Building a business is like entering an Ironman challenge that lasts for years: it’s fun until you hit the part where everything hurts. We all need inspiration at some point. One thing that inspires us is talking with other entrepreneurs who are passionate and driven. In this new series, Heels Down Media brings you the hard truths from entrepreneurs who are shaking up the equestrian industry. Lifelong equestrians Andrea Vogel and Dana Schwartz started their fashion company, Free x Rein, from the ground up.
HDM: Describe your business:
FR: Free x Rein is a crossover equestrian streetwear fashion brand.
HDM: What are your important daily habits?
DS: I am a generally disorganized person and am terrible with dates. One tremendously helpful daily habit is checking my calendar every morning and immediately adding meetings and appointments once I have scheduled them. You never want to miss important dates, get behind, overbook and suddenly panic when your schedule is disoriented. But when you’re running a company, your schedule is the last thing you should be worrying about. I can thank my co-founder Andrea – she never misses a beat with the calendar and it has been life changing.
AV: I like to set one or two daily goals. With the day-to-day deluge of emails, meetings and phone calls, it can be hard to keep your eye on the big picture. If I accomplish one bigger goal that is a good day. Oh and lists, I LOVE lists.
HDM: What would you say has been a turning point on your business journey?
DS: We had come to a halt after a few failed attempts at designing and producing a prototype pant and turned to other projects. While wrapping several of my film projects, I realized that I was ready to fully commit to Free x Rein – I simply couldn’t envision myself doing anything other than starting this line. Since then, I have remained excited and motivated to create the vision we had from the beginning: making ready-wear, equestrian clothing. While I knew there were major challenges ahead, I was more excited about my career than I had ever been before.
AV: When we got our first prototypes, the vision that we had dreamed about for so long finally came to light. We had a long way to go from there but it inspired us both to commit to Free x Rein and we haven’t looked back since.
HDM: What is a business mistake you’ve learned the most from?
DS: Working with the wrong people. You need to surround yourself with a team of people who are passionate, willing to learn and who keep you moving towards success. There was a time when we were working with people who were very pleasant, but it was clear they were distracted and not willing to put in the time. No matter how driven and passionate you are as an entrepreneur, you absolutely cannot do it alone. I have learned to look for the signs much earlier now of when an individual is going to be a great team player.
AV: Be willing to scrap a product or change directions. There were many times when we loved a certain fabric or design detail but it just wasn’t possible to use because of cost, lead time or a host of other reasons. We would become very attached and had a hard time moving on but it always works out in the end.
HDM: What is the best advice you would give a young entrepreneur to grow their sales?
DS: You have to be willing to go anywhere and talk to anyone for exposure. It takes years for most companies to get recognition, so you have to be willing to put yourself out there a lot. Unfortunately, it can be hard to trust the make and fit of clothing through Instagram. We have been most successful when we are able to get women to touch and try on our pieces, so they can see how incredible they look wearing them. Andrea and I had a running joke by the end of WEF that we had become traveling saleswomen because our cars were filled with racks of clothing and if someone was willing to collaborate with us on a pop-up, we would be there and fully setup in a heartbeat!
AV: Never say no! At the beginning, take advantage of every opportunity that presents itself even if it seems small or trivial. Even if that particular event or collaboration doesn’t have a huge payback, you never know what other doors it can open in the future.
HDM: What is your favorite business book?
DS: Hm good question, I don’t have one! I tend to dive in head first and research later, but now you have motivated me to go find some books!
AV: I really like The Hard Things About Hard Things by Ben Horowitz. He is really honest about how hard it can be to start a business and gives amazing antidotes from his own experiences.