Shequita Orr – A Beauty Building Brands

Shequita OrrOn a daily basis consumers witness an industry full of beautiful images, countless advertisements, the coming and going over trends, the emergence of a new brand, and fabrics draping millions over mannequins in the windows of our favorite stores. But do we ever wonder what it really takes to make all this happen? Who are the “brains behind the brands” that make up the multi-billion dollar fashion industry? Well, I don’t know them all but I do know one amazing young lady that is making strides in the industry and turning heads as she does it. Not only is she one of the most beautiful spirits you would ever want to meet but she is ever better on the eyes 😉 Shequita Orr, a native of a small town in South Carolina is now a woman of the world. She and I actually attended the same schools while growing up in Jasper County. After graduating from our local Jasper and Beaufort County school systems, Shequita went on to the University of South Carolina where she obtained a degree in Business Marketing and Management. I have been reading and hearing about her progression in the business and wanted to know more. So, I contacted Ms. Orr and this is what she had to share:

BE-Style: So tell me about your career path after leaving USC.
SO: Well after graduating, I went to work for the Target Corporation. This is where I attribute learning the fundamentals of the merchandising organization, which was on the financial side. I think a lot of people misinterpret what buyers do. It not just going to to wonderful cities around the world, it’s actually a very analytical job which demands the understanding of numbers as the success of multimillion dollar companies depend on you. So in working in the Juniors Brand Denim Department with Levi, Mossimo, and a special test collaboration with Guess Jeans for the junior denim customer, I worked closely with my fellow buyers. It was then that I realized ho much I did not know about product. There were so many facets to the production of denim, be it the kinds of wash, effectively negotiating production cost by understanding what actually goes into it. A that point in time, I realized that I had gained a strong financial foundation in retail and an understanding of sales and inventory and margins. I wanted more. I wanted to be more on the creative side and that when I moved to Columbus to work for Abercrombie & Fitch. A&F is a company that really spends a lot of time and money to provide the true traditional background in being a merchant. You are thrown into a position and you fight to survive. This job actually taught me a great deal as it pertains to trend forecasting, product development, product life-cycle, and when to get on and off a trend. This was a great learning experience, I was able to travel to Asia and Hong Kong to various factories and actually receive training in production.î
Shequita Orr
BE-Style: What did you do with all the training you received? How did you apply it to the next challenge?
SO: At the time, Payless Shoe Stores had been doing international in Latin and Central America for about 4 years. Their Junior’s division was not doing so well and the they need someone with an apparel background to come in help them understand trend. Payless in the international markets are seen just as the Steve Madden and Nine West in the US. I thought it would be a great challenge and it would give me the opportunity to work for the first time in footwear. So I left Abercrombie & Fitch.

Be-Style: Are you still with Payless Stores?
No. For the last few months I have been running my own freelance business, where I help up & coming designers and companies understand how to really launch a brand. Im currently working with a wholesale footwear company out of Atlanta build their license branding concept. The company had a great concept, they just need someone to massage the product, if you will. So I came basically overseeing the execution and assessment of the product line in their category.

BE-Style: You mention the life cycle of a product. What is the general life cyle of a particular piece of merchandise?
SO: Well I think you have to ask, ‘is it particular trend idea or is it a brand?’ I don’t think you ever want to come into the market seasonal because you’re in and out. This is where you build a brand strategy and the buyers work with PR and marketing agencies to help define what is the longevity in the business. What is it that the designer is trying to stand for? First, you must differentiate between the life cycle of a brand and that of a trend. For instance, no one thought that the ballet flat would have been a trend that would have lasted for the last 3-4 years and still on going. It’s just about using different fabrications to update the item. Designers and brands are changing the item by making it a satin upper or canvas upper or even by using different trims. One would really have to understand to couture and contemporary market to understand how its going to transcend into the mass market. I think of Forever 21 and Urban Outfitters. They really do the best job at hitting that product life-cycle and getting off of it. They are a very trend driven business so when they see something on the runways, they have it in their stores within the next 8-12 weeks and sell through it then move on it the next hot item.
Brands should not be seasonal. It should be about building the brand for a lifetime. You have to market your products by getting in it the right publicaions and on celebrities to create the need to the public and average consumer.

BE-Style: As a brand strategist, is it your job to recommend stores for product placement?
SO: Yes, this exactly what we suggest. I find the best way to get into the upscale stores is to build relationships with the merchants, buyers and sales reps. I recommend to up & coming designers that they not do shows like MAGIC because you want to have an advantage with some exclusivity. But again it depends on who you see as your client.

BE-Style: As a brand strategist, is it your job to recommend stores for product placement?
SO: Yes, this exactly what we suggest. I find the best way to get into the upscale stores is to build relationships with the merchants, buyers and sales reps. I recommend to up & coming designers that they not do shows like MAGIC because you want to have an advantage with some exclusivity. But again it depends on who you see as your client.
BE-Style: Now unto the question that I am sure is the most asked question. Are designers scaling back due to the current state of the economy?
SO: Yes, many brands and retailers are scaling back on inventory and offering a vast product mix. They are cutting down on the number of items available in a collection and the number of units purchase for resale. This strategy is better than jeopardizing the brand. It is also wise to maintain the quality of the brand, especially for luxury retailers to not forego what sets them apart from mainstream brands. For example, a designer handbag company may have offered 25 bags last year but will only offer 17 with the best color assortment.
BE-Style: Have you seen some brands seek other means of production and shipment?
SO: It actually happens all the time. They look into div
ersifying their factory base and shipments from other countries. Companies also look into fostering relationships with the factory mills and fabric companies to negotiate to cost of materials. You may not think that a difference of 3 cents is a lot but it is when you are placing orders for 5,000 or even 20,000 units. That’s margin, money the company could be saving.
BE-Style: In starting your Brand Strategy business, what do you see yourself adding to the industry?
SO: You this opportunity kinda fell in my lap. I want really to help designers with a prospective, the ones with their own points of view to become a very sustainable brand. I want to help rebuild the US house of brands. We have a lot of great brands and we need fresh ones. So my efforts will be targeted toward to building successful branding strategies for companies that aspire to have long lasting careers in the industry. With that said I am thinking about going back on the corporate side of the business to help a well-known retailer reestablish itself in the juniors market as they change their competitive landscape. I also in talks with a former colleague to start a handbag line.
BE-Style: What is the one thing that someone in the industry would have to BE?
SO: Just BE committed and I think that crossed any career or life choice. You must follow your passion and be 100% to achieving your goals. Take additional courses and training to effective get you point across. You have to improve upon your skills in order to BE great at what you are doing.

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