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FashInvest 2013: Insights from Fashion and Retail Executives and Investors

Key Takeaways

  • The delivery of a great idea is paramount for gaining investor interest.
  • Investors should be as passionate about the company as the entrepreneur.
  • Investors should supply business management skills an entrepreneur may lack.
  • Once an entrepreneur has investors, communicate corporate progress quarterly and nurture the relationship.
  • Entrepreneurs should be strategic in their use of investor funds, creating a virtuous trail of good spending to support future capital campaigns.
  • Investors understand that social media is changing the connection consumers have with brands, thus encouraging more successful funding for entrepreneurs.


In December 2013, Stephen Wyss, Partner in CohnReznick’s Retail and Consumer Products Industry Practice, moderated a panel at the 2013 FashInvest Capital Conference, an annual event attended by more than 300 investors and executives in the Fashion and Retail industry. The panel consisted of entrepreneurs who have successfully raised capital to grow their business, including Benita Singh, CEO of Sourced4Style, Nicole Gardner, COO of Dormify, and Sari Bibliowicz, Co-CEO and Co-Founder of Bib & Tuck.

According to panel participants, while an entrepreneur needs a great idea to achieve success, delivery of that idea is paramount for gaining investor interest. The panelists asserted that showing passion for the business and calm confidence when responding to investor questions – in addition to knowing the intended use of funds raised and understanding strengths – are crucial. Furthermore, all panelists agreed an entrepreneur should follow their instinct, and that quick decisions may require a quick change in product or service offerings.

Expert Advice for Entrepreneurs and Investors

Wyss asked the panel of experts what advice they would give entrepreneurs presenting their start-up companies to investors and executives at the conference. Bibliowicz’ recommendation was that of perseverance. She acknowledged that in the beginning, she had more story than store; it took time to develop the website, and after its initial launch, she first raised money from family and friends. 

Bib & Tuck first presented at FashInvest in 2010 and raised capital in 2012. Participating in FashInvest, Bibliowicz noted, showed the importance of a formal pitch to attract investors. The pitch improves focus of the corporate story in order to develop a polished presentation for the second round of investors. Bibliowicz said FashInvest opened doors and provided invaluable feedback from multiple investors that would be difficult to garner elsewhere. 

All of the experts agreed that being an entrepreneur required drive, passion, and an idea – an idea in which the founder’s conviction is palpable and contagious, thus generating investor interest. And if investors walk away from the opportunity, it is not necessarily a bad idea; perhaps it simply needs more refining to be compelling.

Gardner found that investors liked the idea of online-only businesses, and explained that Dormify was seasonally driven around the back-to-school selling season. She emphasized that investors are attracted to businesses generating revenues, even if they aren’t breaking even yet.

Julie Wainwright, CEO and Founder of The RealReal, an online luxury resale marketplace that has grown revenue ten-fold in the past year, articulated, “If you have a good idea, others are thinking it too, thus the imperative is to execute quickly, size your market, and write your business plan.” She urged refining the business model daily, suggesting entrepreneurship is daily testing and reacting to the target market. She added, “Know when you are wrong. Most businesses fail, and most people that start businesses don't give up.”

Wyss also asked the panel for advice they would give to investors attending FashInvest. The panel urged investors to trust youth, noting that they are in tune with and understand their markets. Singh encouraged investors to be as passionate as the entrepreneur, and suggested investors supply some of the business management skills the entrepreneur may lack, such as team-building.

What Are the Critical Factors that Lead to Successful Investor Financing?

Perseverance and patience are mandatory for entrepreneurs as they are raising funds, while bearing in mind that raising money almost always takes longer than originally expected. All investors inherently want to see the numbers. Singh mentioned adopting a different model for each potential investor and urged push back. “Here’s the model I can show you today,” she recommends for keeping the conversation moving.  “Look at this; let me get back to business, and in a few weeks, I can come back to you with the projections you want.”

Once an entrepreneur has investors, the panel suggested communicating corporate progress quarterly and nurturing the relationships. This helps to create traction when it is time to go back for a second round of funding. “A CEO has to ask now for financing that will be needed five years from today,” Singh affirmed. Bibliowicz added, “Entrepreneurs should be strategic in their use of investor’s funds, creating a virtuous trail of good spending that will support future capital campaigns.”

The Investor Viewpoint

Private equity and venture capital executives in attendance, including Elsa Berry of Vendome Capital Partners, David Yarnell of BEV Capital and Falconhead Capital, and Lawrence Lenihan of First Mark Capital, see the future focused on brands and want to invest in brand creators. Their firms understand the power of brands and how social media is changing the connection consumers have with brands. Fashion risk is no longer a turn-off, and Lenihan noted, “With a tech element to a fledging business, it’s easier to get funding.”

For the entrepreneurs, the investor panel provided invaluable advice as to what they are looking for in a pitch, in an entrepreneur, and in a potential fashion company investment, as well as how they can help with execution risk.

Yarnell summed it up, “We want proof of concept and brand strength; does the brand have a real connection with the targeted consumer base? What are the proposed channels of distribution, growth strategy, past history, management team, and organizational structure? And, is this scalable, how?”

As stressed by the panelists throughout the discussion, the key to answering such questions as posed by Yarnell centers back on the delivery of the idea, having a firm grasp of the use of intended funds and understanding strengths. Doing so will help chart a course for successfully raising capital needed to grow a business.


For more information, please contact Richard Schurig, Partner and Retail and Consumer Products Industry Practice Director, at 973-364-6670; Stephen Wyss, Partner, at 646-625-5758; or Michael Halpern, Partner, at 646-834-4118.

To learn more about CohnReznick’s Retail and Consumer Products Industry Practice, please visit our webpage.

This has been prepared for information purposes and general guidance only and does not constitute professional advice. You should not act upon the information contained in this publication without obtaining specific professional advice. No representation or warranty (express or implied) is made as to the accuracy or completeness of the information contained in this publication, and CohnReznick LLP, its members, employees and agents accept no liability, and disclaim all responsibility, for the consequences of you or anyone else acting, or refraining to act, in reliance on the information contained in this publication or for any decision based on it.

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