We wanted to share our story, on Small Business Saturday. Our hope is to someday be too big to celebrate it. In the words of our founder, this is how it all began and where we're heading:
It started with events like my boss breezing into my office on Madison Avenue, flopping down on my sofa, and asking “So, what are you, like 32?”
“Something like that," I replied with a gulp. At actually a decade older, I was working in the ageist industry of New York advertising as an art director / creative director, and wanted to preserve my skin's youthfulness as long as possible. I liked my job and I liked my paycheck, and I didn’t want either to end anytime soon. My habits were to walk on the shady side of the street, wear sunscreen if I went out while it was still light, and wear a hat in the sun.
But I envied the Asian women I saw in the city who walked around freely with umbrellas. One day I was at a sculpture garden, and my Aunt Frances whipped out a bamboo parasol as we strolled around the grounds in the sun. It inspired me to think about how I could create something just as beautiful, and even more functional. That ‘aha’ moment seeded the beginning of my journey to create Lily-Lark.
The very first prototype was built with fabric printed in New York and frame cobbled together from various existing parasols until we could work with someone to refine it.
It took a long time to find the right company in Asia who could manufacture the parasols. Their initial samples were beautiful. I had a business partner, Linda, who was an old college friend who had come up in the fashion world of accessories and had the background I lacked to begin production and marketing a product like this. We were excited about our venture. But we quickly realized the actual production was not as neat and tidy as the original samples, and we ended up tossing half of it after 6 months. The manufacturer had to re-tool, and figure out how to do a better job at being consistent. By the time we relaunched, my partner’s husband had been very ill, and after 10 months in the hospital, had passed away. Linda needed to rethink her participation in the company. Eventually she quit to start her life anew, and I was left holding up the fort. At the time, it was very scary to me. But it was also an opportunity to understand the business from the ground up. It forced me to learn about operations and logistics and merchandising, and basically everything that exists to bring a product to market.
Eventually, influencers were happy to share on their social media and the company started to grow. We began to get some great press.
When The Wall Street Journal interview came out, parasols flew out the door.
But I didn’t quite have an understanding yet of how to make it more profitable and what to do to expand faster. So I started working with various mentors and realized that if I could make a less expensive parasol, I could have greater appeal and grow my audience. I found new fabric printers and a bigger manufacturer who was not only capable of scaling, but making a parasol that I could sell at roughly half the price. Along the way, she dashed out some hand fans that are appearing to be quite popular for us, especially as gifts.
Our new manufacturer learning how to make the signature Lily-Lark parasol.
Now we have 2 lines of parasols and 16 new prints. Our hand fans are made in every print. My hope is to expand in the future by adding collections for different audiences. I’d like to do a children’s line, and a bridal line, maybe even a mother-daughter line.
I’m grateful to all the folks who backed our Kickstarter campaign this year, and their massive patience, as we worked through new production issues as well as global supply chain and freight forwarding issues.
Lily-Lark is a small business with a big heart. We try to take care of our customers. That’s an important value of mine. I’m also committed to giving back to the skin cancer community with efforts to do skin cancer screening events and fundraising. I know this brand is poised to grow. To everyone who has supported us over the years and bought parasols and hand fans from us, and to everyone who will buy from us in the future, my deepest thanks. I truly appreciate every one of you.
- Lisa Selwitz, Founder and CEO, Lily-Lark