Kiane von Mueffling is the founder of Sold Out NYC, a clothing company by women for women. What started as a movement has also become a matter of comfort and style. Kiane’s journey to becoming an entrepreneur is anything but conventional. From Managing Director at Citibank to becoming a SoulCycle Instructor to founding Sold Out NYC, Kiane has followed her happiness while still flexing her creative and marketing skillsets. Tune in to hear her story as well as her plan of attack on mainstream retail.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:00:01] The original DNA of the brand was statement Ts and and sweatshirts and largely around feminism. But as that that trend of statements has ebbed and waned a little bit, you know, we’ve really made a pivot into a non-statement wear statement wear.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:21] Welcome to Ideamix radio. I’m Sam Jayanti. And every week I chat with entrepreneurs, solo partners, career changers, experts, and enthusiasts for insider tips that you can apply to turn your idea into a business. So sit back and enjoy today’s show.
Sam Jayanti [00:00:42] How do you create a clothing brand centered around Kiane von Mueffling, founded, Sold Out NYC, a brand created by Women for Women and about women. Their clothing, is largely statement based. But more recently, they’re starting to pivot. But the mission is to empower women and allow them to feel empowered with high quality, comfortable killer style. I’ll quote her for a second where she says, It’s not complicated. We just want to be part of a movement where women support one another and are infinitely proud of who they are. Kiane, so great to have you on Ideamix radio today.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:01:22] I’m so, so happy to talk to you.
Sam Jayanti [00:01:26] So, Kiane, you’ve been through some twists and turns with Sold Out. Tell us about Sold Out in your own words.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:01:34] Absolutely. So what I would say first is that it’s evolving endlessly and quite dramatically. You know, we’ve been at it for three years. And as you just said in your intro, the original DNA of the brand was statement tees and and sweatshirts and largely around feminism. But as that that trend of statements has ebbed and waned a little bit, you know, we’ve really made a pivot into non statement wear and one of the original premises of the brand, which was really the inception for me to create. It was always comfort and great style. I mean, I was just sick of being uncomfortable, especially as I got older, but I wanted to still look good. So where we’re seeing the highest growth right now is in those, like, luxury basics that you reach for every day that are non-statement based.
Sam Jayanti [00:02:29] You’ve struck the timing perfectly, right, because with the onset of the pandemic came the need for and desire for exactly these comfortable but stylish basics that people could be in as they worked from home or as they sort of went about their much more restricted daily lives. Do you think that that’s helped, particularly during this past 12 month period?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:02:53] I mean, obviously it’s helped tremendously. I mean, if you make ballgowns right now, you are really in a very, very difficult position. Right. And pivoting from something like that is very, very difficult. But we did make pivots. So, you know, essentially in March of twenty twenty when we realized the world was about to change, we really fundamentally changed our channel strategy. So we were about to go down a wholesale road and we thought that that would really be the major source of growth. But we pivoted very fast into getting very smart about e-commerce quickly as we could. I mean, we’d always had the E channel, so it was there, but we realized we needed to become increasingly sophisticated there if we were going to achieve the targets that we had set out. And that has been successful. And if I think about the inception of the brand, this is really how I wanted to live. I wanted to be comfortable and look good. And yes, so I did luck out. This is essentially how I want to live my life. And that’s where we are in the current state of what people are wearing and how they’re living their lives.
Sam Jayanti [00:04:04] It’s a happy coincidence of timing. It’s incredible because listening to you describe the both the pivot, but also the growth that you’ve experienced over the last year, I mean, analysts have predicted that the fashion industry’s profits fell by about 93 percent rate as a result of the pandemic between 2020 and then continuing into twenty twenty one. So it’s it’s fantastic to hear that your pivot’s been successful and that you’re sort of looking ahead with with some changes with respect to channels, but also product selection.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:04:41] Yeah, I mean, that big 93 three percent dip is absolutely right, but it’s not true of Ecom. Right. So you have to think about what business you’re you’re actually in and hence that pivot. And essentially even the fashion is my medium. I’m essentially in the e-commerce business and I’m essentially in the marketing business. So that’s where I know that we where we needed to be so that we didn’t get bucketed, you know, essentially that. Ninety three percent.
