Six years ago, this Zephyrhills native and University of South Florida graduate burst onto the fashion scene with her own line of bold, geometric designs feauturing seahorses and aquatic shapes. Tracy Negoshian, 34, says she never grew up thinking she would become a fashion designer, and yet, her multi-seasonal lines are a hot commodity for women from Millenials to retirees throughout the Southwest Florida region.
After creating her own college-themed clothing line, Negoshian set her sights on expanding her brand to create her label and flagship store. She convinced her step dad to invest in the launch. Her concept was such a success, she was able to pay back the loan within a year. Now, she and her step dad are business partners alongside three other full-time employees in an attic of a converted home in St. Petersburg.
Savvy in fashion design and in business, Negoshian launched two flagship stores in downtown St. Petersburg and Naples, and will debut another on Sarasota’s St. Armands Circle at the first of the year. If opening three stores isn’t enough of an accomplishment, Negoshian is also balancing married life with newlywed husband, David Phillips, and their one-year old son, Cooper.
In her own words, Negoshian shares with GRAVITAS how she carved out her own niche and what the Tracy Negoshian brand represents to women.
How did a local girl from the Tampa Bay area become a fashion icon, as well as a savvy entrepreneur?
When I moved to Palm Beach after college graduation, I worked at Saks Fifth Avenue as an assistant manager at a designer salon selling Lily Pulitzer and Emilio Pucci dresses. Everything that I loved had a price point that was kind of out of my realm. Then, I went out to a national college football championship game with my stepdad’s family; he is a University of Florida alum. My mom was wearing a little orange tank top with a rhinestone gator and women kept asking her where she got it. We talked about how there might be a market there for a potential business venture.
A few months later. When I left Saks, I thought, “What am I going to do?” That’s when my step dad reminded me about the game-day line I was talking about. I had always been working in retail, but I had never worked in the manufacturing side of the business. It took a year and a half to find a factory to produce my first label, which was called My Team Boutique. I started with 4 colleges, USF, FSU, UF, and Georgia. I did six styles between tunic tops and wrap dresses. We had a wonderful sell up until I got a cease-and-desist letter from the colleges. Although I wasn’t using any trademarks, it opened my eyes and I learned about the fashion business.
You launched a grass roots effort to build the Tracy Negoshian brand during the economic down turn. What did you do to stand out?
I knew our brand had a similar look and feel to other designers but at about a third to half of the price point. I created a database and I marketed directly to those boutiques by mailing postcards. They were getting a Lily Pulitzer dress for $300 and a Tracy Negoshian cost less than $150. Wholesalers loved it because they were still able to keep their doors open at a time when a lot of people weren’t spending extra money on their wardrobes.
How has your step dad helped with your business?
I enjoy looking at markets, business plans, and figuring out how to grow the company, but I have the creative mind as well. My step dad has successfully managed companies, so he was my sounding board when I got started. At the end of the day, we are trying to build a national brand. I’ve learned so much from him, in many respects, but especially in regard to business.
What were some of the lessons that you learned as a business owner and as a designer that have helped you stay in the public eye?
I think it’s staying true to myself. I stay true to what I like in every collection. I’m a Florida-based designer and I’m tuned into our southeast buyers and clients. Wholesalers know they can count on me for bold prints and colors. I’m not trying to be a runway fashion designer. I’m an everyday, casual resort lifestyle brand.
What is your signature color?
Turquoise. It’s in every collection.
What is the biggest lesson you learned in your career?
When I was working at Saks, I would have celebrity clients come in. When they tried things on, if it didn’t appeal or it didn’t look right on them, I was very honest. I always wanted people to be honest with me. It’s about what’s figure flattering and what looks good on them. I took it upon myself not just to be my clients’ personal stylist but also, to become their friend. I think the real reason I reached a million dollar client book my first year at Saks is because I was always honest.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Everywhere! When travelling with my family, whether it’s the tiles in a restaurant or the wrought-iron gates, I can find prints within anything.
How does being a female in the fashion industry give you insight into what other women want?
I listen. I spend quite a bit of time in our stores and I work with my in-store stylists while they are working with clients. I listen to the feedback while women are trying things on. I try to provide garments that can flatter many figures. I’m often criticized for doing sleeves in every collection, including summer. However, some of our target market, customers in their 50s and 60s, want their arms covered, whether they are outside or in a restaurant.
What were some of the challenges you faced when you opened your own flagship store?
Not being able to go after an idea the moment it strikes is the biggest struggle for me. I have so many ideas for growth but I’m taking it one step at a time and trying not to put too much risk out at once. We just finally opened our first purchase order for a handbag collection, something I’ve been working on for 2 years now. That is something that has been in the works for a long time and now that I have two flagship stores, with a third opening in Sarasota on St. Armands Circle, the timing is ideal.
What is your overall perspective of the fashion industry and how it has transformed over the years?
I know a lot of buyers are a bit timid buying online because they aren’t able to touch and feel clothing. At the end of the day, women still like to touch and feel clothing as they try it on. They like walking into a store with their girlfriends and having an associate who works for the brand and who understands which styles look good on which body type.
Who influenced your design style?
I love Diane von Furstenberg and her stories, and how her brand, especially her iconic wrap dress, came about. She’s very much about being a woman entrepreneur and knowing, from the beginning, that she wanted to work for herself. I love her mission and I got sucked into her TV show. I’m impressed with how she helps others and provides garments that make other women look and feel great. I admire not only the brand and empire she has built, but the person.
Fashion is about creativity, but it is also extremely competitive. How did you
manage to stand out in the crowd?
When I started, there were no mentors that I knew in the manufacturing side. Nobody around for me to pick their brain or to save me from potential heartache. That was really tough for me because anyone that I would approach would tell me, “You’re cocky.” They automatically put their guard up as if I wanted to steal whatever they were doing. I’m very confident in my work and what we’ve grown so far. It’s all about being smart and walking away from things even if you want them so bad. It’s about knowing whether or not it’s the right time. Timing is a lot in this industry.
What advice would you give other up and coming designers?
Be smart. Be true and listen to yourself. Stand your ground for what you believe in. It’s your livelihood. There are lot of negatives to using your name as a brand. If something doesn’t come quite right in production, you’re automatically known as the creator of it. Though, there are also some great perks. It’s really exciting when someone asks who I’m wearing and I can honestly say, “This is one of mine.” There is a fine line between being proud and just being arrogant.
What are the future plans for the Tracy Negoshian brand?
I would like to open flagship stores in areas that have a slightly different season, like the Northeast, the Nantucket area, Newport, Rhode Island and the Carolinas.
How do you juggle your work life and balance your family while being a new mom to son, Cooper?
Cooper just turned one, and I love this time. To me, family is the number-one priority and I try very hard to leave work at work and give my full attention to my son and my husband when I’m at home. I think having that separation is what allows me to start fresh every day.