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Welcome to Selfmade Stories! We're partnering with Office Depot to spotlight emerging entrepreneurs from our virtual business course Selfmade. This week, we're chatting with the creative force behind Shop SIGAL, an ethically crafted resort wear line. Miami-based designer and founder Sigal Cohen shares her tricks for marketing her brand online and off.

B + C: What inspired you to start Shop SIGAL?

I've always been inspired by color, by bold graphics and fashion. I moved from Venezuela to Miami in 2010. After living here for 5 years, I realized that there was no real signature brand that embodied the Miami lifestyle like there was in the '90s Versace-era. I felt that there was this amazing opportunity to create fashion that would represent Miami in a fresh way, and I decided to do so by translating my passion for graphic and textile design to apparel. I also wanted to create a brand that would empower women to be authentic, bold and unapologetically stand out from the crowd. I wanted to encourage women to express themselves through fashion, playing with patterns, mixing unpredictable color palettes and prints.

B + C: What problem were you trying to solve?

After 5 years of working in fashion, I saw a space for a bold, vibrant brand that would tell the Miami story, but I had seen first-hand how damaging the fashion industry, especially when it comes to colorful, printed materials, can be to the environment.

I decided to design a collection that would embody the Art Deco, multicultural Miami — that is, resort and metropolis. Shop SIGAL merges tropical-inspired, maximalist textile prints with timeless silhouettes, but does so with ethical processes and sustainable manufacturing.

B + C: Have you always been passionate about fashion?

Yes, I have. When I was little, I would spend hours making collages with my mom's Hello! magazines. Fashion was so over the top in the '90s, so fun. I've always known I wanted to be a designer, but I had always convinced myself I could never be a fashion designer because I didn't come from a fashion background. I was intimidated by designers that had spent their childhood making clothes and learning how to sew; I always saw fashion as this inaccessible place. I chose to get trained as a graphic designer and visual communicator, and later on, I realized I could naturally transition into textiles, and became a fashion designer by working as one.

B + C: What startup challenges did you face along the way?

The biggest challenge is that I design for other brands to be able to bootstrap my own. Having a fashion brand requires a huge investment and I didn't have much money to start with. It is like having two jobs, really. Another challenge has been reaching an audience. There is so much competition in fashion; it's easier to get a brand off the ground, but harder in the noise that you have to make to reach a big audience, to make it a viable business. Also, finding the right manufacturing partners has been a huge endeavor. There are so many things that need to work out in building that relationship. From their ethics and values as companies, the materials and processes they use, the way they treat their workers, to the quality of the product they are able to make.

B + C: What are strategies that helped you overcome those obstacles?

Investing in my brand's image has been huge. In the beginning, having a small budget, I would hire friends to be the models for my photoshoots and I would do the styling myself. Everything looked artistic but not very commercial. As soon as I started investing more in professional teams that would create my campaigns and social media assets, with professional models, photographers and stylists, and hired strategy consultants who helped me hone-in on my brand's story and DNA, the brand was elevated to a whole new level. Investing in paid advertising also completely boosted my business, especially during the pandemic. Once I started to take more risks and invest more, I started to see the return on investment. By this time, I also had the correct assets to use for advertising (photos, videos) that were visually appealing and achieved customer engagement. Everything works in tandem. And regarding manufacturers, it's all trial and error, one place takes you to the next and as you move on, you have to be able to adjust and learn from mistakes to grow. Visiting the factories abroad is key as well as hiring people on the ground to oversee the development and production. In short: investing in key areas and asking for help have been the biggest strategies that helped me overcome challenges.

B + C: What are some of your top successes so far?

Pivoting my brand to be 100% direct-to-consumer during the pandemic and seeing sales quadruple compared to 2019 has been the biggest success yet. Being featured in press such as Vogue MX, In Style MX, Glamour MX, Hola! TV has been very rewarding and has also provided me proof of concept. And selling my collection to retailers such as Anthropologie, Fashionkind.com, and Boho Hunter was a win, too.

B + C: How have you marketed your brand and raised awareness?

It started with word of mouth. I not only focused on making a high-quality product but also made it a great experience for the consumer with branding and packaging. This kept women coming back and making more purchases as well as spreading the word. My customers are my best ambassadors, I have direct communication with them, replying to every note, every social media message, every email and engaging with them on a personal level. I have also worked with small and medium size influencers, most of the time it has been through an exchange of product for a feature on their platforms. This really helped position the brand in Miami. Participating at networking and fashion events (pre-Covid) was also very helpful, putting myself out there, building a community of fellow designers and getting to know the local fashion industry. Being consistent with social media posting and constantly creating fresh content, putting my fear of it not necessarily being "perfect", a lot of times doing it with a smartphone, telling the story of the brand over and over again. Being consistent with my newsletter, sending one at least every week. Finally, taking a risk and investing more money on paid advertising has really made a difference.

B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?

My key takeaway was to be able to uncover what makes my story and my brand unique and learning to articulate it very clearly. Even when designing, there are these three clear pillars: Miami, hand crafted textile prints and sustainability, which I always refer back to. I don't spend hours anymore trying to find the words for captions and e-mails in my content. I used the Selfmade program to dissect the brand, to write draft after draft for my pitch until I got it to a place that I feel is 100% representative of my brand and what I stand for. I also felt empowered, both by the community and by the coaches; being a solopreneur, you need people to bounce things back and forth with, to gut check things. It was amazing to be able to do that with so many wonderful, powerful, professional women.

B + C: How do you stay motivated?

Painting and designing are my fuel. Creating new motifs for my textiles and spending an entire day painting is my absolute favorite thing. Believe it or not, there are so many areas of the business that I don't spend all of my days designing. So when I do, I truly love it. I'm also very lucky to live six blocks away from the beach. I make it a weekly practice to go to the ocean and absorb all of that salty energy, so I go most weekends with my husband and my kids. Justina Blakeney inspires me, studying her career and even having a consulting session with her has really empowered me to continue pursuing my dream of growing SIGAL to be a global, lifestyle brand.

B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?

If you have a passion, just start! What you start doing might not be the thing you'll be doing 2 years from now, 5 years from now. But start where you are. It is not easy being an entrepreneur, but if that thing you want to do really lights a fire within you, start. The journey will take you places you've never imagined, and you'll need to show up and do the work. But it will be worth it, not only for the end result, but because of the person you'll become in the process.

B + C: What's next for Shop SIGAL?

My short-term plans are to start hiring a team. Another goal of mine is to get partnerships and collaborations with other brands, starting a licensing business with my signature prints, and venturing into other categories besides fashion. In 2 to 5 years, I'd love to open the SIGAL flagship brick and mortar store where customers can come live the Miami experience and take a piece of Miami with them.

Thanks, Sigal! Follow Shop SIGAL at Instagram here.

Marketing is key to get the word out. Let Office Depot OfficeMax help you stand out in the crowd. From signs, posters & banners to promote your business, to marketing materials to keep your customers informed, Office Depot OfficeMax offers a full suite of business services & solutions to help you & your business get noticed.

Head to Office Depot's Selfmade page to check out even more amazing business resources (and discounts!) to help you accomplish more on your entrepreneurial journey. These offers are available for a limited time only, so be sure to take advantage of all this goodness while supplies last. Want to join the next Selfmade cohort this summer? Check out all of the scholarship details right here.

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