Lily Lark’s, Lisa Selwitz, is a particularly special Kuel Chief in my eyes. She not only took a big leap of faith with Kuel Life – from the beginning; she also has provided on-going advice, support, and encouragement. She does more than pay lip service to the notion that we women are stronger together than on our own; she LIVES it.
Lilly Lark has the most exquisite, deliciously decadent, sun protection any woman would be thankful to own. Get yours on the Kuel Shop.
Here’s Lisa’s story.
KUELLIFE: What type of business do you own/run?
LISA: I manufacture UV designer sun parasols.
KUELLIFE: What prompted you, or drove you, to become an entrepreneur? When?
LISA: I’ve always been a maker. I made advertising, worked on children’s books, toys, and did photography – both portraiture and wildlife. I just happened upon parasols, as it wasn’t a dream of mine, or even a thought of mine.
For many years, I was an Art Director working in advertising, one of the most ageist industries. I never wanted to look my age. Being aware of the aging effects of the sun, I wanted to carry an umbrella to protect myself from harmful UV rays. But I was embarrassed to do it. When I started noticing women in different cities carrying umbrellas in the warm weather, I got inspired. Finally, when I saw my aunt carrying around a more traditional Asian bamboo parasol, the idea to make my own interesting design just struck me like a lightning bolt.
The original development started at least 7 or 8 years ago, but it took me a number of years to develop a prototype and find fabric and parasol manufacturers in Asia. I’ve been up and running for about 3 ½ years now.
KUELLIFE: What turns you on most about your gig?
LISA: I love the idea of running the show and calling the shots. For a large part of my career in advertising, I worked for Creative Directors who were hacks as far as I was concerned, and I hated having to develop work based on their standards. I looked forward to the day when my taste and opinions carried most, if not all, of the weight. I want the company to be the intersection of my aesthetic and my customer’s taste. In the end, my opinions are only valid if the customer likes what I’ve created.
KUELLIFE: What’s your biggest struggle?
LISA: Money. Right now, I’m selling mainly seasonally. To really be profitable, I need to sell year-round. I’m working on that. Publicity is very important, so getting the word out there is crucial. Money helps in that regard as well. There are ways to negotiate publicity and work with influencers, but you’re bartering with product, which is still effectively spending money.
KUELLIFE: What is your biggest fear as an entrepreneur? How do you work through it?
LISA: I’m afraid of not becoming self-sufficient. There are still so many hurdles to climb to become financially independent. Sometimes I look back and am amazed at what I accomplished halfway across the globe in a foreign country, bringing an unfamiliar product to market in the US. I had a contract with my manufacturer to produce a quantity of parasols over a number of years. At one point, I had just accumulated too much inventory to keep producing. My contract would have expired in a few more months, so the manufacturer wasn’t that upset. But now, I need to sell globally year-round to be independent, and to do that, I have to start production again. I’d need to pick up again and get back in the trenches of dealing with manufacturing in several parts of Southeast Asia. Plus, I’d need to be doing Quality Control and shipping inventory from overseas, sight unseen. It’s a bit daunting.
How do I work through my fears as an entrepreneur? I’ve always taken it one step at a time, one day at a time. Otherwise, I would have thrown in the towel years ago.
KUELLIFE: How do you measure your success?
LISA: It’s always a thrill when someone I don’t know posts a picture of themselves, using their Lily-Lark, on social media. I also enjoy discovering Lily-Lark being written up in unexpected articles, usually about sun protection. But, ultimately it comes down to whether or not the company is profitable, and whether or not it can support me.
KUELLIFE: Finally, what advice would you give other women about taking an entrepreneurial path?
LISA: Do your homework before you start. Make sure you have an idea/product that the world wants and needs, or you’ll be over before you start. Do research and possibly focus groups, if you can, to determine whether or not you have a product people will buy. As it turns out, sun parasols are products people will buy. But when I entered the market, my handmade, well-crafted, premium product was ahead of its time. If I had come out with a parasol ¼ of the price, I could have sold immediately. At my price point, it was a few years before women were really ready to invest in a quality item like Lily-Lark. But I’m there now, and every year the interest grows. The women who question its price are not the target audience.
Also, make sure you have the resources to do it. Do the homework here as well. You need to be able to absorb the financial hit of taking a few years to get your company off the ground. Do your best at calculating costs and money you’ll need over a period of time without having sales.
Finally, you need a product you believe in. It’s too hard. It’s too much work. There are too many barriers to success to jump into making or selling a product that you’re ambivalent about. Love your product before you even start. And then go for it!