Born and bred in the vibrant Dominican Republic countryside, Melina embraces the diversity of colors, textures and patterns of her childhood. From her design studio in Boston, Melina’s structured silhouettes, colorful palettes, and painstaking attention to detail reflect the values and struggles of her past.
What motivated and inspired you to start your own business?
What motivated me to start my own business was my true desire to communicate with others through something that came 100% from me. This is my offer to the world, this is how I believe I can learn, continue to push myself to be better and inspire others. This is how I can make a difference.
Tell us about your business.
My business is a tiny little business that is my life. My goal is to dress women in styles that are classic yet timeless. I see my dresses as the next staple in any woman’s closet, such as the little black dress, except more colorful and with a story behind it. I live in Boston and almost every aspect of my business takes place in New York including production, which I am incredibly proud of. I work with an amazing team of people who have not only shown me the ropes, but also believe in me and my business.
Are you currently running any promos/contests/giveaways that you would like our readers to know about?
Yes! Lots of exciting things in the works! Just by registering on our site you receive a promo code to use at any time (it does not expire). Flash sales, holiday sales, etc are always announced online, but the first to know are usually the folks subscribed to my newsletter.
I have a business background. While my family always encouraged me to follow my dreams, they also instilled in me the importance of an education. I have a degree in Business and an MBA. It was an accomplishment to pay for all of my schooling by working part-time or full-time and then to start a career in the healthcare industry, which I am still incredibly passionate about.
Some days I am still in awe that a kid from the projects has dresses being sold in some of the best specialty boutiques in the country. I really don’t get tired of thanking the universe and God for this.
Where is your business based?
My business is based in Boston and New York.
What were the first few steps you took to get your business up and running?
Research. Because this was a new industry to me I knew it was important to network with people who could become my mentors. Mentorship is something that happens very organically, it was important for me to learn from the right people. I spent maybe three years doing research, meeting all kinds of people, talking to all kinds of factories (local and abroad) and with every mistake and failure came some heartache, of course, but also a learning experience. In addition to research: trademark your business name, open a business account, and network, network, network!
What has been the most effective way of raising awareness of your business and getting new customers?
Networking and being genuine. I have met some of the most amazing women through business networking and it is incredible what we can accomplish when we work together and help each other out.
By being genuine I mean: your brand has to represent you. No one else. I want people to know who I am through my brand, some people may like it and some may not and I am perfectly fine with that.
What have been your biggest challenges so far?
I will be honest… one of the biggest challenges has been proving myself. Many times you may have a fantastic product with great quality, but because of the current economy, not many business are interested or are in a position to invest in a young “unproven” brand. So this has been at times a hard pill to swallow.
Another challenge has definitively been budgeting. I don’t have an unlimited budget and I have to decide what comes first and what is priority. And that has proven to be difficult.
How did you overcome these challenges?
I always try and remind myself why I do what I do. First and foremost, I design because I love it. It is a creative outlet for me. I have to remind myself that things don’t happen over night – I am impatient – so I remind myself of this often. I have also tried to put myself out there more. I have started “blogging”. I put this in quotes because I am not a blogger (trust me), but I feel it is important for me to tell my story and to build a bond with my audience. Who is this kid trying to sell me this dress? Let me tell you who this kid is.
As far as budgeting – this is a continuous learning experience. I get better with time and the bottom line is that for the time being I have to prioritize what comes first, second and third.
How do you keep motivated through difficult times?
The women in my life kick ass. I was raised by my grandmother who was one of the strongest women I know and I have seen the other women in my family overcome hardships with such grace. I feel like I have no excuse but to do the same.
My network of friends is very small, but I couldn’t ask for better girlfriends. They lift me up and they got my back. I also work with some pretty amazing women and I learn from them every day. Finally, I work with younger women who sometimes come to me for advise and I feel it is my responsibility as a woman and as a human being to help them in any way that I can. That motivates me.
How do you distinguish yourself from your competitors?
I truly feel like there is room for everyone who wants to make a positive difference. I believe my story differentiates me. I was told many times that a kid like me had to go to technical school to make a living, that college was too expensive and you have to be rich to be in fashion business. My life, my past, my struggles, my wins are all part of my designs and the theme of my brand.
What is the best advice you have received recently?
I was recently at a conference for women leaders and one of the speakers said something very powerful. She said that for 13 or so years she made $13k a year, but that when she started approaching her business in a more genuine way and doing what felt right to her, she went from making $13k to making something like $250k. The money part is of course remarkable, but what caught my attention was that it took her 13 years to realize that once she started loving what she was doing, the money would also follow. She was so raw and honest and I don’t ever want to forget her story.
What advice would you give to other entrepreneurs?
Build a strong support network around you. Ask for help. Help others. TRUST YOUR GUT. Open a credit line when you don’t need the money. It is easier to ask for money when you don’t need it.
What is your favorite business tool or resource?
I belong to a Boston network called Boston Business Women. I have met the most incredible women in this network and even though I have been a member for less than a year, I have already worked and collaborated with more than 10 members. It is amazing and the sense of community and support is beyond anything I have experienced before.
What is a good article or book you have read recently?
I recently read an article titled, “An Introvert’s Guide To Leadership”. The gist of it is that you don’t need to be loud to be heard. Noise does not equal confidence.
What are you currently learning about for your business or looking for help with?
Right now I am doing a lot of data analysis based on past and current productions on cost and maximization. I am looking at different ways of doing business using various tools and companies to maintain the quality Lalla Bee has become known for while keeping costs at a reasonable level.
What are your goals for the next few months and how are you striving to achieve them?
My goal for the next few months is to keep my stress level down… just kidding!
Let’s see, I have a couple of really exciting things coming up: Fashion Week in the Dominican Republic and New York Fashion Week. I want to make sure everything goes as smoothly as humanly possible. I also want to work on continuing to create brand awareness by hosting small events where I can meet buyers and fashion bloggers and introduce them to Lalla Bee.
I work with a local PR company and Jackie Zukerman has been an absolute Godsend. There is nothing this woman cannot do.
What social media outlets do you use? List them below.