As we're wrapping up March, which is Women's History Month, I have been thinking a lot about the women in my life. My mom, aunts, friends, mentors, coworkers, etc. who have influenced my life, and I'm grateful for the way I've been molded by each of them in both small ways and big. In the theme of a month about women, I wanted to share a little bit about one of my favorite San Francisco entrepreneurs, Lola Viggi. Read on for a Q&A with Lola below.
I met Lola a couple years back through a mutual friend, and absolutely loved her style and confidence from the get go (and obviously her amazing Italian accent). She's a co-founder of Italian Collective, a women's only, online tailoring service specializing in durable, handmade in Italy, bespoke fit apparel. Once I saw their shirts, I had to have one. Classic & simple, exactly the style I love, whether it's for work or for the weekend with a pair of boyfriend jeans, I needed one of their shirts. I asked my mom to get one for me for Christmas in 2015 and I was a beta tester when the company was just getting off the ground.
I remember Lola coming over to my apartment in San Francisco to take my measurements as well as returning to hand deliver the shirt to me, which was brought back from Italy on the airplane with her mom. It's one of my favorite shirts to this day - you can just tell it's made from such high quality materials and it fits like a glove, made personally for me.
I recently collaborated with Lola to help her shoot some of their items from IC's new shirt dress line, and be featured in their #thewayICthings campaign (see my contribution here)! I got to try on a few of their newest pieces and am IN LOVE with the shirt dresses.
Wearing the Italian Collective Apron Shirt Dress
Wearing the Italian Collective Romance Shirt Dress
In the spirit of Women's History Month & female entrepreneurship, I asked Lola some questions below to inspire YOU:
Photo by Thomas Heinser
1. What’s the best advice you have received in business that you wish to pass on to other female entrepreneurs?
A couple of months ago my mother said, “Good things take time.”
It was during a tense conversation. I was feeling like nothing was going right, that we were on a road to nowhere, and I was poking holes in our entire process. She definitely calmed me down when she said that. She reminded me that starting a business is, more than anything, a learning process - especially when it comes to Italian Collective (a business that my mother, sister and I are trying to launch with zero funding and not very much expertise). If nothing else, we are definitely learning every single week.
I think we live in a culture, especially in the Bay Area, which is pretty cutthroat. It’s easy to feel like, well if it’s not up and running and making millions of dollars in the first years then chuck it. Deep breaths, and carry on. Every mistake or hiccup is a good opportunity to try something different, and persevere in your idea. If you ever get down on yourself, listen to NPR’s podcast “How I Built This.” It’s energizing and inspiring to hear other startup stories and their early stage beginning. For example, did you know that Crate and Barrel was started by a 23 year-old couple with a passion for European designs in Northbrook, Illinois - with $17,000 borrowed dollars?
2. What was the hardest part about getting started and initially launching Italian Collective and how did you overcome the challenges?
Surprisingly, what I thought would be the hardest things turned out to be the easy ones, like getting incorporated, setting up the foundation of a business (emails, banks, payment service, FedEx, etc.), branding (thank you Nina), and finding beta testers. It’s not until you try to start a company that you realize how complex everything is, so the hard tasks become easy, and the harder tasks become your day to day.
I would say the hardest thing to date is figuring out the ordering and sales process, finding our target market, and narrowing in on one specific vision. We started out in bespoke shirts for women, which is not an easy feat. Measuring women, with their hips and curves and busts (get it girls), and getting the perfect shirt down was quite a challenge. There is a reason that a lot of brands have not gone down that route! We had a lot of issues along the way, with a decently high fail rate. Every shirt mess-up was our loss. Somewhere along the way, we realized that to nail down this process, we’d need money. To get money, we’d need more sales, faster turnarounds. So, we recently decided to move into bespoke AND standard sized shirts and dresses (and shirt-dresses) for women - so that we can continue this project and see where it takes us. Soon, you will be able to order off of our website, simply select your size, and voila your shirt will be made to order. On the backend, we will be continuing to refine our measuring process, so that women who want bespoke shirts can come to us to find the perfect fit.
3. With a full-time job on top of Italian Collective, how do you find enough time in the day for work, a social life, your friends and boyfriend, vacation, etc.? How do you prioritize and stay organized enough to do it all?
