We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Johanne Wilson a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Johanne, thanks for taking the time to share your stories with us today Often outsiders look at a successful business and think it became a success overnight. Even media and especially movies love to gloss over nitty, gritty details that went into that middle phase of your business – after you started but before you got to where you are today. In our experience, overnight success is usually the result of years of hard work laying the foundation for success, but unfortunately, it’s exactly this part of the story that most of the media ignores. Can you talk to us about your scaling up story – what are some of the nitty, gritty details folks should know about?
During the pandemic, while most were scaling down or pivoting, we scaled up. We were awarded several grants by organizations like NAACP, Bey Good, Black Girl Magic, Comcast NBC and United Way of Broward County. This gave us the boost we needed to make critical investments that grew our business. Among the many investments we made, the most impactful ones were participating in trade shows. The pandemic caused the big shows to be virtual which meant exhibitor fees and expenses associated with build a booth were greatly reduced. This gave us an opportunity to get in front of major retail buyers at a fraction of the cost. Fortunately we made a few major retailer deals; including Macy’s! The decision to participate in the trade shows gave me a lot of anxiety, because it was a big investment for an uncertain return… it was a big risk. Ii realized that if we were going to do it, we needed to prepare and ensure we gave ourselves the best chance at getting deals. The preparation was hard work, decks, line sheets, look books, samples, setting up virtual showrooms, it was a lot of sleepless work. Another critical strategy we didn’t realize we did successfully until after the fact was telling our story passionately to the trade show sales reps. They were our front line. The better they knew our story, the better they could sell it to buyers they interfaced with. Also, them being passionate about our brand meant they also kept us top of mind for different marketing opportunities which gave our brand more exposure and attention for buyers.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
COOL Stands for “Create Out Of Love”. COOL® Creative started out as a brand design company in 2012 and is mostly widely known for its fashion line offers a full range of outerwear, graphic t-shirts, small leather goods, sweat shirts, face masks and accessories that expresses the spirit of the movement for social justice. Think of the fashion brand as part hip-hop, part activist. The signature line celebrates the culture and energy of those who have been marginalized in America and abroad. The fashion line was launched in 2015 as a passion project and it has blown up into a “forward” brand sold at retailers like Macy’s. There is also a brick and mortar location in Little Haiti’s Miami’s Innovation District.
The company is led by Johanne and Terrance Wilson, a creative duo who met in art school over 20 years ago. Terrance has a master’s degree in fine art and illustration; and Johanne has one in design and digital media. Both have extensive experience working at some the world’s biggest creative agencies serving global clients like P&G, Burger King and Under Armor.
Learning and unlearning are both critical parts of growth – can you share a story of a time when you had to unlearn a lesson?
I earned my degree in fine art and design so I had to unlearn that I could not be a business owner even though I did not graduate as a business major. When I realized I wanted to start a business I read, turned to proven advisors with business acumen, enrolled in businesses programs and joined business growth organizations. There is information, support, community and resource out there if you make up your mind and look for it.
I grew up seeing women running businesses from my aunts to my mother and grandmother. Being around strong women is life for me. I also had to unlearn that it was good to be the only one “at the table.” The older I get, the more I have realized that my mission in business is to help create a space for women to thrive; whether that means sharing what I know, connecting them with the right people to help them grow or employing them.
What do you think helped you build your reputation within your market?
Connecting with celebrities has really helped us build a reputation in the fashion market. Our brand has been worn by well-known people like: Rapsody, Colin Kaepernick, Common, Missy Elliott, Killer Mike and more. What is most exciting is HOW these celebrities got our product. With most, we literally just DM’d these celebrities on Instagram. We led with our look book so they saw the work and then we followed with an ask for them to allow us to send them pieces at no charge. After the initial contact and gift, most of them became customers. We focused on highlighting celebrities with reputations for wearing the hottest fashion brands. It’s important that our product is actually well represented on those wearing the clothing. We partnered with RocNation / Jamla artist Rapsody on her Eve album project. This life-changing opportunity really helped to solidify us as a celebrity brand and gave us great exposure globally.