Role models

Former investment banker on launching her own fashion startup

Katarzyna Piasecki is the founder and CEO of ENNBOW, a company using advanced technology to create a professional, but comfortable business wardrobe. After she worked in investment banking for several years, often experiencing long office hours in the same clothes, she decided to establish her own company - producing practical business wear, that would serve busy women working in fast paced environments. In an interview with W Insight, Katarzyna Piasecki talks about launching her own startup, challenges related to developing a small business and a life after the corporation.

Joanna Socha, editor-in-chief of W Insight: Before you started ENNBOW, you worked in Investment Banking and Financial Services for such companies as Rothschild and Berenberg Bank. You gave up your career in corporate structures with a view to becoming your own boss – why?

Katarzyna Piasecki
Katarzyna Piasecki, founder of ENNBOW

Katarzyna Piasecki: I was crazy (laughing). Deep inside I have always dreamt about having my own company. Working in M&A (Edit: mergers and acquisitions) was a step in this very direction. I wanted to understand what makes a company tick. In investment banking you have to dress smart all the time, even though you spend long hours every day in the office. I wondered why these business clothes are so uncomfortable, unpractical and not adjusted to the working style. At some point, I participated in a lecture regarding technology in fashion. Then, a thought occurred to me – why technology used for sport wear could not be used for business clothes? This is when it all began. After 12 years of living abroad (I studied and worked in Germany), I decided to come back to Poland with my husband. Also, I thought it was a perfect time to change something in my life or maybe just turn it upside down.

So you gave up a stable and well-paid job to work on your own brand of clothes in a very competitive market. Weren’t you afraid?

To be fair, I really liked working in M&A, but I also realized that I wanted to start my own company and take it from there. No sooner than I pictured myself as a managing director in 10 years’ time did I realize this was not something I wanted to do. For instance, I would rather be an entrepreneur in a private equity company. I was always more into doing things rather than managing the numbers. Anyway, I was probably so fixated on the mere idea of owning my own business that I hadn’t actually taken into account the risks associated with it. For an omniscient banker who sold a company worth 400 mln, starting my own business appeared fairly easy. The reality proved more challenging than I expected. Looking back, I realized I had not considered things like the time required for the return on investment. I was convinced my idea was so brilliant that the money would come soon. Well, again, it was not as I expected. Putting finance aside, creating the product, building a brand and marketing itself were very big challenges. Sometimes, there are days that I have to deal with 10 topics and have no more than 1 hour per each to look at it, give feedback, change it or make a decision. There are a lot of things to be done. In the corporate world I used to sit in front of PowerPoint fighting with the PC. With your own business it is different, you make mistakes and you learn a lot from them, and you lose money. I was lucky enough to have the initial capital. I am happy we have financed ENNBOW from our own means so far and that we have not used any external capital, loans or investment.

Do you consider using external financing?

Every single start-up would appreciate extra money and I would be open to it as well. I am considering it. I am happy that I made it to this stage with my own capital. However, now with accurate procedures in place and the company being at a certain level – I would be ready to take on an investor. He or she should, however, bring know-how and experience in a relevant sector.

Is your company making a profit?

After four years we break even. I think this is OK. However, it you take into account operational costs, you know what I mean… – in the start-up you are the doer, the thinker and the creator. There are things I can do myself, try to get below market price or use my own capital, or sometimes we just wrangle. We are a four year old business floating on a difficult market – I think we are doing well. Although I am in the premium segment, the clothing is practical. The product is very simple, fashionable, classy but the design is original.

Do you design clothes yourself?

I cooperate with fashion designers. I have a vision and express it in the projects. I am a creative director. I pick shapes and colors. It is incredibly enjoyable. I like this part of the work. It is actually the reason why I decided to join the fashion industry in the first place – I have discovered that I am particularly attracted to fashion, art and beauty. I do not want to be a 100% fashion designer as I like the economic and business aspects of it was well. I thrived when I developed my start-up.

What makes ENNBOW products different?

My ambition is to make comfortable and practical clothes. On top of that, my clothes have to look smart. If the material does not meet the criteria I just do not buy it. There are two lines of products –a core product being a smart business top, so a smart business shirt. It comes in all shapes and sizes depending on what the women like best – v-shaped, turtle-necks, oversize or tight. The most classic designs are always available: white, black and navy. Always. Our core product is made from such a material that you could even go jogging in it – the shirt is thermoactive, air permeable, antibacterial, UV protective, can be washed in the washing machine and does not need ironing. Comfort, self-confidence and freshness are at heart of everything we do. When you leave an air conditioned room and it is incredibly hot outside – there are no perspiration stains. Conversely, when you unexpectedly find yourself in a cooler room – it will protect you from getting cold. The second line of products is our suits. What makes them different is that they are stretch suits. When a client comes over I ask them to do crouches in these trousers. Ability to squat freely comes as a great surprise. They do not need to worry their trousers would split when they drop a pen in the workplace. Most importantly, ENNBOW clothes do not wrinkle or crease. Therefore, when traveling for business or sitting long hours at a desk, ironing is no longer a concern. You can safely put your clothes in a bag and then take them out as fresh as if taken straight away from the hanger.

 

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With time, how do you feel about having your own business?

I am happy about it. I have learnt and developed so much thanks to building my own company. There is no denying that sometimes I think about how my life would be different if I had not resigned from my job in the corporation. But I stick to the plan. I love ENNBOW and I think we are on the right track to succeed. We are doing well when it comes to macroeconomics. I am frustrated with some processes on which I spend a lot of money, like production, for instance, but we do not give up. Slowly but surely we are moving there.

Is there anything you would like to share with the women who consider starting their own business?

Do not quit your corporate job in a rush. If I were to start it all over again, I would work on ENNBOW after hours. Starting your own business as an additional project reduces the pressure to instantly succeed. In such a way, there is much more space for making mistakes. In my opinion, this approach is also more enjoyable. Secondly, think carefully if you really want to start your own business – if it is something absolutely indispensable for you to feel fulfilled or to spread your wings. I am not a person who is particularly harsh on corporations. On the contrary, I believe that you can succeed in a huge corporation – be entrepreneurial and satisfied with your job. If you are tired of working at the corporation nonetheless, you have a plan and you want to make it happen, I would recommend design thinking. Create a prototype and see if it works. Do not spend too much time on a project. Launch it as soon as possible and see how it goes. If your launch is perfect, it means you have waited too long.

Edited by: Aga Kopec, Phyllis Budka

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