Rachel Fischbein of Fashion Incubator San Francisco: “A lifestyle brand can be quite nimble”

What products your ideal customers need right now to improve or bring excitement to their daily routines: The customers are going to tell you about their lives, what they like and dislike, but you need to be the creative one, coming up with the unique products that will solve a need and reflect a value. As […]

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What products your ideal customers need right now to improve or bring excitement to their daily routines: The customers are going to tell you about their lives, what they like and dislike, but you need to be the creative one, coming up with the unique products that will solve a need and reflect a value.

As a part of our series called “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rachel Fischbein.

Rachel Fischbein is the current Executive Director of the Fashion Incubator San Francisco, at Bloomingdale’s. Rachel Fischbein’s leadership within the Bay Area fashion community involves numerous advisory, business development and educational roles with fashion-focused organizations. She has been a member of The Fashion Incubator San Francisco Board of Directors since 2016. In addition to starting the law firm Law On The Runway which supports fashion and beauty entrepreneurs, Fischbein has been an advisor to the Silicon Valley BeautyTech Accelerator and to San Francisco’s Fashion Community Week. She previously served on the Board Of Directors of PeopleWearSF, a Bay Area trade group supporting sewn-product professionals.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

Yes, absolutely. I grew up in a small town in Pennsylvania. I had family in New York City, particularly an uncle who was a cheerleader for me. As I came into my teenage years, I would take a bus into New York City to spend the weekend there, staying with my uncle who taught me how to navigate city life. I loved visiting art galleries, attending theater shows, and exploring the shopping districts. I was captivated by artists and by people who created immersive experiences for the joy of others. When it came time to think about my career, I dabbled into law, inspired by my grandfather who was a tax attorney that worked with several diamond jewelers and apparel brands in New York City. My grandfather was the quiet and generous leader in our family. In his personal and professional life, he focused on the details and carefully built foundations for others to thrive upon. In college, I had two focus areas, the business of fashion and legal studies.

Can you tell us the story of what led you to this particular career path?

For six years I led a law firm that worked with fashion and beauty entrepreneurs, helping them through negotiations and setting up their corporate structures. I loved working with creatives and helping them develop the best frameworks for their businesses. During this time, I volunteered for several years with the Fashion Incubator San Francisco (FiSF) in various capacities. FiSF is such a fun and inspiring community. It brings together fashion professionals at all levels, from solo-managed fashion brands to leaders at global fashion brands. Everyone hangs out together in the studio and event space, which is tucked away in Bloomingdale’s of downtown San Francisco. It’s a special, and somewhat secretive spot in San Francisco, a place where creative professionals celebrate and support each-other. I was asked to join the Board of Directors and eventually tapped as the Executive Director.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

When I saw this question, my first thought was about this fashion-tech runway show I helped to coordinate many years ago, when I was still quite new to the practice of law, and to the fashion industry of San Francisco. It was a beautiful show, with 400+ people in the audience. Imagine a modern sky-top venue in the heart of San Francisco, with models wearing tech infused garments, styled for the future. I assisted with several of the contracts for the show, and then I was asked to give a short, on-the-runway, speech about privacy law concerns with wearable tech. This was probably my worst speech ever. Imagine an incredibly boring, dry, serious speech while glamorous models tried their best to keep the energy of the show exciting and lively. I still blush thinking those dreadful minutes on stage. It was a huge lesson in event production. We need to be very clear on our goals for the audience’s experience. What do we want our audience to feel? What do we want our audience to learn? How do we blend the sensory experience with the messaging?

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

The “War of Art” was a roadmap for me. It is a book written for those who take on creative endeavors (filmmakers, authors, designers, artists etc.).It’s widely appealing, with sage advice for anyone trying to build something from just an idea. The book starts with resistance. Essentially, why are you unwilling to start a project or take step forward with the project. The second part is about persisting as you face more resistance and how to see yourself as “a pro”, even when your creative endeavor might be your first try at a project. The last is about finding your muse- or your inspiration. This part was particularly important for me, as my career has been primarily achieved by digging into the details. Sometimes those are very dry and almost bureaucratic challenges. Identifying my muse-the beauty of the FiSF community- keeps me moving along through those mundane components of my projects.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

I’ve heard this line attributed to many influential women, so I’m not sure who to credit this quote with, but a life lesson I often refer back to is “You can have it all, but not all at once.” This quote reminds me that we go in seasons of productivity, adventure, self-care, and focusing on our loved ones. We can try a variety of ways of structuring our days. We get to choose what our priorities are, and we can change our minds to prioritize something new, but we can’t prioritize everything. When we look back, we can see a multi-faceted life, having it all.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. For the benefit of our readers, let’s define our terms. How do you define a Lifestyle Brand? How is a Lifestyle Brand different from a normal, typical brand?

I think of a lifestyle brand as a company with a voice and soul. It stands for a set of values. It has a vision for the future. Most brands are focused on selling a particular type of product or service. For example, a traditional apparel company might be in the business of selling coats, with the goal of keeping people warm. Lifestyle brands are also goal oriented, but the goals are to help the customer live a certain way. For example, a clothing brand might have a goal of streamlining the customer’s closet to own a few versatile items. The types of products offered in that closet lineup might change. Perhaps one season there are no coats offered, as other products provide the function of warmth. Try word association with several big brand names. Do you think of a product category or a character trait?