Sam Jayanti [00:05:09] So you’ve touched on something super interesting there. So many people start fashion businesses and don’t draw that distinction that you’ve just drawn of being in the e-commerce business and really being a marketing business. Talk a little bit more about that.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:05:26] Right. So what I would say to you is that the fashion industry is more competitive than it has ever been, and especially in this category or of Jersey kind of basics, whether they’re luxury or not, is just tremendous competition. So really, in terms of how to compete, I see myself as a marketing business. And I really think in order to succeed, people need to see themselves that way because the people who will win are the people who generate most awareness and the people who generate most awareness of the people who are marketing most effectively and taking advantage of every element of that marketing tool kit. Now, obviously, you can’t have a terrible product that’s that’s just the baseline. You need to have strong, great product. But unless people are seeing it, you’re not going to go anywhere. And as I said, it’s tremendously crowded. So you have to figure out what are the elements of the marketing toolkit? Where is my biggest opportunity to break through and how do I allocate that spend? So that’s really what I spend most of my time doing. What is the most efficient allocation of that marketing spend?
Sam Jayanti [00:06:34] Totally makes sense on the marketing front. Tell us a little bit more about the distinction you drew between being an e-commerce business versus being a fashion business. And earlier you made a comment about. There are two there are two paths you could have gone down. One was to sort of double down on your own e commerce and selling direct to consumer. The other was to go down a wholesale path. And how you’ve drawn the distinction between those two?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:07:03] Right well, I think a lot of people who want to be in the fashion business think it’s just that they think it’s really, you know, about design and this kind of glamorous world of fashion. Well, it really is anything but that. Unless that you want to be hired, you know, as a fashion designer. Right. Because really, at the end of the day, it comes down to selling the product. And right now, for me, the most effective channel is e-commerce. So then I see myself as an e-commerce business because I have to figure out as an entrepreneur what are the most successful ways to win in e-commerce. So whatever industry you are in, they’re still the same tenants. Right? So it might be a little bit as opposed to if you’re a a more mass brand versus a luxury brand. So you have to be careful of the marketing, but it’s really figuring out. What are the things in e commerce that are going to drive a successful e-commerce strategy and getting smart about those? I can be the most amazing designer or know about the hottest trends in the season, but it’s going to mean nothing unless I can sell it through that channel most effectively.
Sam Jayanti [00:08:13] One hundred percent. Let’s take a quick break.
Sam Jayanti [00:08:20] Kiane, I want to bring you back to the very start, you went to a bit of a trial and error process in realizing that you wanted to start Sold Out in twenty seventeen. Tell us about that thought process and what made you converge on doing this ultimately?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:08:39] So the one thing that I want to say about that whole trial and error thing, and especially for women and this is comes from my own personal experience and I think how a lot of women feel. There’s a lot of guilt around this error parts.
Sam Jayanti [00:08:52] We are certainly made to feel that way by society these days. I would say
Kiane von Mueffling [00:08:57] Absolutely. And it’s important that we get over it. And the other thing that it’s important that we get over is it doesn’t have to be immediate that you find out this thing that is more your calling or more really true to you. So, yes, did I go all over the place in getting to where I am? Yes. But I think it’s important that I don’t look back at that as an error in judgment or feel any guilt about it. I really think it’s part of the journey. You did nail something, which is I kind of have been through a process. I started off in finance and that was really driven by what I did at university and really the marks that I got, which was just completely the wrong way to think about things. So I was in finance, you know, unfortunately or fortunately, I was good at it. So I probably stayed around too long. But I did learn some really fundamental things. But what I really sensed at that point was a deep. Deep gap in the need for creativity, and then I kind of gradually got out of it, so then I became the head of strategy at a beauty company because I thought, oh, gosh, if I just take my skill set and apply it to an industry, I might like to be in more. Maybe that’ll work. But it didn’t, right? I was still there still wasn’t enough creativity then. I kind of got lured back by the promise of money and an old partner at Bain and Company where I used to work to be at Citigroup. And that’s when I realized, oh my God, this is so not me. What am I doing? You know, I really feel completely starved of who I am and creativity. And at that point, I did something really wild because I knew that I needed to break out of this mold, this path of job off a job that wasn’t right for me. So I became a soul cycle instructor. And as one would as you do, because what I realized is I needed to start following what made me happy, what gave me joy. And so I started going to Soul Cycle after the birth of my second child. And I really just loved it. I loved the music. I loved the rhythm. I loved the showmanship. You know, when I was young, I love going to acting classes and I was a singer, all that kind of stuff. So it was really true to my core DNA. And I thought I told my husband I’m gonna audition to become a soul cycle instructor. He thought I was absolutely mad, mad as a hatter, and that’s exactly what I needed. So with no experience, what so ever. I auditioned and I did that for two years and it was truly wonderful. It really was. And then but I knew it was never going to be long term for me to be good at that job. I’m a highly competitive person. You know, you have to teach very early in the morning, teach late in the evening, be completely committed to being an athlete. And I was sleeping all the time and out of the house when I really needed to be home for young babies. And my husband was kind of like, hello, would you like to participate in some childcare? So and I really always knew that I was interested in entrepreneurship. And Julie at Soul Cycle had given me a really good piece of advice at one point, which was don’t sit around forever and wait for the billion dollar idea because you’ll sit around for your whole life. And the advice that she gave is just go, just stop. And that’s what I did. And, you know, was it the perfect idea? Like, if I look back and think about if I really wanted to do an analysis of, oh, my gosh, what’s the greatest reward? What’s the greatest margin, high margin business I could start? The result might be very different, but this was a very organic process and I’m really happy about where I am.
