The conductor announced the stop I usually took for cosmetology school. Instead of getting off, I rode straight past it
In the nights after I quit cosmetology school, I dragged out my old sketchbooks and opened to a blank page. I hadn’t looked at them — or added anything new — in years. Now that I was going to start my own fashion line, it was time to pick up the pencils again.
I blasted music and sat down to work. As evening turned to midnight and midnight turned to morning, I kept turning the pages, sketching, designing, dreaming.
By the time I was ready for production, I had finalized my four first dresses. I didn’t draw items that would simply fit people who are plus-sized. I wanted items that were chic and trendy. I wanted people to walk into my shop and see the same off-the-runway looks they’d get in any typical shop — except that these would fit them.
I joined the daily rush-hour crowds taking the trains to Manhattan with my designs tucked under my arm. I was bleary-eyed and exhausted, but I’d also never felt so alert.
I smiled when the conductor announced the stop I usually took for cosmetology school. Instead of getting off, I rode straight past it.
At the 34th Street station, I got off the train and headed toward the garment district. The tall buildings rose around me, welcoming me. The shop I needed was in a corner building, up four flights on a creaking elevator.
I knew I was there when Ben, a manufacturer I knew from my salesgirl days, smiled and waved me over from down the hall.
“Rhama!” he called, using my secular name. After my family, Ben was the first person I’d told about my plans to open a fashion line.
“Finally!” he’d said on the phone. “I always knew you’d do this one day.”
He invited me to bring my sketches to his shop and told me he’d do whatever he could to take them from rough items to real products.
“How much do you think it will cost?” I asked him, bracing myself.
“Don’t worry about that for now,” he told me. “I’ll make the clothes for you and you’ll pay me back when you sell them.” Ben was betting his time, resources, and money on my fashion line taking off. He believed in me.
As Ben worked on my samples, I started sharing my plan with my friends. Many of them were shocked.
“You always wanted to open a fashion line?” my friend Cookie asked. “I never knew!”
“I know,” I said. “That’s part of the problem.”
I’d pushed the dream down for so long that even my closest friends had no idea it existed. But even though they were just finding out, they came on board right away. Cookie came up with the name “D-RAMA” — a play on “drama” and my name “Rhama.” Another friend made the bold black-and-white logo.
Running a business didn’t scare me. Both my parents are entrepreneurial-minded. My father owns a grocery and food company, and until 9-11, my mother owned an office supplies company next door to the World Trade Center. Every hurdle I was about to face, my parents had faced before me. They either knew the solutions or knew someone who did and were there to back me up.
When I needed to work out the legal aspects of opening an LLC, my mother called her brother, the lawyer. When I wasn’t sure how to track my finances, my father called his friend, the accountant. When I needed to open a business bank account, my uncle called his friend, the one who works at Chase.
I remember sitting with my father at the kitchen table, poring over the legal jargon.
“I have no idea what I’m doing,” I said.
“You don’t need to,” he said. “No one does it alone.”
I grew up as a witness to my parents’ work ethic and hustle. Hard work didn’t scare me. But the numbers did. I spent too many nights staring up at my bedroom ceiling wondering, What on earth did I get myself into? I’m the kind of girl who uses a calculator to work out 25 minus 6. I didn’t know what “SEO” or “AOV” were, or how to calculate my “profit margins.” What was I thinking?
I was frightened. My friends and family had faith in me. But would D-RAMA take off? Would I ever be able to pay Ben back?
to be continued...
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 765)
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