If you want something done right, then it just might pay to do it yourself.
That’s what entrepreneur Janece Kerr discovered in 2010 when she launched The Couture Soror, her thriving apparel company, which specializes in high-fashion sorority garments for members of the Divine Nine Greek letter organizations.
In less than two years—and despite the prevailing, challenged economy—she took her business from concept to sought-after brand by satisfying and staying true to her own demands for sophisticated, sexy style.
The Journey Begins
It’s interesting how things came together to give this fashion Mae B.her start….
Kerr, who dreamed of becoming a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. since childhood, was initiated into the organization in 2008. And though many of her relatives (also AKAs) showered her with the typical gifts most new members are thrilled to receive (pink and green t-shirts, jackets and other clothing bearing her sorority’s letters), Kerr made little use of those items.
“Everything was so cookie-cutter and unlike what I wanted to wear,” she said. “I don’t wear big, boxy shirts and I don’t wear a lot of pants, so I needed something I could wear with a cute skirt. ”
Kerr said she searched and searched for fitted, feminine Greek gear. Yet she couldn’t find what she wanted. So she put pencil to paper and designed several t-shirts—including her signature long sleeved, off-the-shoulder look—for her wardrobe. And while many of her sorority sisters admired her unique shirt designs, the thought of building a business around them wasn’t (at that time) on her mind.
Pursuing the Straight-Job-Thing
Right out of college, Kerr joined the working world as a tour manager for Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, then later as a general manager for the Martin Luther King, Jr. Park and Family Entertainment Center. Both assignments helped Kerr sharpen her marketing and management skills. Both assignments fueled her entrepreneurial spirit. And both assignments ended with her being laid-off due to the economic downturn.
“I understood [the lay-offs] were business decisions and they weren’t personal. But it was hard not to take them personally because I spent so much time and energy building their businesses and achieving their goals,” she said. After her second lay-off, Kerr said her outlook changed. “At that time it clicked…maybe I wasn’t supposed to be in Corporate America.”
Resolved to take control of her destiny, Kerr set a deadline and challenged herself to formulate an idea for a viable business. Meanwhile, to make some quick cash during her unemployment, she decided to sell three of her t-shirt designs as a vendor at her sorority’s four-day regional conference.
Driven by Demand
“I still wasn’t sold on the idea of starting an apparel line. I literally printed the shirts, said [to her assistants] this is what we’re going to do, and showed up,” she said.
The Couture Soror’s chic, understated designs were an instant hit. Before the close of business on day one, Kerr sold out of one style and had to rush order additional inventory to meet demands. By the end of the conference, she was completely out of stock, and in business for herself.
From there, Kerr’s business has experienced a snowball effect. Over the past 2 ½ years she’ has tripled her business. She now travels across the country selling her designs at sorority conferences and collegiate events like the upcoming Circle City Classic. Kerr said she will soon expand her Haute Frat brand to include more designs for members of the Divine Nine fraternities; also a shoe line for larger women’s sizes is on her horizon.
No Big Surprise
In retrospect, Kerr’s journey into entrepreneurship makes sense.
“I’ve been out there hustling since I was a child,” she recalled. In fact, her first business ventures involved selling hand-made doll dresses and decorative pillows to family and friends.
Today, with a successful business that combines her loves for fashion, creativity and her active sorority lifestyle, this fashion Mae B., believes there are no limits on her entrepreneurial future. As long as she offers the types of fashions she (like her target customer) wants to wear, Kerr is confident that her efforts will continue to pay off.