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Nishika de Rosairo is an active member of this year’s Startup Women Advisory Board. As a CEO and Creative Director, she hopes to bridge the business world with the art world and make entrepreneurship more accessible for artists. She serves on the Advisory Board alongside Ling Wong, Amy Stursberg, Daymond John, Angela Benton, and Mary Grove.

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My father was a Chartered Mechanical Engineer on an expatriate assignment, so I was born in Zambia, a country that borders Zimbabwe and Angola. At the time, Zambia boasted the largest copper mines in the world, and as a result, contained a substantive expatriate community. My older sister and I grew up attending international schools governed by the British schooling system, and immersed in extra-curricular activities including ballet, tap dancing, gymnastics, piano, sewing and more. My mother, a true lover of fashion, would design and sew these beautiful, matching dresses for my sister and me. It was around the age of six that I vividly recall dreaming of becoming a fashion designer, with a label following my surname, de Rosairo. But my parents were of Sri Lankan descent and anything that was not along the lines of medicine, law, accounting or engineering was given the automatic kibosh. Later in life, I appreciated this perspective immensely.

“A part of me that was not yet fully discovered was starting to flourish. Entrepreneurialism felt very real.”

After eight years of my life spent in Zambia, my parents moved us to Sri Lanka for six years, followed by a move to New Zealand in my mid teens where I continued my high school and university education. By the time I reached my early twenties, my life was about to take a turn with an unplanned adventure. I received a scholarship to study as an exchange student in the MBA program at the University of Washington in Seattle. Even with 23 countries under my belt, the experience of studying in the US opened my mind on a whole different level. A part of me that was not yet fully discovered was starting to flourish. Entrepreneurialism felt very real. Upon completing my masters program, I returned back to New Zealand for a short period until I found myself back in Seattle on a work visa sponsored by Deloitte Consulting.

I spent nine years consulting and working for Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley companies including Deloitte Consulting, Apple, Cisco, Levi, Chevron, Salesforce and many others. The type of work and experience was phenomenal, especially because I actively played a role in uncovering the complexities of these large organizations, advising the senior leaders on their talent strategies, and transforming these companies to enable them to stay relevant and innovative in their current and new markets. It was all very fulfilling, but it still wasn’t enough for me. And through that deep desire for more, dE ROSAIRO was born. A childhood dream coupled with a strong business background was starting to become part of the fashion industry.

“This creative place became an escape for me”

Despite what seemed like a structured career, my soul frequently yearned towards things that were more intuitive and subjective. I spent most of my life sketching and having dressmakers sew what they referred to as complicated designs.  In my 20’s, I trained to become a Latin dancer, and soon after, I was performing, competing and teaching dance. At the same time, I also discovered a passion for abstract art, where I started to complete custom pieces and display my work at intimate art events. This creative place became an escape for me.  I was frequently amazed by the power of “movement” I experienced through creativity and expression.  I would spend countless hours with other creatives chatting about expression and what inspires each of us. Then my mind would sway back to the world of business that I also felt very passionately about, and I would wonder what the world would be like if we had no artists and creatives around us.

Re-imagining an iconic symbol of American culture

Ironically, dE ROSAIRO was born not because I wanted to launch a womenswear clothing brand (which was my ultimate childhood dream, which I waited 28 years to launch), but dE ROSAIRO came about because the timing was right. I reached a point in my life where I was armed with the business knowledge, resources, connections, and confidence to build my own dream. What differentiated me was “re-imagining” an iconic symbol of American culture- the hoodie,  yet for the modern woman, designed so that she is able to incorporate it into her professional and contemporary wardrobe. I started to reconstruct the fit, silhouette, and fabrics of this much-adorned symbol with a degree of finesse, and as part of a collection. This “re-imagined” hoodie has now become, and will continue to be, a symbol of brand identity for dE ROSAIRO.

“I questioned if my lack of experience in the industry would place me at a disadvantage”

During this entire time of entrepreneurial discovery, I questioned if my lack of experience in the industry would place me at a disadvantage. As I started carving roads, I soon realized quite the contrary, and just how much I was leveraging my business expertise to build and manage the dE ROSAIRO brand. I was able to lay a solid foundation, which included business processes, financial and inventory models, and supply chain methodology. I also discovered that there were far too many designers who either loved the industry so much that they were willing to run their businesses for what was almost free, based on very low and difficult margins, or they simply didn’t know how to manage the varying components of running a sourcing business, coupled with cash flow liquidity that needed to survive 18 months out. I’m still learning myself.

Startup Women Advisory Board

Now, as an Advisory Board Member for the Startup Women Initiative, designed to promote female entrepreneurship, my goal is to help Creative Entrepreneurs bridge the gap between left and right-side brain thinking. It’s important (yet sometimes difficult) to connect the creative process with business operations, where the real strength of being a Creative Entrepreneur lies. dE ROSAIRO is only eight months post industry launch, yet we’ve enjoyed strong sales and strategic partnerships simply because of the parallels we are able to draw from the business world and apply to the fashion world. We truly haven’t mastered the combination in any sense, but through a series of strategic trials and errors, our goal is that we will eventually take more steps in the right direction.

Ask yourself the right questions

I don’t think all designers require a solid understanding of business to survive in today’s world, but I do believe that having a business background is what makes a difference in a very complex and fragmented supply chain and costing model. There are many successful designers who have built multi-million dollar global brands without any sort of business background. I do believe, however, that the industry has changed, and what worked even a few years back does not necessarily work today. Consumer spending habits influenced by social media, eCommerce models, and consumer choices have shaken up the entire industry, which is why the question we have to ask ourselves today as Creative Entrepreneurs is not “how do I launch a fashion brand?” but instead “how do I launch a fashion brand with a view to longevity?” Those are two fundamentally different questions, and the answer to the latter question is where I believe success in the industry lives.

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Claire Topalian Claire Topalian
(@clairetopalian) Blog, Professional Writing, Communications and PR Specialist. I craft compelling, mission-driven content for companies and individuals that amplifies brand awareness, fosters community, and drives engagement. My experience includes work with tech startups, major corporations, and international non-profits. @clairetopalian