How This Stylist Turned Designer Launched a Business During COVID—and Attracted A.O.C and J.Lo’s Attention in the Process

March 30, 2021
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You asked for more content around business finances, so we’re delivering. Welcome to Money Matters where we give you an inside look at the pocketbooks of CEOs and entrepreneurs. In this series, you’ll learn what successful women in business spend on office spaces and employee salaries, how they knew it was time to hire someone to manage their finances, and their best advice for talking about money.

Karen Perez never saw herself designing masks. But when the fashion stylist of 15 years was tasked with finding chic, high-end face coverings for her clients during the pandemic and couldn’t find any, she decided to make her own. “I wanted to create a mask that was feminine and chic by highlighting our cheekbones,” Perez tells Create & Cultivate. “A mask that empowered us to still look and feel amazing when we needed to go outdoors.” And the demand for her products has been staggering from the start.

Leading up to the launch of her business, Second Wind, she announced a pre-sale on Instagram, anticipating 100 orders—not 10,000. The overnight success was overwhelming but also posed a major problem: finding the funds to fulfill thousands of orders. “Right after our launch, I decided to create a GoFundMe to raise capital,” Perez explains. “Within a matter of a week, I raised more than $4,000 which made me realize how many people wanted to support my business, my dream.” Including A.O.C. and J.Lo who are just a few of the high-profile women who’ve been spotted wearing her designs.

Ahead, Perez shares her best advice for scaling a business quickly and sustainably, raising capital through crowdfunding, and building a dedicated team.

What has been the biggest challenge in scaling so rapidly, and what advice can you share for fellow small business owners on how to scale quickly and sustainably?

The biggest challenge was finding the right manufacturers in the U.S. so that I can oversee the work. My advice for those thinking of launching a business or fellow small business owners is to always have a targeted budget to work with and set up contracts with your vendors. 

Would you recommend raising capital through crowdfunding to other entrepreneurs today?

The GoFundMe was very helpful and I recommend others to look into this or other crowdfunding platforms. I know some of us are scared to ask for money, let alone apply for loans, but you’d be surprised how many people out there want to see small businesses thrive. 

What was your first big expense as a business owner and how should small business owners prepare for that now?

My first biggest expense was supply—and still is. For big expenses, you have to save. It’s hard for me to give this advice because I gave every penny of my savings to launch the business. I don’t advise everyone to do that because I have a different story than others. While it might not be the best advice, if you feel like you have something special and you want to do it right, go all in.

What are your top three largest expenses every month?

Do you pay yourself, and if so, how did you know what to pay yourself?

Technically I don’t pay myself (yet) because every dollar that I make, I put it back into the business. Second Wind still hasn’t even met its first year, and I have to recognize that I still have more expenses to make in order for this business to grow before I can see personal revenue. 

Would you recommend other small business owners pay themselves?

Absolutely! I think it’s important that you pay for the necessities that you need. You really need to learn how to manage your budgets and how to manage your business and personal expenses. Always stay realistic with yourself. 

How did you know you were ready to hire and what advice can you share on preparing for this stage of your business? 

I knew I had to hire right away—as soon as I saw the 10,000 orders! I physically can’t do all of this by myself. I realized I had to take into consideration what I am investing in when hiring staff. When hiring your team, don’t just look at someone who’s going to make your job easier. You need to invest in building a team that is going to be dedicated to building the business with you. 

Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup? Are there any tools or programs you recommend for bookkeeping?

I hired an accountant and bookkeeper that I work with on a monthly basis. My accountant is also like my financial advisor and has guided me with managing budgets and expenses. My go-to program is Quickbooks. 

Where do you think is the most important area for a business owner to focus their financial energy?

Your financial energy should definitely be put towards your product (materials, supply) and PR/marketing. This is the core of my business and it’s what helps us to continue to grow. 

Do you think women should talk about money and business more?

Yes! I think it’s so important. For a long time, women were never thought to be included in these conversations. I think it’s important for us to come together and be open and share advice. I have my go-to circle of friends that are also small business owners and they share advice with me all the time. 

Do you have a financial mentor? Do you think business owners need one?

I have several financial mentors—a mix of both men and women. I think it’s important for others to have one. Don’t be shy to network and ask around/meet with your local business owners. You’d be surprised as to how many small business owners in your area would be willing to chat with you and give you some advice. 

What money mistakes have you made and learned from along the way?

As a new small business owner, you are eager to get things done and sign off on contracts without reading them properly, and when there are problems, you realize you didn’t read the contract correctly. My advice is to READ everything carefully and protect yourself. 

What is your best piece of financial advice for new entrepreneurs?

The best advice is to love what you do. No matter how much money you are making, how much money you have to spend, if you stand by your product and business you will see financial gain.   

Your business has garnered the support of high-profile women by the likes of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jennifer Lopez. No doubt, major retailers are asking to carry your products as a result. What’s next for you and your brand? Can we expect to see Second Wind products at Bloomingdale’s or Nordstrom in the future? 

We are excited to announce that we have a confirmed retailer commitment from Saks Fifth Avenue. Our products will be sold online until further notice. This is just the first step to growing into a global brand.

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