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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 23, 2009 12 years ago

Family Focus

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Growing an organic clothing business organically takes the right combination of industry buzz and business savvy, two sisters are learning.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Even after they turned 30, started families and built up their careers, sisters Melissa Blanco and Michelle Young still held firm to the entrepreneurial dream to run their own business one day.

But after countless phone calls, e-mails and chit-chats with each other, not to mention hours of research on how other successful 'mompreneurs' and woman business owners did it, Blanco and Young were still lacking one key ingredient. They didn't know what to sell or do.

“Neither of us hated what we did,” says Young, who at the time worked in marketing and branding for a Sarasota advertising agency. “But we wanted to do something that had some sort of meaning.”

Their eureka moment was when Blanco, who also works in marketing for a large financial institution in Miami, called Young one night last year. What about organic children's clothing? They would call the company On Borrowed Land, Inc., a take on their shared belief in doing something positive for the environment when running their business.

Young and Blanco thought they were all set. All they had left to do was design the clothing following organic and fair trade practices, find a manufacturer, market the line, get it into stores, create a Web site and sell it. That, and get some startup financing, too.

Now, after about 18 months at it, Blanco and Young are at a crossroads many entrepreneurs face. Sales, which have totaled about $50,000 since they started selling the line last summer, aren't enough for both sisters to quit their full time jobs to focus entirely on OBLI. The good news for the sisters is that revenues are increasing, says Young, tripling on a monthly basis in the past quarter.

Blanco and Young have hit some out of the park successes, too, such as having a packet of OBLI clothes placed inside gift baskets given to Academy Award winners earlier this year. And singer Sheryl Crow was recently pictured in Star magazine holding her baby son as he wore an OBLI onesie.

“The press [for those placements] gave us a lot of legitimacy for our brand,” says Young. “We weren't total unknowns anymore.”

But the sisters also have gone through some tough challenges, such as finding a manufacturing partner that could stay in budget while producing clothes under fair-trade practice rules. They ultimately found a manufacturing partner in India. “We were so excited about the fun part of the business,” says Young, “that we didn't realize how much work went into the manufacturing of a product.”

Other challenges included writing a long-term business plan and figuring out what kind of company they wanted to be, either a fashion or a message company. Or some combination of both. “We want to be fashion savvy,” says Blanco, “but we also want to appeal to those looking for just organic clothing.”

Despite their business experience, Blanco and Young were slow to write a long-term business plan when they were starting out, mostly because they say they didn't want to get bogged down in details.

In the early going they received $40,000 in angel investing from two relatives, including their father, a retired FBI agent.

After that, Blanco and White spent a lot of time in research mode. They held meetings in Naples, about halfway between their homes. The central focus now is to generate sales through a combination of big retail outlets and boutique stores.

But while working toward those goals, the sisters are cognizant of the big goal they have already reached together. “My sister is my best friend,” Blanco says, “and it's the best thing in the world to be able to work with her.”

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