Fash­ion de­signer Cyn­thia Row­ley

Though her name is syn­ony­mous with fash­ion de­sign, her work now ranges from devel­op­ing of­fice sup­plies to sup­port­ing new en­trepreneurs


How did you de­cide to de­sign of­fice sup­plies for Sta­ples?

A lot of my friends work from home. I asked Sta­ples what their top-sell­ing items were, and they said boxes of copy paper. If you’re work­ing from home, the box is sit­ting out, and you see it all the time. I said, “Let me de­sign the box. I’ll make it beau­ti­ful.” If you give women the op­tion to buy a beau­ti­ful box, they will. We out­sold the Star Wars de­sign.

What ef­fect has e-com­merce had on peo­ple in your in­dus­try?

It’s so lib­er­at­ing. All the fil­ters are be­ing re­moved. It’s so much eas­ier to put your work out there and cre­ate an au­di­ence on your own terms. You can be so much more cre­ative in ev­ery part of your busi­ness be­cause of it.

What ad­vice do you have for en­trepreneurs who are flum­moxed by so­cial me­dia?

It’s not just putting your stuff out there. It’s also see­ing what other peo­ple are think­ing about and do­ing, and cre­at­ing that con­ver­sa­tion. You need to make con­tent that’s timely and rel­e­vant and per­sonal. That’s re­ally key to driv­ing sales through e-com­merce.

How do you cre­ate that per­sonal con­tent? How per­sonal is too per­sonal?

We’re not do­ing so­cial me­dia so I can get a seat in a restau­rant. We’re do­ing it to drive traf­fic to our site and sell prod­uct. What we make is com­pletely in sync with the lifestyle I’m lead­ing. Even though I say this con­tent is per­sonal, it’s not re­ally about me the per­son. It’s more about the brand cre­ated by me, which now has a life of its own. You’ll never see a selfie of me in the mir­ror, wear­ing a bathrobe with a towel on my head.

Why did you launch Pretty Penny, which in­vests in star­tups founded by your em­ploy­ees?

I’ve al­ways wanted to do things out­side of fash­ion. And start­ing a com­pany is not that hard. You can just start small and build some­thing. And if some­one has an idea that re­ally has cul­tural rel­e­vance, then I want to help. It’s more about col­lab­o­ra­tion, and less about me men­tor­ing new en­trepreneurs. It’s not like I know ev­ery­thing.

LOOK­ING AHEAD In re­cent years, Cyn­thia Row­ley has branched out to prod­uct de­sign and startup in­vest­ing. “I’m most proud of be­ing just a tiny bit ahead of the curve on things,” she says.

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