Every market has its own style, so you have to be dialed in with your customers to ultimately offer something that your customers want to buy.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Courtney Robinson. She is the owner of Winnie Couture Nashville. Passionate about fashion from a young age, Courtney’s desire to get involved in the industry led her to pursue a career in fashion in addition to her career in healthcare. Courtney resides in Atlanta with her husband and daughter. To learn more about Winnie Couture Nashville, visit www.winniecouture.com/stores/wedding-dresses-nashville-tn/.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Growing up I always had a love for fashion, but I never thought of it as a viable career option. Throughout high school, I was always pointed toward standard career fields, and no one ever spoke about going into the arts or design. While I’ve always been passionate about fashion, I didn’t know the right route to take. As I got older, I started meeting people in the fashion world and realized that this career field is actually attainable. Having those resources through connections I made is what ultimately led me to become the owner of Winnie Couture Nashville.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
I think overall, my most interesting story is just my journey building my business through a pandemic. I decided to embark on opening a brick-and-mortar bridal store in 2018 but didn’t start construction until late August 2019. I thought I was overly prepared for everything that could happen, but I never once could have predicted a pandemic.
I decided to still open because I was already so far into the process. Originally Winnie Couture was scheduled to open in March 2020, and it was pushed back to June. At the time, construction workers were still considered essential workers and I had signed contractual agreements that were still moving forward. There was really no way to halt my project because of how far along we were. Looking back, I don’t think I would have halted it, even knowing how long we would be impacted by covid. Pursuing fashion is my dream and I had already invested so much time, energy, research, and money into the project that I think I would have kept going as I did.
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?
I don’t have a funny mistake yet, but I’ve definitely learned a lot so far. One of my goals is to be a resource for entrepreneurs. I feel my experience can help other business owners because I not only built a brick-and-mortar during a pandemic but can actually say that we’ve made it out on the other side. It made me a better business owner, a better leader and gave me opportunities to think differently. I’m excited about all the things I’ve learned and enjoy sharing those learnings with other entrepreneurs.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
There are so many things that make Winnie Couture stand out. I think our biggest differentiator is that we have an in-house designer, so we have immense flexibility to truly create a one-of-a-kind, dream gown for any bride. And what bride doesn’t want to feel unique and special on her big day?
The first bride that said “yes” to the dress is something I will never forget. We had been open for about a month and we were still trying to figure out how to increase our brand awareness and share the uniqueness of the brand. What ultimately made us treasure all the love and labor put into this project was that first bride saying “yes.” Her family cried and that’s the reason I got into this business, to be a part of such a special moment for every person who comes into our store. It makes it all worth it.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
As a business owner, in any field, your mind is constantly running. However, you can’t forget to enjoy it. Anybody that goes through the process of becoming an entrepreneur, especially the brick-and-mortar process, needs to take moments to take it all in and embrace it. Pat yourself on the back for all the hard work that you’ve done because it is by no means easy.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I have educated other entrepreneurs through any part of the process that they might be in — whether that be getting a loan or a lease, understanding insurance, navigating inventory, or anything else they might need. We also make an effort to give back to our community by getting involved with local charitable organizations.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”– Maya Angelou
When I was 19 and in the Air Force, I was stationed in Delaware. I got a call at midnight to report to the port mortuary. The embassy bombings had happened in Nairobi, where more than 200 U.S. diplomats and military were killed. I was an X-ray tech at the time and at only 19 years old, I was X-raying heads, legs, and other body parts that had been recovered from the wreckage. I was reminded daily of the sacrifice that people in the military make for this country. This experience inspired me to dig deeper, and I ultimately was selected to be a part of the Honor Guard, as one of only a few females. We were part of the ceremonial burying and honoring those who have fallen. Every day, we interact with people and don’t know what they’re going through. I lead with passion and compassion, and a little bit of style, hence my desire to be a part of the fashion industry.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I definitely think virtual try-on technology will continue to evolve, down to technology that can take accurate body measurements through a screen. Obviously, the beauty of Zoom and other technologies is being able to conduct virtual appointments when we need to. But I expect to see advancements in the capabilities of virtual try-on technology.
Thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview. What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Creative thinking.
a. Opening during the pandemic required me to adjust everything — from day-to-day operations to customer interaction, to sales and community contributions. In the middle of the pandemic, we were only offering virtual appointments. It was difficult to create the same experience virtually, but we got creative!
2. Brand awareness.
a. There are endless fashion options, so you have to find creative ways to engage with your audience. This could be through your unique designs or how you present the brand to the community. We work with influencers to raise awareness and partner with charitable partners.
a. It is important to have pride in what you’re putting out to the community, and to have pride in your designs and how you’re uniquely presenting them.
4. Strategic hiring.
a. The people that you hire have to be reflective and an extension of you. Hire like-minded individuals that have the same passion and drive for the brand.
5. Know your customer.
a. Every market has its own style, so you have to be dialed in with your customers to ultimately offer something that your customers want to buy.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
For a very long time, fashion has not been inclusive, and that area of the industry needs significant improvement. It’s amazing to me how this industry has been able to stay alive while not practicing inclusivity and diversity. We are so far behind the curve, and as an industry, we need to do better.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start 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.
My primary career is in healthcare, and I am particularly passionate about bringing better healthcare solutions to people in lower-income areas. I would love to create and streamline healthcare solutions for underserved communities because we all deserve proper healthcare.