By Tony Adams Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Ga.
Call it a passion for adding flair to your hair.
That's at the essence of Elizabeth Heard White's hair accessories design business that centers on various styles of barrettes, an item she has routinely worn in her own locks since she was a child.
White, 26, graduated Brookstone School, then headed off to college in Dallas, earning a sociology degree. But it was a desire to get into the fashion world and into public relations that eventually drove her to become an entrepreneur.
Earlier this year, she launched the hair accessories line of barrettes, coming up with collections that include "You're a Gem," using agate stones, "Party Animals," with gold-plated ornaments in the shapes of elephants and rhinos," and "Take a Bow," featuring barrettes crafted from leather and suede.
Momentum is building steadily, said White, who now has her barrettes in 26 brick-and-mortar and online stores. Locally, they can be found at Galleria Riverside, By Invitation and River Road Pharmacy & Gifts.
She also is looking forward to her "Party Animals" accessories making an appearance next spring in the HBO series, "Girls."
White also will be taking part in the first "Columbus Makers" event on Monday, when she and eight other artists and designers with local connections will come together for an all-day sale of their unique items to last-minute holiday shoppers. That will be 10 a.m.-8 p.m. at 1445 2nd Ave., near TSYS in downtown Columbus.
The Ledger-Enquirer talked with White recently, getting an up-close look at her colorful barrettes that she hopes will grow into a nationwide phenomenon. This interview is edited a bit for length and clarity, with an expanded version available at www.ledger-enquirer.com.
Question: To start with, why is Columbus Makers an important event?
A: Columbus Makers came about because there are so many young women in the city of Columbus who have a product and are doing such cool things. We've all become friends with one another, some grew up together, and we call each other to bounce around ideas.
I think it's a really unique opportunity for the city to come together to support these young women who have a product and are trying to build their businesses. We're really excited for the show.
Question: How did you get into selling barrettes?
A: While I was in college, I interned for magazines in Dallas and New York. Upon graduation, I moved to New York, and I worked for People StyleWatch magazine and went to attend Parsons School of Design on the weekends, taking accessory design courses. After I left the magazine, I started working with fashion PR, helping brands grow their own business and coming up with innovative solutions when they were trying to sell their product to make their item a little more top of mind and get their name out there.
I had always dreamt of having my own line, and I was taking these courses and loved hair barrettes. I think they're a neat niche product. I had trouble finding a quality hair barrette, so I thought why not make my own? ... I've been working with my hair barrettes for a little over seven months now. They are a work in progress. In the last seven months, we've grown to 26 stores. We're on Glamour.com's gift guide. We're on Essence.com's gift guide. We're going to be on HBO's "Girls" this spring. And I have some exciting new product lines in the works.
Question: You're doing this business while keeping the public relations work going?
A: Yes, sir. I do freelance PR during the day and make my hair barrettes at night or simultaneously throughout the day, when I have time available. I do PR for small fashion startups, mainly in the Atlanta area. Since starting my own business, other small business owners from around the country have approached me to help them with their PR services. I'm looking forward to really kind of expanding my PR services in addition to my hair barrette line.
Question: So there's some juggling going on between the two?
A: Yes, sir. I feel very fortunate because my day job is a little more flexible in the fact that it's freelance, and I really just need my computer. So I can work from anywhere and, because of that, I'm able to get orders out or go to the post office during the day or take calls with different store owners or editors. Simultaneously, I can be writing a press release for a client of mine.
Question: What's it like to get the barrettes ready to ship out to customers or stores?
A: In terms of getting each collection completed, they all vary in the sense that some of them are more time intensive than others. The leather bows, those take the longest. You have to individually source the leather, high quality leather, and then they have to be die cut so you can make sure all the leather is even. I make the 'Gem' barrettes and the 'Party Animals' by myself. But with the leather bows, I have put in a small production line in Atlanta, where they're finished. They're hand-sewn and custom labels are attached.
Question: You travel to New York to do some business?
A: I go to New York once every two to three months to meet with editors, to meet with store owners. ... I feel like what has been successful for my brand is garnering larger store names to carry my barrettes, or carrying press placements because it has given me a little more credibility in the marketplace ... On my last trip, I met with Vogue's team and asked the editor if I could buy her coffee and went and just shook her hand and showed her my hair barrettes in person, because you never know. And it's just so nice to have that contact in person.
I also went and met with people at Glamour's office and that's how we wound up in their gift guide this December. Then I would go to department stores that I would like to be in. I would talk with a sales associate and they were such a wealth of information on how to get in touch with the correct buyer or they would give me insight on what they're looking for in a certain upcoming season. It all would just kind of help me collect my thoughts on what I need to be putting out there or what I need to be presenting. So I feel like it's a learning process.
Question: Do you need to be pretty aggressive?
A: Not aggressive. I really believe that if you're nice to people, and you hustle, you know, good things happen. I feel like when I worked in PR in New York, it was extremely fast paced. Myself and all my colleagues were always looking for creative ways to get that product in front of others.
I have approached stores that I would really like to be a part of and said: I am happy to write a press release for you. I'm happy to generate excitement and help assist you with the selling anyway I can, through social media or through high-resolution imagery. I would just walk into stores and introduce myself. Sometimes they would say it's not a good thing for them, but a lot of times they'll take my card or they'll place an order right there ... I think a lot of people don't think to do that.
Question: You don't seem very shy?
A: I'm shy in plenty of ways, but I feel like with my barrettes, I have so much love for each of the hair barrettes, and it's a labor of love to create each one. I've been working so hard on creating this line and creating this brand name that I hope that when I talk about my hair barrettes that passion comes through. People have been very sweet to take a chance and put my barrettes in their store or in their publication and I am just so grateful for those opportunities and really think it's a domino effect. Small wins equal big wins and I'm just trying to continue to improve the quality, the appearance. Presentation says it all.