In 2014, Amanda Curtis and Gemma Sole set out to change the fashion industry by bringing emerging designers closer to their customers online. They founded Nineteenth Amendment, a fashion startup giving emerging designers from around the world the chance to sell their collections directly to customers via online “pre-sales." Their model allows individual shoppers to purchase a custom-made piece directly from the next major designer and eliminates excess inventory for the designer.
Curtis and Sole made a critical decision early on to join the inaugural group at NY Fashion Tech Lab , an accelerator program that pairs early stage fashion, retail and tech startups with mentors from major retail brands like JCrew, Alex and Ani, and Kate Spade.
We caught up with the two co-founders to discuss their unusual journey to success, and how after just over a year of business they were able to seal a partnership with Macy's, their NYFTL mentor and one of the largest retailers in the world, while staying true to Nineteenth Amendment's the founding mission.
Worn: Tell us about your experience with New York Fashion Tech Lab. Has it changed your outlook on what it takes to be entrepreneurs?
Amanda: In the tech startup world there is sometimes too much emphasis on “disrupting industries” that founders can miss out on learning from industry leaders because they’re too busy trying to compete with them. The truth is that both startups and established companies have a lot to learn from one another, especially in this new digital frontier.
The NY Fashion Tech lab was an industry game changer because established companies in the fashion space came together to foster and learn from fashion tech startups. The Nineteenth Amendment team quickly learned that our business could benefit from collaboration with these larger companies and vice versa. Less than a year after NYFTLab we announced an unprecedented partnership with Macy’s Inc that will benefit both companies.
As an entrepreneur the experience taught me that all businesses are working toward the same goals and our insights are equally valid. It also taught me that playing nice within an ecosystem will bring about more success and more innovation than focusing on “disruption”. If your goals are to create something positive within a larger industry chances are that others, even potential “competitors”, will champion you and will want to work together toward that mission.
Worn: We've followed Nineteenth Amendment since day one. It was so exciting to see you two make a real partnership out of your mentors over at Macy's.com after just a year in business. Tell us about what you anticipate coming from the partnership to further the Nineteenth Amendment mission.
Gemma: Our goal is to give shoppers access to these amazing designs, and what better than to partner with one of the largest retailers in the US? It allows designers to purchase unique pieces, made ethically, and just for them and it gives our designers access to a level of audience and distribution they could never dream of.
Worn: Tell us about a time when you thought, “this is impossible…” and overcame it?
Amanda: Entrepreneurship is being able to deal with the highest of the highs and lowest of the lows. I think it takes an overly optimistic and creative person to be able to look past a tough situation and find a way to spin it into a positive outcome or learning.
In the beginning Gemma and I were turned down by most tech focused investors in Boston who simply did not understand the consumer market. Our final straw came when one middle aged male investor told us, “I simply don’t believe that women will purchase clothing online”…clearly we were not in the right location! Instead of getting discouraged we looked at each other first in disbelief, and then we laughed.
Our journey wasn’t derailed because we couldn’t raise in the beginning. In fact, having to bootstrap in the beginning has made us better entrepreneurs because we know how to run lean on the investment we do have, and we still own an overwhelming majority of the company with a high valuation. That day we decided to move the company to NYC and Nineteenth Amendment has rapidly grown since making that move.
Worn: What are your individual strengths and weaknesses as co-founders?
Gemma: Amanda and I are both artists. She is a fashion designer and I am a visual artist so we bond over the common desire to create beautiful, meaningful things, however, we are totally different work wise. We have different working styles, skills, and strengths that compliment one another. This has helped us grow the company faster than we ever could have on our own.
Worn: What is one thing you wish someone told you before you started your own business?
Amanda: I wish someone told me that the biggest and most continuous struggle is the important of maintaining good relationships, with friends, family, significant others and most importantly (but often most neglected) yourself. Starting a business is all consuming, which is part of the beauty and the process. I have at times neglected other relationships but most of all neglected the one I have with myself. I realize now how important it is to maintain a strong support system, how relationships keep everything else in context, and that maintaining a healthy relationship with myself is crucial to being able to get through all of the highs and lows of starting a company. A large chunk of what determines if you're successful or not is your believe in yourself. If you don't truly believe in yourself, why should others?