Sam Jayanti [00:12:48] I think you’ve identified two really critical things in what you’ve said. One, that you gave yourself the time, the runway, the space, obviously supported by your family to go through that self-discovery process, which was not linear. You went in a few different directions. You tried some things, you learned about yourself through that process and and then ultimately sort of converged on understanding what values were most important to you. But then the second is exactly Julie Rice’s advice, I think, which is people don’t start with billion dollar ideas and build them into billion dollar companies. They generally start with an instinct for a need in the marketplace or a gap that they see in the marketplace. And if they execute right, it turns into a billion dollar idea. But there are those plans of, oh, I’m going to find the next billion dollar idea and build it are seldom successful in my view.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:13:50] No, that’s right. And I’m sure many of your listeners have read Shoe Dog by Phil Knight.
Sam Jayanti [00:13:56] Such a great book.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:13:57] So incredible. But if you just think about that related to what you just said. The guy didn’t seem like he had a hope in hell, right, he did. Crazy
Sam Jayanti [00:14:06] Absolutely and didn’t for the first several years
Kiane von Mueffling [00:14:10] And and a lot of years. And even when the companies started to get quite large, they were still chasing the float. So there were times where they were literally waiting for the cash flow to pay for the next thing. And he just did not stop. It was utter and complete resilience and determination. And, you know, it might not have worked out, but it did. And that’s why I want to get rid of this kind of guilt, you know, thesis that people have about doing the wrong thing. It really is a journey. It really is a path. You know, you just have to keep going. You might get really lucky. You might get there in two years and you might get there in 50. But it’s worth it, it’s worth getting to the place where you have some happiness in what you do, and it wasn’t until I worked at Soul Cycle that I had that.
Sam Jayanti [00:15:04] Totally agree. So talk to us a little bit about your pivot away from what you started with, which was a limited edition sort of model where every piece eventually sold out and now you’re moving in a different direction. So you’re moving to a more traditional apparel model. And tell us about your thinking that sort of informed that and as well as some of the trends that you observed in the industry that have enabled that move.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:15:31] OK, so two things. Number one is the limited edition thing is not a sustainable long term business model. OK, so in the beginning when we started this, I wasn’t imagining this thing to go on for years. I really wasn’t. But it went well. And as anyone with finance one on one, no one will know is that you only get leverage and you’re a cost advantage and hence margin advantages. If you’re going to produce at volume. We still are producing. You know, even though they’re so above the volumes we used to produce, we are still very low volume and it costs money. But the wonderful thing about that, to be honest, is it doesn’t create waste. We are very, very careful. And in the fashion business, lots of people overproduce. You’ll hear all the things about you. One of the one of the ways it is detrimental to the environment is people burn product, they waste product, they put it in landfill. We are very focused on very, very accurate forecasting. So we really produce literally down to the units of where we want to go. So there’s no wastage. But yes. And the other thing is customers wouldn’t allow us to do this limited edition thing. People started freaking out when things were no longer available. So as we’ve evolved, we realized this thing was going to be around. The limited-edition thing was never going to never going to work. And we needed to replicate things that people loved. The other thing about that was that. We were really trying to produce and create create our own season, so the premise was that when a product ran out, we would reproduce for you and it wouldn’t matter when the fashion seasons were. And I still really believe in that. But the industry, especially in the wholesale market, still doesn’t really subscribe to that. And I think that is dramatically changing. But fashion buyers like to buy according to those seasons. So they’re very prescriptive as to when they buy. And the collection has to drop when it drops because they’re the periods in which they buy. So if you want to penetrate in the wholesale world. Then you do have to play on that calendar a little bit. Completely different if you’re only going to be a D to C business. But there’s just certain realities that you have to accept in terms of the industry in which you’re operating.
