“Authenticity is one of the most important values that I learned in my life,” said Paige Adams-Geller, founder and creator of premium denim brand Paige during a “Lunch with a Leader” event last month. “I was always people-pleasing; it was how I defined myself.”
Adams-Geller, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in communication in 1990, started out in the fashion industry as a fit model, but knew she didn’t want to remain behind the scenes. “I never felt comfortable in my own skin, but I wanted to change that,” Adams-Geller shared to a packed room of mostly female students in the Sheindlen Forum. It wasn’t until she visited a life coach that she found her own voice and the clarity she needed to start a business.
A trailblazer in the women’s denim industry since launching her label in 2004, Adams-Geller discussed running a successful, socially conscious company, relying on her team, and staying ahead of fashion trends. Below are key takeaways from the one-hour lunch conversation, moderated by Jennifer Kalaidis, USC Annenberg career services advisor.
Leading with purpose
“One of my goals that gets me excited to get out of bed every day is making sure the men and women that I employ feel like they have a home and can reach their own goals along the way. Paige is a collaborative and supportive workspace, not a dictatorship. I don’t pretend I know everything. When I’m in meetings, I’m always asking, ‘What do you think? Would you wear it?’ This keeps me on my toes and keeps the brand fresh and exciting.”
“I definitely have the ‘ism’ of wanting perfectionism all the time. I felt I had to know everything and I was always afraid to ask for help. Now, I try to get my best mojo on and go in there with strength and confidence and show that this is what we can do if we’re partners in this together. Everybody falls down. Everybody makes mistakes, but those are your biggest opportunities for growth.”
“Intern. Intern, intern, intern. Start making the connections now; it’s so valuable. You will get to see how everything works. I kid you not, without going to business or fashion school, my experiences of being in the trenches of modeling and working for companies, made it so it wasn’t as scary when I started my company. I already had such a good idea of how everything worked. Those internships are amazing and those connections you’ll have forever.”
Launching your own business
“I am definitely a risk-taker — I definitely think of myself that way. I just jumped off that cliff and dove right into the water. If I sat around thinking about all the negatives that could happen with taking that risk, I would have been in a paralyzed state instead. Preparation is everything. Do all your preparation ahead of time to make sure you are secure and know as much as you possibly can. Surround yourself with experts in areas you might not be expert in, and then jump in and take the risk.”
Distinguishing your brand
“When I was starting Paige, I did a lot of public speaking engagements, a lot of personal appearances, a lot of storytelling. I got my voice in front of everyone that’s there to connect with the brands, to tell the story so they could tell the story to their customers. It was a magical way of getting the message out there before social media was invented.
Connecting with customers
“The old way of doing business when I started the brand was very different; it was before social media and there wasn’t a direct-to-consumer business model. This newer model is more profitable. You find your social media platform, you find your voice, what it is you want to say and what you need to say. Explain how you differentiate from some of the other brands that are out there. Really going direct to consumer and not worrying about the retailers. The message gets told more clearly and more accurately.
But if you do want to go that other model, business-to-business, the best way that I found to get them to embrace the thought of coming to look at your brand, was to send a care package. Send it directly to the buyer at the store and use it as your marketing dollar. Write a note, and tell the story through your eyes, and let them try the jeans on for themselves. Trying to build the connections straight from the get-go from yourself, your source.”