What are the benefits of creating a lifestyle brand?

A lifestyle brand can be quite nimble. You are able to expand and shrink product lines based on the needs of your customers. You are serving them products to support their identity, goals, and values. Your brand can fluctuate as the behavioral trends of your customers change. Consider 2020. Suddenly we were in our homes a majority of the day. A lifestyle brand in 2020 could provide the customer whatever they needed to find comfort and productivity in their homes. But if 2021 is all about re-entering a commuter lifestyle or socializing in public spaces, the customer will likely need a new line of products to maintain their ideal identity outside of the home.

In your opinion, what is an example of a company that has done a fantastic job building a believable and beloved Lifestyle Brand? What specifically impresses you? What can one do to replicate that?

Patagonia. It has done an incredible job at building a lifestyle brand. I see them as a blueprint for a lifestyle company. They strongly announce their values as a company and the mission-driven goals for the company, and have been for decades. Customers proudly wear their logo. With high price-point products, Patagonia is a symbol of customers having money, and spending it “responsibility.” Patagonia rewards purchasers with messages of the social and environmental initiatives the company adopts as the ethos of the brand. Their brand is serving customers in the leisure, home, and professional lives. As from shared values of Patagonia customers, there are behavioral patterns of the Patagonia loyalists. They stroll into the office in their Patagonia fleece vests, with a Patagonia backpack or tote, and laptop protected by a Patagonia sleeve. At home, they are stocking their pantries with “Patagonia Provisions.” On the weekend, they are scaling mountains wearing performance apparel anda Patagonia water bottle clipped on their backpacks.

Can you share your ideas about how to create a lifestyle brand that people really love and are ‘crazy about’?

I believe it is important to position your brand as a community gatherer. The products are in support of creating shared experiences and upholding mutual values. You want to make it easy for customers to interact with you, to help you identify what they need. They should be able to give you advice, feedback and suggestions. Ask you ideal customers for what is their dream daily routine and how can you fit into that? (option to paint the picture of what this relationship building looks like, what you have seen with past and current entrepreneurs that have established a strong relationship with their customers. You could expand on meeting customers needs as a business process, and why understanding your customer’s pains and concerns are crucial to a business. Being on the topic of building community, you can explain how to balance knowing your target market and being a welcoming and inclusive platform)

What are the common mistakes you have seen people make when they start a lifestyle brand? What can be done to avoid those errors?

The first common mistake I see is entrepreneurs not being clear on why they are starting a lifestyle brand. How do you see this brand serving your life? Define your goals for what you want your future to look like as an entrepreneur. This will help you set targets for the company’s growth.

The second common mistake is not defining your ideal customer clearly. Who are they? Do you have a relationship with someone who would be the ideal customer? With brands that I coach through the Fashion Incubator San Francisco, I often recommend that we pick 3 people from the entrepreneurs “real life” that are slightly different but would be ideal customers to the entrepreneur. You want these people to be close enough connections that you actually know significant information about how they spend the day, and what their values are.

Many entrepreneurs are building something they want for themselves, but exclude yourself from the 3 people. When you are then making marketing, branding, or product design decisions, it is important to think about those 3 connections. Can you see them wearing or using this product? Would the marketing channel reach them? Would they resonate with the messages?

Let’s imagine that someone reading this interview has an idea for a lifestyle brand that they would like to develop. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

This is an add on to my answer of the question above. Avoid those two mistakes and you’ll be on your way to the foundation of a successful lifestyle brand.

Ok. Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our discussion. What are your “5 Things You Need To Know To Create A Very Successful Lifestyle Brand” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

1. Your values: what does the business stand for? Ex: artisan craftmanship. This will help you determine what you are providing. Remember, as a lifestyle company, your products change, but your values remain consistent.

2. Your customers: As Jim Collins would say focus on being “interested, not interesting”- Design in service of your ideal customers.

3. How the success of the brand will improve your life: If you have a business partner(s), make sure you are in agreement as to the “why” you are on this entrepreneurial journey. There will be tedious, boring, and stressful moments in building your brand. Knowing why you are building this brand for your personal goals will help you make the right decisions in difficult moments, pinning goals that work for you. This will help you measure meaningful success.

4. What products your ideal customers need right now to improve or bring excitement to their daily routines: The customers are going to tell you about their lives, what they like and dislike, but you need to be the creative one, coming up with the unique products that will solve a need and reflect a value.

5. How your customers would prefer to be in communication with you to give you feedback and ideas: Ask your customers how they prefer to receive information and how they like to interact with a brand. Some brands have a very small digital presence because customers prefer physical mail, boutique events, or 1-on-1 shopping experiences. You might not need to spend a lot of resources on growing a social media following or newsletter list.

Super. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

Currently hoping to inspire a movement, and that is for the revival of the San Francisco Bay Area fashion industry. I believe that San Francisco’s entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, coupled with our passionate values of equality and environmental well-being will allow San Francisco to continue to be leader. Our designers and small brands need funding, skills training, and access to manufacturing talent and facilities to make this happen.

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

Paris Hilton. I’m fascinated by how she pioneered the modern influencer role. I refer to her as a business ballerina as she makes her success appear effortless. I suspect she’s a very savvy businesswoman.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.

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