Truth be told, I don’t - at least in full. I’m sure there are things I could be doing to be a better friend, employee, and person in general. It’s true by that having Italian Collective on top of everything else, I can sometimes get pretty overwhelmed. I’m learning a lot about myself and what my “trigger points” are, and what is my “happy busy place.”
What I mean by trigger points is, there are certain things that make me feel anxious and overwhelmed, and they trigger an uneasy feeling of, “I can’t do this!!” For example, I have this horrible habit of waking up and immediately checking my emails. When I see my work inbox populate, my Italian Collective one populate, and then my personal one, all with requests, asks, questions, needs, events, reminders - sometimes I lose it. There’s too much for me to wrap my head around while I’m still half asleep and it’s 6.30 am. My reaction used to be to get completely overwhelmed and stressed out. Now I’ve learned that if I wake up to 10 email requests from my mother, she can wait, the day is long, and I’ll get to it later. I focus on the most immediate work tasks first, then handle the rest.
Ultimately, I have very strong boundaries between my paying job and Italian Collective. During the week, I’m extremely committed to my 9 to 5. I really value my job at Turn, and I would never want to be the person who pursues side projects while the company is paying you to do your job. In that sense, it makes prioritization easier.
The last thing I’ll say is, vacation in my opinion should be as often as possible. It shouldn’t even be on a prioritization list. If you have the time off, the money, and the company to get out of town, or out of the country - do it! Don’t even think twice, just go. It will be great for everyone all involved.
4. Who inspires you in life? What brands or fashion icons inspire the vision for Italian Collective?
Honestly, I don’t think we really have particular icons that we look at for inspiration. I mean, Audrey Hepburn rocking a classic white collared shirt is definitely a role model we have thought about, but it could just as easily be Meryl Streep, Franca Sozzani, Michelle Obama, and many other women we simply love. Since we are in the business of all-time, classic looks, there isn’t a single person that embodies that look. Actually, if you pay attention, you’ll notice every single inspirational woman is eventually photographed rocking a classic, collared shirt (whether it be white and formal, or polka-dot and playful).
That being said, all three of us have our own style inspirations and people we turn to for style suggestions. The beauty of working with my mom and sister is that ultimately we gravitate towards the similar looks (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree), but they are obviously not identical. That makes it really fun for us, especially in the development and evolution of “what is Italian Collective” and how is our line evolving. I pushed for shirt dresses, Nina pushed for a Jill Sanders inspired crisp and elegant shirt, and a Kimono jacket, and my mom is often making her own visions come to life (like the Italian Collective Ruffled and the off the shoulder Geena). What will happen is one of us will send an inspiration image, and we will have a pretty quick “yes” or “no” moment, and decide whether to make it happen or not. In the sense of agreeing where our collection should go, we are on the same page - it has been seamless.
5. What’s your advice to other young women who are thinking about starting their own business or side project?
Love what you do. The assumption is that if you’re starting your own business or side project it’s because you love what you do, right? But, remember that, and don’t lose sight of it. Inevitably, things will get difficult. You will have highs and lows, and moments that make you doubt whether you should keep going. It’s not all fun and games - you can have financial stress, relationship stress, general life getting in the way, and it can sometimes seem like too much (especially if you have a second job to pay the bills). If you can remember to bring it back to “I love what I’m doing right now” then it will help you persevere through what could be a bad week or moment.
I can tell you that and truly mean it, because Italian Collective is not profitable and it could be years before it could financially support all three of us. Yet we carry on because we are passionate about the concept, and we are in it for the dream we are trying to achieve: making women look and feel their best while supporting slow fashion
Photo by Lola Viggi
A little more about Italian Collective: Italian Collective Inc. is a female and family run business, founded in June of 2015 by Micaela Malingri and her two daughters, Nina and Lola. Italian Collective is a women’s only, premium brand specializing in durable, timeless, and artisanally handmade in Italy apparel. Currently offering both bespoke and standard sizing, the collection features silk and cotton shirts, blouses, shirt dresses, and some accessories. Slow fashion, from woman to woman, from Italy to you. To learn more, head to their website or follow them on Facebook & Instagram. Lola can be contacted directly for any inquiries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Next, check out my Q&A with Jordan Jones, founder of Packed Party!