Leveraging your passion and experience, while solving a problem for your customer, creates some solid groundwork to build your business. Opportunista Ashley Denisov hits on all parts of this business-building equation with her sustainable apparel line, 1x1. By tapping into her tech background to build a product “with the user in mind,” this CEO understands the utmost importance of consistently evaluating feedback from customers to address two concerns about sustainable fashion brands – high costs and underwhelming fashion-forward options. By taking an MVP a la lean startup approach to building product, Ashley ensures that her company uses that feedback to iterate and deliver what their customers want.
In addition to imparting wisdom about the value of a customer-facing and problem-solving mindset, Ashley shares an abundance of advice for the aspiring entrepreneur who is trying to figure out her first business-building steps. This Opportunista also sheds light on the most important decision that an early-stage entrepreneur needs to make when starting out. Hint: Acceptance of one-on-one consultations. With yourself.
Ashley is making her mark on the sustainable fashion industry, and we’re watching. One by one.
Ashley is the Opportunista.
Let’s meet Ashley and learn from this Opportunista.
Name: Ashley Denisov
Location: Los Angeles
Title & Company: CEO, 1x1
Education: BA in Design/Media Arts, UCLA
Why did you want to become an entrepreneur?
I had my first entrepreneurial light bulb during my senior year of college. A friend and I developed a line of fashionable bike wear, and I was so excited to get it up on Kickstarter and launch it.
However, one thing led to another and after a string of fashion internships in LA, I decided to move to the Bay Area to work in tech. After a few years of focusing on my career, I continued my fashion studies while working full time with the idea that I would start my own line. I received practical training in pattern making and education in fashion design.
Although I decided not to jump into owning a business right after college, I'm happy and grateful for the lessons my career taught me. Working in the tech industry, I observed a way of conducting business that highly values its employees, and pushes you to think about building a product with the user in mind. This has had a great impact on how I continue to build my own business. I want to work with the best talent, keep a strong focus on technology and customer service, and always evaluate and reevaluate the product we offer based on customer feedback.
There’s so much that goes into manufacturing a physical product. Things you could never imagine or prepare for can and will go wrong. It was a challenge in the beginning to learn how to roll with the punches, but I've adapted to be more flexible, to problem solve, and to know that I can always find a solution or compromise.
How did you develop the idea for 1x1?
When I began the line, I was very interested in the idea of designing for the capsule wardrobe. I even toyed with naming the company Capsule. Having a solid vision of the kind of company I want to build helps me every day as I plan for what’s next.
I wanted my line to be the go-to pieces you reach for again and again, so I felt that they each deserved a story. I came up with the idea to release collections “one by one” because I wanted to take the time to be completely transparent about how these products came to be. Customers can become captivated alongside us about the sweater made with wool from a sheep ranch in Oregon, and read more about that process on our website.
It also helps us attract customers who are interested in knowing more about their clothes. Consumers are becoming more educated about the wasteful practices of fast fashion, and they are looking for alternatives.
The story of how 1x1 sources its wool serves as part of your company's unique value proposition. Would you describe the process of determining and developing this UVP?
Customers are starting to demand more accountability from brands — they want to know who made their clothes and what they’re made from. Some brands are making great strides towards this, but most of the time, this information is not available to them. When we tell our customers where our sources come from, we do it not just so they are aware, but because we want to make it clear that we are offering sustainable, viable alternatives to fast fashion.
There are two main issues I’ve heard from customers looking to shop sustainable brands:
1. Sustainable brands are too expensive.
2. Sustainable brands aren't fashion forward.
Unfortunately, brands using fair labor practices cannot compete with the impossibly low prices of clothing made in exploitative circumstances. However, there are ways we’ve been trying to address higher costs. For example, selling direct-to-consumer online keeps prices closer to wholesale.
As for being fashion forward, a lot of this comes from the concern that small companies can’t get a trend from factory to shelf as quickly. This doesn’t always have to be the case. Manufacturing locally means that we’re visiting our factories often, and have improved communication and turnaround times as a result. In addition, we don't have to wait for our products to be shipped from overseas (or add that carbon footprint to our products).
The real trick is making sustainability attractive to up-and-coming designers so that there are more brands to choose from. If sustainable fashion is to become the norm in the industry, upcoming designers must insist on it. Otherwise, we won’t see the change that must happen to bring in a sustainable future.
Working in the tech industry, I observed a way of conducting business that highly values its employees, and pushes you to think about building a product with the user in mind.
