Here are some of the earliest photos I took and posted on my Facebook Page in March of 2012. I still can't believe the journey that I have been on ever since. A fateful conversation between my father, my best friend Justine and myself back in the fall of 2011 sparked the idea of hipS-sister. Frustrated that I was trying to find a way to carry my stuff while on walks and hikes with my friends AND frustrated with an activewear company that my sister and I were trying to launch, the concept was born. For reasons I wish I could do over, my sister and I chose not to work together any longer at that point. And I deeply regret not being mature enough to handle the emotions that go along with working with a family member. Ironically, the name I chose, hipS-sister I created because of our close bond, one that we share to this day. .(Just a sidenote as it adds another dimension to our branding and WHY our name has so much significance to me, I get asked a lot if I have a sister, YES I DO and we are very close and have been since she came into my life when I was 2 years, 1 month and 2 days old :) ) . So back to the journey......... I searched and searched the internet to find anything out there. And, I couldn't find anything that I would not only want to wear, but get excited about purchasing. After months of design, picking fabrics, creating lines, I posted my first picture on my Facebook page asking my friends what they thought about my new creation. The response was tremendous and I knew I was onto something.
The first few months I tackled it all with the help of my BFF Justine by my side. I registered for trademarks, traveled to the local fabric store where I found some of the prints that I still use to this day, made my first production. 100 hipS-sisters that I would "give-away" to the first 100 friends who said that they wanted them. I found a local factory to produce, found a company to logo (since then my logo has changed ) , and mailed them all. The only thing that I asked for was for these recipients to call this item a "hipS-sister". And they did.
Within a short period of time the word got out in San Diego. Friends of friends wanted one too and the demand increased. It was at that time (a few months later) that I got some help from a friend who gained my trust, who later would be my very first knock-off competitor He was only working for me for a little more than a month. But long enough to learn a lot about my plans for my products and brand, and he took with him about 50 of my samples. I remember now the first time I showed him the samples that I had already created and produced, and shared with him about the response I was getting from our friends around town ( I had already given out the 100 hipS-sisters and word was spreading quick), well it was a unfortunate meeting that I would later regret. A very sad lesson for me, and one that I hope others will learn from my mistake for trusting the wrong person. *But,since embarking on this journey he wouldn't be the last person to work with me that would ultimately betray me. I don't suppose if one is a trusting person that you are ever immune to dishonest people with dishonest motives. I could become jaded, but NO. I won't let others define WHO I AM. And I do believe in cause and effect. The invisible energy to things that is ever present. In other words, the universe has a way of sorting these things out , so I can let that go for the most part. Only to set the record straight when dishonesty could potentially hurt my business, I am forced to speak up, and .....I will.. I also was blessed to have others come along on my journey. One woman, in particular Rhonda, who suffered from a terrible accident and had to leave my side. Then I was on my own, again, with the support of Justine pushing me forward, encouraging me, my rock.. It was during this time I landed the Home Shopping Network, with a chance meeting that Rhonda had with an HSN representative. Just more validation for me that I was onto something big.
Being a single mom of three kids, I am not a risk taker by nature. In fact, had I known what a sacrifice owning a business truly is I often ask myself, would I do it again? Despite the hard work, perseverance, financial demands, personal betrayals along the way, I will say the answer to that question is YES.
Now back to the journey.....it was September 2012 and I was on my own once again but not really ( there SHE was, my trusted BFF Justine there by my side. Reminding me of my strength that at times I couldn't find, reminding me of the reasons "WHY" I was working so hard, believing in me, when I found it hard to believe in myself).. This time it was right before the holiday season. I began my attempts at local events around town. Women loved this product. And I found myself selling out of what I had pretty quickly. I knew I needed to step it up.
December 2012 my living room became a warehouse. My children became my little helpers. I had managed to find (or they found me) some women who wanted to help me sell. Four in particular who are still with me to this day. Ivy, Sara, Christine and Stephanie. San Diego, Canada, East Coast and Florida locations Lucky me!! The word of the product/ brand spread and I was growing.
Here's where I realized I needed HELP. As in, I NEED A COMPANY HELP! And that is how I found my COO , or my Huckleberry , Kathleen. In January 2013 I moved my distribution center to Palm Springs, after the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership offered to bring my company in, help me grow and offer me support. Kathleen built a company, while I continued to work on designs.
A start up company is rough. You are creating something that didn't exist before. Our first year in business we sold product without retail packaging. We did what we had to do. And it worked. We sold out of product at times. It took us some time to get into our "groove". We strived for excellent customer service and created a culture within our company that was what we call a "Sisterhood".* It was then that my Brand AmbaS-sister program was built. Women who purchased this product were wearing their hipS-sister and their friends would see it and want one too. The idea was born to create a program in which women (and men, one in particular, my dear friend Brock) could purchase from me and sell. The BA program became the heart and soul of this company pretty quickly. They would sign up for events, work them, spread the word and make a little money. It caught on quick. We started a Facebook Private Group Page and WE became a family instantly. As new BA's signed up, they were welcomed into the group, supported and included. The culture of this company naturally became the name that we represent "SISTER", in the truest sense of the word. By focusing on the relationships within our organization and with our customers, we were creating a unique brand identity and the passion so necessary to keep a business going and thriving. The synergy that a group creates far exceeds what one single person can do. And every single person who has joined me on this journey is partly responsible for its success. We created an interactive Facebook page in which customers would send us pictures or their adventures while wearing our products, enter contests, communicate with us and with one another. That quickly became my favorite part of the "business".
Fast forward to this month, September 2014.in which Gayle King lists hipS-sister as her favorite accessory in the October Edition of O Magazine which hit the newsstands and mailboxes. The response from that article has HIT our webstore and our retail partners are seeing the benefit of the "O Effect" which has been incredible. Our retailers who have stuck with us are now selling out of product as women flock to their stores because they want to wear "what Gayle is wearing" and I am so happy for them, as well. It now feels like we have achieved something I never thought was possible. And it is truly been a dream come true for us..
We are excited about what lies ahead. With the launch of our new product lines: HSX (our unisex version), Soho, and hipSIX, we continue to strive to be the leader in this niche in the market. I value competition. Honest competition.. I know that there are other products out there like FlipBelt, which I believe is an AWESOME product. They have their own unique design features and came out around the same time as me. I think that competition is good and important. But, I don't believe in dishonesty. And other products in the market that look like a hipS-sister are a copy. I have the pictures, posts, trademarks to back that up. Our design, two zippered pockets and one top loading pocket, along with the variations, including Global and Park City are our designs, as well. If anyone has any questions or comments about this (hearing conflicting stories ) feel free to contact me and I can provide you with whatever you need to verify what I am saying. I have it all. Sonia@hipssister.com.
In the meantime, I will strive to do business and create products honestly and creatively. The best is yet to come. And I thank you for all of your support SISTERS. And the VERY BEST PART IS......Justine, my BFF (who has been in my life for the past 30 years) is STILL by my side. Working along beside me as our Customer Service/ Brand AmbaS-sister Manager. AND THAT is exactly what makes this journey MAGICAL and SPECIAL. (Justine is seen here in the picture above, the beauty on the right....my SOUL SISTER, "my hipS-sister" in this journey we call LIFE.) I don't know what will ultimately happen with our company, one can never really "know". But what I do know is I will be doing it side by side, or hipS by hipS with my SISTERS.