.

Melissa: Our seed funding is provided by an Angel Investor who actually offered to invest after watching me bootstrap the business for several years. His infusion of funding has allowed us to form a reliable team and invest in marketing and PR.

What do you see as challenges for you and your business? What are some opportunities?

Melissa: The biggest challenge is the sheer volume of members we need in each city to make the directory
valuable to the industry as a whole. We’ve seen a lot of interest in hosting networking events in local cities. I think partnering with fashion professionals who have a passion to organize their local community will be our biggest opportunity for growth.

Beth: For fashion professionals, it can be a challenge to focus on the business side of things on top of the creative side which comes naturally. Our challenge is getting people to take time to use the platform. Once they do, they see how simple and beneficial it is to spend time each week networking and marketing their business. We’re not just another social media platform–this was built exclusively for the fashion industry!

Tell us a story about a success in your business or a mistake you overcame?

Melissa: We recently held our first NYFW Networking Event. We were thrilled with the success of the event and plan to have the same event every Sunday night of fashion week in February and September. Our biggest mistake was not having a strategic plan to convert attendees into members, so we’ll be paying much more attention to that for future events.

Beth: We had our first networking event in NYC during fall Fashion Week and we were blown away by the success. We had a packed house with people across all industries from makeup artists to fashion magazines and a whole variety of occupations in between. It truly was a great event, so much so that we’re doing 5 additional events in different cities over the next 6 months.

What do you love about being an entrepreneur?

Melissa: I like combining my creative side with my business side and the challenge of turning an idea into a reality.

Beth: Between the freedom of new ideas and flexibility of my time, there’s a lot of benefit – all apart from anything financial.

What about your business matters most deeply to you? How does it engage your values?

Melissa: The fashion industry is full of people with open hearts and open minds. Working side by side with fashion professionals is like working in a world where hate and intolerance do not exist.

Beth: It’s deeply gratifying to provide marketing solutions to an industry that pours such creativity and heart into their businesses. To make it easy for them to share their ideas, services, and products with a wider audience is core to why Fashion Mingle exists.

What would you say is your “entrepreneurial superpower?”

Melissa: Ideas

Beth: Tenacity

Who is the entrepreneur you admire most right now? Why does s/he inspire you?

Melissa: Guy Kawasaki has always been my favorite entrepreneur. He was on the original Apple Computer team and has spent his life creating the next new thing. In his book Enchantment: The Art of Changing Hearts, Minds, and Actions, he writes of how honesty and integrity should guide all of the decisions you make in your business.

Beth: I may be partial to the product, but I always admired Sara Blakely, the founder of Spanx. She came up with the idea when she was forced to cut the feet off her pantyhose in order to wear a pair of sandals. What would we do without footless tights? I remember watching her being interviewed and she said at the start of her company she had no money to advertise so she would go to department stores and hold up pictures of her own bottom, in white trousers mind you, with and without her product on. Now if that’s not dedication and tenacity I don’t know what is!

What’s the best and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur, as a woman?

Melissa: The worst thing about being a female entrepreneur is that you can’t show up at a meeting in jeans and a t-shirt and be taken seriously. The best thing is being underestimated. People who doubt me give me more motivation than anything else.

Beth: For me, it’s the freedom and creativity it affords. The worst is trying to explain your business to a male investor after saying the word “fashion.”

Do you think male entrepreneurs are “different” from female entrepreneurs, and if so, how? If not,
why not?

Melissa: I think men naturally have more confidence, which can be driven by ego, but also by experience that is hard for a woman to equal. Confidence can be a double-edged sword and leads some male entrepreneurs to have overconfidence in their ideas and methods.

Beth: Female entrepreneurs are extremely adept at finding needs and gaps in the marketplace and are more confident than ever about seizing opportunities. But enthusiasm and innovation will only get you so far. Finding an investor can be hard, daunting, and scary! We are still lagging behind our male counterparts in this area, but we’re making strides like never before. Don’t feel you have to go at it alone. Lean on organizations that offer expertise and learn to feel confident in asking for what your business needs to succeed.

What is the best advice you ever got, and from whom?

Melissa: “You never know when it’s going to be done”, from my investor.

Beth: The investor of my first company told me positive momentum and business growth always seems to happen right after you’ve made up your mind to quit. So when you get to that point, and you will, hang on!

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