A Down Payment on Small Business Success

You can’t grow your small business without first investing in your people.

Editor’s Note: We’re putting the focus on entrepreneurs who are getting big results out of their upstart companies. This article is part of an ongoing series of interviews with women small business owners – you can read all the interviews here

P.S. Kate Clothing is a Los Angeles-based fashion line designed for contemporary women. In the interview below, Gina Park, P.S. Kate co-founder, explains how her business has evolved alongside e-commerce – and details why investing in your own people is the best down payment on small business success.

Longitudes: How did you start your business?

Gina: My mother was a designer who went into the manufacturing business, and she always knew I would end up in this industry. I began playing with Barbie Doll dresses and fabric swatches at age 3 or 4 and started working in the fashion industry before I entered college.

Ten years as a designer for various companies after college, plus a husband who shared my same vision to succeed as an employer instead of an employee, gave me the confidence I needed to become an entrepreneur.

We first started P.S. Kate in a small room in my mother-in-law’s house back in 2011. For the first three years, we had to work day and night because we had to do everything on our own and had only one employee. Now we have more than 20 employees and ship thousands of orders worldwide.

Longitudes: Why the name P.S. Kate?

Gina: I launched our company, Binee Blue, a month after my daughter was born so I named this clothing line after her: Park Sebin Kate.

Binee Blue came from the middle names of both of my children. Their middle names are Jubin and Sebin (we yell, Binee when we need them both), and they both love the color blue.

Longitudes: What were your most formidable challenges? 

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It is important to pay attention to every detail of your business.

Gina: When we started expanding and growing, I had to teach myself to do other things besides designing. I had worked as a designer for a long time, but I had not gained much experience in pattern and sewing.

I had to take classes and learn the basics. Also, when we started receiving a lot of orders, we had to hurry to hire employees and create new systems within our business. Although I had to face growing pains, I really enjoyed handling the new challenges.

Longitudes: Any surprises along the way?

Gina: When it’s your own business, you are responsible for all of it. And everything matters – from the cost of electricity to replying back to retailers in a timely manner and managing employee performance.

But as a business owner, it is important to pay attention to every detail of your business.

Longitudes: What is most rewarding about owning a business? 

Gina: The most rewarding part of owning a business is the flexibility of having my time with my kids. It was definitely not easy at first, but now I can be more involved with my kids and their education. I just regret that I can’t take long vacations because I have to stay on top of my production and shipments.

Also, it is very rewarding when I see the growth in my business and the environment we’ve created where our associates are happy to work.

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Investing in our employees makes our business work.

Longitudes: What makes your business work?

Gina: Investing in our employees makes our business work. When you invest in your employees, they will invest in your business, and no one works harder than a person who enjoys their work.

Fashion is always changing so our business never slows down. We have so many events and holiday spikes in volume that keep our employees working difficult and long hours.

We even have one vice president who is postponing her honeymoon to make sure we meet pending demands. We appreciate and reward that type of loyalty and dedication with flexible schedules, profit sharing, incentives and fun activities like poker tournaments, game nights and bowling.

Twice a year, all our employees come to my house for a party (we’re also sending the vice president’s family to Hawaii at the end of the year when things slow down a bit).

Longitudes: How does family play a role in your success?

Gina: My husband Michael and I run the business. I create the designs, and he sells them. If we were in the restaurant business, I would be the cook and he’d be the server.

It’s so weird when people warn you not to go into business with your husband because there’s nobody better than you’re family. We’re on the same page.

I guess we’re a couple of workaholics. We are the couple who likes to talk about work all the time. Some couples have date night, but we have it every day. We commute together, and we talk about work while we’re stuck in traffic.

Just like my mother saw my interest, I can see my daughter’s interest in fashion. She picks up swatches, selects clothes she likes and asks me to make them in her size. She’s the reason I launched our kids line two years ago and our Mommy and Me pairings.

And watching how her taste – from dresses to tunics and jeans – evolves gives me a better understanding of what to design for that market. So it’s a family business now.

Longitudes: What advice would you give to aspiring women entrepreneurs?

Gina: Don’t be intimidated or afraid to fail. Some women tend to be indecisive, but to succeed at running your own business, you need to make your own decisions.

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You have to anticipate what’s coming next and wear many hats.

You have to anticipate what’s coming next and wear many hats. It’s going to pull you in many directions so you have to manage your time and be on top of everything.

I’m running design rooms and pattern rooms, but I also have to meet my people outside to know what’s coming next.

Longitudes: How much of your business is conducted online?

Gina: About 70 percent of our business is online and 30 percent, trade shows (roughly 15 a year). Our business is wholesale, but four-fifths of our guests are online retailers, and the rest are brick and mortar stores.

We post our own collection on fashion marketplaces, and then consumers come and shop our collection and resale.

Longitudes: How is e-commerce changing the way you do business?

Gina: When I first started this business in 2011, online business was not so big because consumers were reluctant to buy without knowing and touching the quality of merchandise. They had to see our clothing samples with their own eyes so I traveled a lot to reach our clients.

Now e-commerce has made things easier for our business and our clients. The trusting relationship we’ve established with our clients means they can now enjoy seeing the samples online or by video chat. They can catch the trends and save time. And we can save money by not renting a showroom.

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 Through our company, we want to show that dreams do come true.

Longitudes: What are your main logistics hurdles?

Gina: We have regular meetings about logistics to meet our customer demands. Since we remodeled our warehouse to include a showroom, our clients can come and see the inventory on site. Then we can ship it to them the same day.

We all want better cost and accuracy in shipping and handling. So, to cater to our clients, it’s very important to figure out the right logistics method to fulfill both sides of the business. It depends on customer needs, but our bigger customers want what’s accurate, and that’s UPS.

Longitudes: What’s next for your business?

Gina: Many of our customers are launching online boutiques, and this growth will continue in the next five years. It will become a very competitive space, and they will need strong marketing to survive. We can customize and personalize designs just for them. We will continue innovating and expanding partnerships with online marketers to help our customers grow with us.

We will also build stronger relationships with the community and invest even more in our employees. Through our company, we want to show that dreams do come true.

You can learn more about UPS small business solutions here and also begin saving now on your shipping.

[Images courtesy P.S. Kate]

Gina Park is a designer, manufacturer and co-founder of P.S. Kate, a women's clothing line. The wife and mother of two loves fashion and making crafts – and ensuring that each of her pieces reflects her passion.

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