What was the greatest challenge you faced in launching your business? How did you overcome it?
My biggest challenge was educating myself about the manufacturing scene in LA in order to find the correct vendors to work with to develop my line. Manufacturers are key to the success of a fashion company. They advise you, keep your calendar, and can prioritize you as long as you’re on top of things on your end.
There’s so much that goes into the manufacturing of a physical product. Things you could never imagine or prepare for can and will go wrong. It was a challenge in the beginning to learn how to roll with the punches, but I believe I've adapted to be much more flexible, to problem solve, and to know that I can always find a solution or compromise.
What do you think is the most important decision that an aspiring / early-stage entrepreneur needs to make at the beginning of building her business?
I think it’s important to accept that while no person is an island, you’re going to be taking on more hats than you realize. You need to be flexible, accept that you need to learn things, and be OK with the fact that you might not always have the answers. You’ll find people who are more generous with their time than you’d imagine to help, but those are a rare few. Most of the time, you must turn to yourself for an answer.
What advice do you have for an aspiring entrepreneur who is trying to determine a business idea?
I would look for ways to start a business that are small, simple, and can scale. Look to a small community and see if you can identify any niche markets, and go from there. You’ll see much quicker success if you start a business coming from an angle of solving a problem, rather than creating a product that needs to be sold.
What about advice for an aspiring entrepreneur who has an idea, but is trying to figure out how to develop that idea? What do you recommend as her first steps?
The sooner you start talking to people who can help you to create your idea, the more real your idea will become. One of my better decisions was to seek out factories before I was ready to begin engaging, to get a solid idea of what was expected from me and what our relationship would be like moving forward.
What guidance can you offer to early-stage entrepreneurs who are trying to build their team?
Depending on the type of business you’re going into, I think those who can start a company with a business partner have a great advantage. Business partners are the best support system because they’re the only people with as much investment in the company as you. You can play off of one another's strengths, and two heads are always better than one!
Going solo, your greatest assets are your current network of friends and family. Think about all of the skills and advice your connections have, and always reach out. It’s an indispensable pool of knowledge while you build a team. I have close friends and family willing to help me with tasks I would have struggled to hire out for otherwise (thank you, generous and talented friends!).
As for finding vendors, I think it’s important to treat your search as you would an interview. Make sure they feel supportive and are a good fit for your vision. Starting out, you’re going to find that vendors may be hesitant to work with you because you are small and are not yet established. That’s OK. There will always be business professionals who see you as someone they want to help climb the ladder and grow with you.
How have you determined your target customers?
The designs for 1x1 are largely inspired by the women I worked with — creative individuals who value quality over quantity and are looking for something timeless yet unique to reflect their own personal style.
Therefore, my ideal customer became the working professional who shops online to find unique pieces that are cool yet comfortable for work and transition easily to the weekend. They believe that knowing about a product and where it came from is important.
1x1 wants our customers to know that they are investing in quality products that have been made ethically. We think our pieces feel special, and we want our customers to feel that way, too.
How are you creating your own opportunities to live your best life?
I feel very fortunate to have the ability to focus my time and energy on building my business. I spent years waiting for the right moment to transition this company to my full-time work, and doing so has been very rewarding (though still scary at some points!).
I’m so excited for what’s to come as I continue to grow my business and meet more and more people with similar dreams and goals.
Ashley is The Opportunista.
What are three words that you would use to describe yourself? Determined, caring, opinionated.
What’s the next item you’d like to cross off your bucket list? Travel, travel, travel. I have an insatiable wanderlust to go just about anywhere. Next on my list is Italy.
What’s your favorite way to spend a weekend? Catching up with friends and taking my dog Zoe on nice long walks.
What’s the best professional advice you’ve ever received? If you have an opportunity to go for your professional dream, take it. Even if it doesn’t work out, you’ll only regret it if you never tried at all.
What does entrepreneurship mean to you? Taking control of what you spend your time working towards.
Tell us a secret! Sometimes, at the end of the day, it can be hard feeling like you’re doing everything you can to move your business forward. Be kind to yourself! Know that taking that first step towards starting your business is a big deal. The rest will follow if you keep trying.
Let me know in the comments: How has Ashley's story inspired you to build your own business?
Why Work for Your Dream Company
When You Can Create Your Dream Company?
The Opportunista's FREE Business Idea Blueprint course
teaches aspiring entrepreneurs how to start their business.
Discover the most important question you need to answer before you start.
OWN YOUR START. SIGN UP HERE.