Sam Jayanti [00:17:47] So two questions that that raises. Well, one observation, I guess, and one question, so I’ll go with the observation first. I think fashion has over-produced for so long that it’s, in fact birthed an entire industry of sort of the Gilt’s and ooh Lala’s and other companies of the world that are basically dealing with that overproduction and effectively, as you called it, waste. Right. And identifying a new consumer set that purchases then those products. But the other thing, the question I had for you was. How do you think about as a brand, as an as an entrepreneur? The mix in your business between to see which you’ve done a lot of and the wholesale business? I mean, often you hear from entrepreneurs in fashion that the only way to scale is to enter the wholesale market. But that comes with a great many implications, some of which you identified in terms of method of production, timing of production and sort of catering to these entrenched buyer and retailer behaviors. And with that comes an increase in volume, but also comes a drop in margins. So how are you thinking about that?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:19:05] I mean, we could have a three hour discussion on this. We could have a three week discussion on this. Look, the reality of where I am is as follows is that we don’t really have tremendous wholesale presence right now. So if I want to penetrate wholesale, which I ultimately do want to, it really needs to be in the flesh. It’s going to be very hard to establish wholesale relationships over Zoom. OK, so that really needs to be in the flesh thing. So our wholesale strategy is really not going to take hold again until we can show our product in the flesh.
Sam Jayanti [00:19:38] Makes sense.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:19:39] Right? So up until that time, our focus is very much on D to C. Now in the background. We are making sure that we are on that wholesale calendar. So we are we were on it, we came off in a little bit during the pandemic as we pour some of our development because we really didn’t know what was going to happen. But we are working on it in the background so that when people are ready to see each other in the flesh again, we will be ready. We will have product ready at the appropriate time. The reason wholesale is important for me is really for two reasons. Number one is that it drives awareness. It’s another channel. It’s another place for your product to be seen. And as we spoke about at the inception of the call, you know, it’s really a marketing business. So it’s important for that. OK, and number two is that we also spoke about, which is about volume. And if you want to continue to operate and make any money so you can continue, you do need margin leverage. And, you know, you’re going to get better factory prices if you’re producing at greater volume and wholesale allows that. So even though you’re taking a margin, hit you on the price that you pay for that product, you are getting the benefit of awareness and you are getting the benefit with your factory.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:51] Totally makes sense, great reasons. Thanks for explaining that. Let’s take a quick break.
Sam Jayanti [00:20:59] So, Kiane, I want to shift gears a little bit and talk a little bit about how you manage the company, who you’re sort of key lieutenants in the business, how do you allocate responsibilities among you and those members of your team as you’ve grown and scaled?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:21:20] It’s actually quite difficult. And the number one thing that I will say is unless you delegate, you will absolutely fail 100 percent. Now, I’m very controlling and a huge perfectionist, and it’s really important for me to learn and grow as an entrepreneur as to let go and trust that other people need to get things done, because there’s just no way it’s gotten to a point where there’s no way on this earth that I can do it, right?
Sam Jayanti [00:21:50] And I think trust that other people can get it done, but also that there will be some mistakes along the made along the way. But if they’re not monumental, it’s sort of OK.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:21:59] Absolutely, because if you don’t, you will constrain your growth in the most dramatic way possible. You will fail. It might take a little while longer for you to fail, but you will. And then the second thing is becoming very good at. What you need most, right, so when you start off as a small business, all of a sudden will catch up with you and you realize, oh my God, I desperately need someone. And you’re a bit confused, like, oh, my God, I want to do everything. So what do I need someone for? And you keep knocking off the things. No, they can’t do that. No, they can’t do that. You really need to find out what your greatest need is and go there first, OK? Because you’re probably not going to be able to afford unless your equity backed or I’m doing exceptionally well a full time hire. So it’s really starting to knock off. What are the key categories that I need help in first? And then they probably will ultimately be your first 50 years, you know, in those areas. And so, you know, you’ll find people in unexpected places. I really have a premise that I I take most conversations. I take most meetings because you never know who you’ll meet, you know, within reason, of course, and my time availability. But for example, I have one person on my staff who started off doing just our customer service, and she is so damn capable and so incredible that she is now managing e commerce. So I think you’ve just got to be very aware of what people’s talents are, where their strengths are, who you jive with, who you trust, what your needs are. But really, that should be as your entrepreneur, as you as you get to a certain point, your business, that that’s a huge focus of mine in that allocation and getting that right. Because if I don’t get that right, I will fail and be I’ll be a crappy mother, wife, exhausted woman, general disaster. So, so critically important to nail or get better at.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:00] Lots of good advice there. I think the delegation is super key, finding the people and actually getting to know them and understanding their skill sets and how they can be valuable to you and your business. Totally, totally our experience as well. It’s also, you know, I think it’s such a conflict for so many entrepreneurs because as you identified, we tend to be control freaks. We tend to be perfectionists. And I think those are very typical qualities of what birth’s an entrepreneurial idea. But then what actually scales and grows that idea is absolutely not that. And there has to be a sort of relearning or an unlearning of some of that to be able to manage for for growth and scale.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:24:42] Yeah, absolutely. Because the people, as we just said, the people who will succeed is the people who can nail that skill. And it’s probably a skill they never had. And it’s a little bit uncomfortable. But as we all know, the old sage old advice is you have to be a little bit uncomfortable to get anywhere.
