Mel as well as Patricia Ziegler co-founded Banana Republic in 1978. The company was purchased from Gap around 1983. It is now an entity, with more than 600 stores across the world. The two also founded The Republic of Tea and . It was the Republic of Tea spawned an entirely new food categorycalled specialty tea. provided clothing made of modern synthetics that could be used for play, work, and at party time. Their companies are extremely creative and focuses on aligning their product and culture with a clear “voice as well as a concept” that is unique to its time. Their new book is titled Wild Company Wild Company: The Untold story of Banana Republic.
This interview Mel discusses his new novel, the difficulties that he and his wife faced when they started Banana Republic and how he managed to maintain a healthy marriage while running a company and much more.
The new book you wrote is titled “Wild Company.”What made the idea for the title ? And how does it reflect the company that you started?
The company we founded was an adventure. I’m a writer , and Patricia has a talent as an artist. From the beginning, Banana Republic was as much about creativity as much as earning money. We planned to build an organization that was different from others, even if it was because we were unable to run things the legal method even if we thought of doing so. We had no knowledge of catalogs, sales or direct marketing, let alone the business of apparel. We learned by doing our method, and we decided to try an idea to locate clean and then offer vintage military surplus clothing in a fresh setting. The clothes were of more intrinsic value than anyone could have imagined–they were elegant, classic designed and constructed with top quality materials. The excess is the reason why we got going.
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We later expanded into an exclusive line of exquisitely made casual natural fabric garments. However, throughout our journey we did not forget where we started. We enlisted other creative individuals as well, and they were most successful when they had they were free for their creativity to fly. We re-imagined stores as theatres and catalogs as essential literary adventure magazines. We challenged the rules at every turn. Each of our stores was designed to be distinctive and we even sent our merchandise to be evaluated by the famous people of the time and published their remarks in the catalog regardless of the content of their comments and took the time to be particular in creating clothing
Was one of your initial issues as you developed your Banana Republic brand?
What was the biggest obstacle? We started with none of the money nor any experience. We wanted to do things exactly how we wanted them to be done, with no any concern about the way they were done in the past. . Even the product was unconventional–military surplus sold as a proxy for safari clothing. One of the most difficult aspects was the fact that the clothes was initially intended for men, however it was a hit with women of all ages.
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However, we did not think of failure as an option. We changed the manufacturing process and restyled men’s clothing to be more feminine, and was able to expand the business using cash flow, without any outside investment for five years prior to the deal was bought by Gap. We only resigned to Gap’s founder Don Fisher, made repeated assurances of independence.
You and your co-founder are also married.Was that a problem?How did you deal with that?
It’s the issue of questions. If I were to tell you the complete truth, I could divulge times, like those at Houston. Houston Airport in which we became so angry with one another that we flew separate planes back home. These were only the rare instances. We were in love with each other to the point of a tizzy and couldn’t bear to spend any time apart. We knew that we both completed each other’s task. I’m verbal, she’s visual. I thrive when I’m looking at the big picture, Patricia is a master of details. It was a breeze to break things down into different groups. Every company has a an image and a voice. We had the ability to delicately edit each other.
We knew that we each had the final vote. It was a case where one + one is equal to three. I’ll say this: If it’s successful it’s a great moment to start a business with your partner that can only be made with your unique synergy. After that, to having children There’s nothing more satisfying than having children. Our survival was dependent on one another, so neither one of us could ever let another down. The cost we had to pay for the 10 years which we managed the company seemed as if they were a single day. There was no life outside of our business. It was our life. We didn’t care since to us, work is play.
How did you establish your business with virtually no cash or prior experience?What sources did you count on?
We had fifteen hundred dollars as our pooled savings, which was the total amount of investment that launched Banana Republic until we were bought by Gap. We used all the resources we could find–I created this catalog. Patricia created it and and we glued it all together at the table in the kitchen. We viewed ourselves as professional amateurs. We were the marketing expert and the lawyer, the accountant and the catalog editor. I was the window washer, and the president. Patricia is the fashion designer and seamstress the analyst and store manager the laundress, and the wife of a man who came up with a new idea every second. Because the bank refused to turn us off for loans and we were certain that the suppliers’ credit was the only way to get credit. So we negotiated into our initial terms and paid each invoice in advance.
What are three suggestions would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs today?
Three points? Don’t fail, don’t fail, and don’t fail. When you’re engaged in something that you enjoy, don’t let “no” become more than an inconvenience. It’s a fact that the Brazilians have a term for it, namely jeito. It’s a way of saying”There’s always a way.
Dan Schawbel is a Gen Y career advisor and creator of Millennial Branding, a Gen Y research and consulting firm. The author is also top bestseller in the world of publishing Me 2.0 4 Steps to building your Future and was included on the Inc. Magazine 30 Under 30 list in 2010. Follow the Personal Branding blog to get additional self-help tips.
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