Tips from the Trenches: One-on-One with Emily Blumenthal, CEO/Founder, Handbag Designer 101

“Be aware that the person you are speaking with has no time for you until you prove you can give them something they might need or want, so having your elevator pitch ready is always a must.” — Emily Blumenthal


Fashion entrepreneur Emily Blumenthal

Emily Blumenthal never went to design school. But that didn’t stop her from creating a line of handbags that she singlehandedly got into Bergdorf Goodman, Henri Bendel, Bloomingdale’s and finally to QVC. Add to that teaching Fashion Marketing at Parsons The New School for Design and running a business helping burgeoning accessories designers get their handbag lines off the ground and into major retailers across the country.

In addition, Blumenthal created the Independent Handbag Designer Awards, an internationally respected design competition, runs online resource and authored “Handbag Designer 101,” a book to help designers create the next “It Bag” and a viable business to go with it. The woman is BUSY.

In Be Your Own Best Publicist, we interviewed a number of smart, interesting people on how to build a brand and stand out. Just in time for New York Fashion Week, we recently talked to Blumenthal about how she launched her brand and her advice for other entrepreneurs trying to break through the clutter with limited time and resources.


Why is it so important these days to stand out in the workplace?

The market is so incredibly oversaturated. It is key to stand out since internal competition is fierce, especially in markets that are so sought after. Proving your value is a must as that will translate into more power, responsibility and eventually dollars in your pocket.


What’s the best PR advice you’ve ever received?

When I was starting out and wanted to get into television, a buyer pulled me aside and said, “You would never open a clothing store if you didn’t know how to shop.” In other words, make sure you know how to buy before you can sell. I have used this in every step of my career; I try to get behind the mindset of those that I am pitching and to address their needs before I even begin to tell them anything I am working on.

What are your top networking tips?

Always be prepared and do your homework. No editor, publicist, stylist, or buyer has time to deal with people who don’t know their brand, business, or customers. There is nothing worse than pitching someone on an idea when they say “we don’t do that, and never did.”


What’s your advice for developing a relationship with someone you don’t know?

I make cold calls on a regular basis. In fact, 80 percent of my time is spent calling people that I don’t know and convincing them on a new concept that they may know little about. A key point to remember: B aware that the person you are speaking with has no time for you until you prove you can give them something they might need or want, so having your elevator pitch ready is always a must. Having said that, know how to throw some humor into it (whether they laugh or not).  That’s my secret ingredient to keeping people’s attention and making them forget they are talking to someone they don’t know.


How important is it to break through the clutter when you’re trying to stand out—and what’s the best way to do so?

I remember hearing about people who sent their resumes over in different colored paper, but I think the fundamentals of common courtesy — which most forget — are important; e.g. sending a thank you note and, if they are someone you really need to work with,  remember something they said in the conversation and send them a follow-up little gift. I dealt with someone very senior at a magazine and he has everything known to mankind — what could I possibly give him, a puppy? So I was on vacation and had a shirt made with his name on it and dropped it off with his assistant. At the end of the day, everyone wants to feel like someone was thinking of them (in an non-stalker way), so if you do things like that, you will never be forgotten.


Do you use social media and the Web to market yourself or further your career? If so, how?

Yes! For better or for worse, social media is here to stay. As overwhelming as it is, one must remember they are always ‘on’ and for that matter, always being watched. I consult for handbag designers as well and I actually had to alert one of them that the bikini picture she had posted devalued her work and she should pull it off ASAP. You, yourself are a brand and should always be protected.


What’s your best tip for how to get what you want at work?

I think it is key to keep a running portfolio of your accomplishments. Papers you have written, projects you have submitted, presentations that were well-received — when showing this to the powers-that-be is a sign of how organized and forward thinking you are, as long as you have a goal in mind as to why you are showing this. This is something you can stand behind and no one can take that away from you.


Lots of recent (and not so recent graduates) continue to struggle to find a job. What is the one piece of advice that you wish you knew when you were graduating?

Keep your hustle on. You are not alone and you are not special. Unfortunately, you are up against people your age who have done much more than you, so make sure you’re prepared to show why you are valuable and what your USP (unique selling point) is.


What is the guiding principle or mission for your business or how you engage in the workplace?

Try to stay focused and make sure you are moving forward to a greater goal.


How have you been your own best publicist?

No one has ever PRed me better than me — at least for the first 10 years of working for myself. You need to know you, your product, your brand before you can ever expect anyone to do it better.


What are some of your tips from the trenches?  Share with us here, on Facebook or on Twitter.

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