Sam Jayanti [00:24:58] So true, what keeps you up at night right now?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:25:02] Definitely our goals and our targets, they are no small they’re not small bickies, let’s put it like that. So what keeps me up at night is looking at those numbers, trying not to throw up because, look, I have people who believe in me and people who work for me who told me, no, it’s no problem, we’re going to get there. So for me, it’s all about making sure we get that the really big picture month by month. What’s the goal as it starts to escalate? What’s important? How does the marketing mix need to change? Is the marketing mix allocated properly? Where are the returns coming from? So really starting to, as best I can, step away from the granularity and pull back and making sure that we have all the building blocks in place to reach those things, because this year is really a is going to be a tremendous year of growth for us.
Sam Jayanti [00:25:58] That’s fantastic. Have you raised money from outside investors or have you been mostly self-funded thus far?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:26:05] No, I haven’t yet. And. I go back and forth on it all the time, so I go back and forth on thinking, and it’s not because I want to do everything on my own. Absolutely not, because I think that is truly foolish. It’s just that we haven’t needed to. So the business has been successful enough and managed effectively enough that we have always had the cash flow that we need it. As we grow and as the order volumes start to become quite significant, we might start to encounter that shooting problem, which is what they call riding the float, where you’re literally on the cusp of us being able to pay for the next order. So, look, I would never say no, but it would have to be the right opportunity. I also fundamentally believe in my employees sharing in that success. So I think that talent is really, really important. And right now, I can’t pay the people that I want, the levels that I want. So I’m very, very happy to bring them in on equity. I think it’s absolutely critically important. And I want I deeply not not even from a you know, I from a deep core perspective, I want the people in it with me to succeed. I really, really do. I really, really believe in that. And I want us to be in it together.
Sam Jayanti [00:27:23] One hundred percent, I think without that commitment and investment, it’s very hard for people who join your team to get behind the mission. And so I think that mix of equity, but also getting them to the level of responsibility that they’re clearly very capable of and over time, getting to a place where you can pay them what they what they sort of deserve and what you want to pay them makes total sense. Last question, Kiane, where do you so where do you see yourself in three years, both you and the business?
Kiane von Mueffling [00:28:01] You know, we we have goals through twenty, twenty four, we’re all mapped out through them, but I would also say that the world is rapidly evolving. So I can tell you very, very frankly that I don’t know right now I’m really focused trying to be as focused as I can on the present, obviously with a mind set of clear goals for the future. But trying to just take one day at a time, one month at a time. And given that we’re living in the state that we are living in, that the the change that we’re going through, I don’t think anybody knows. So I think the focus on the present for me is critically important. You know, my current happiness, the happiness of my employees, nourishing my family, all that good stuff is exactly where I want to be, you know, with some goals for the future, of course. But the answer is, I don’t know. And that’s OK.
Sam Jayanti [00:28:54] That is absolutely OK. I love that answer. Here’s something else you should know digital channels, websites, ECOM, etc. in fashion are expected to grow by another 20 percent in twenty twenty one after experiencing a very high rate of growth in 2020 thanks to the pandemic. Thanks to McKinsey for the data used in today’s episode Kiane, we love what you’ve built because you’ve tried a variety of different things in your career. You’ve carved out a distinctive niche with your brand, and you’re definitely building the plan as you’re flying it, as all good entrepreneurs do. Thanks so much for joining us on the show today.
Kiane von Mueffling [00:29:33] It’s my pleasure. And I love what you guys are doing over there. I think it’s so great that you’re providing a resource for people to listen and learn.
Sam Jayanti [00:29:41] Thanks for listening today. You can subscribe wherever you get your podcasts and while you’re there, please do review the show. We love hearing from you. So e-mail us at info at the Ideamix.Com or Instagram DM us. Our episode this week was produced by the incomparable Martin Milewski with music by the awesome Nashville based singer songwriter Doug Allen. You can learn more about Doug at DougAllenMusicDot.Com
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