Hilary Rosenman, the next generation shoemaker and Woman Entrepreneur

-2 Hilary came into my life through a very good friend, he started dating her.  Didn't take much for the whole family to become Hilary fans.  She is smart, curious, charming, adorable, has a great sense of style and I could go on and on but above all she has a good aura and spunk.  Just a very cool woman.  I particularly loved that she was an entrepreneur delving into the market of producing shoes which happens to be an arena owned by men.  Her story is one of perseverence and a little bit of blind expectations that kept her and her partner going….after all, that is what makes a really good entrepreneur.  Dive in feet first, no pun intended. 

Hilary grew up in NYC with her parents and two brothers.  Her mother is the creative type who painted and even owned a flower shop at one point and her father is a dentist.  Both entrepreneurs.  Hilary went to Nightingale, a private girls school and went to an all-girls summer camp too.  After High School she went to Skidmore for college.  After graduating college she returned home to more than a handful of interviews with anyone her parents or parents friends knew.  Randomly in one interview which was for ad sales for Manahttan magazine, the woman hired her on the spot.  She was off to the races.

Hilary knew nothing about ad sales and eventually ended up as an assistant to the woman who hired her.  It was an insane job.  A woman who worked in the fashion department took Hilary under her wing.  She inspired her by teaching her everything about the business.  Three years into it, the magazine folded.  I believe that no matter how unhappy you are in that first job, it is hard to make a move.  I remember leaving Macys and that was such a huge leap but once I made that leap, leaping became easier and easier.

Hilary found herself talking with Charlotte Ronson who she had gone to Nightingale with about her business.  Charlotte was just starting her clothing line.  She asked Hilary to come help her and so she did.  It was an incredible four year learning experience.  She learned what do to and what not do to.  How to make a t-shirt and distribute it to your clients/stores.  Hilary was there as the t-shirt line evolved into a full blown clothing line including shoes.  Charlottes clothes were really taking off in Japan and Damon Dash bought a piece of the company.

They moved into Dash's offices and worked out of there.  She would go to meetings with Charlotte, Damon Dash and Jay-Z where they would talk big picture, cross-promotion and licensing.  It was quite amazing to watch these people think and operate.  Once they started working with licensees in Japan, Hilary decided it was time to move on.

Her favorite part of the business was the shoes.  Her friend from college, Barri was working in a showroom doing sales.  They both loved vintage shopping.  They both got along really well and Barri was extremely creative.  One evening after a glass of wine they started talking about starting their own business.  I can only imagine Hilary talking about starting a business and then just ending the conversation with "lets do it".  They had watched and worked within successful companies and understood the business so why couldn't they do it for themselves.

They named the company Madison Harding.  The first thing they did was walk into a bank to try and get a loan.  The guy who was there happened to to go college with a friend of theirs and was enamored with what they were trying to do.  He gave them a loan for $75K.  That in itself it amazing.  Then an ex-boyfriend from college told them he would give them $100K too.  They had funding.  They started to make samples while keeping their day jobs. 

Hilary was a party planner at a night club while Barri was working at the NYU Jewish center doing administration work.  Really late at night they would get together and work on the business.  They created designs, had samples made, worked on pr and worked on getting a showroom to represent them.  The show rooms destroyed them with their first round of samples.  They were terrible and they knew they were.  Back to square one. 

They finally hit on a good shoe and the manufactueres in China that Hilary knew from Charlotte Ronson said the minimum was 1200 shoes.  She figured she could do that.  She had no idea how hard it would be to sell the product.  After their first market week they had only 10 stores that wanted a few small orders.  They freaked out, pulled their shoes from that showroom and began to do it themselves.  They began to get a few orders from companies like Shopbop and the upward drudge to grow the business.

Then the market crashed and many of their stores had net 30 terms (stores will pay within 30 days of receipt of goods) but in reality it ended up 90 days.  When the market turned many of them went out of business and weren't able to pay their bills.  They were exhausted and it wasn't fun anymore.  They thought about closing their doors. 

Instead Hilary went out to Los Angeles and began to sell her friends closets of vintage clothing on line at EBay.  Her business was really growing and she was making cash.  THe idea was to shop this persons closet and she had 3 closets a week.  In essence, a high end consignment shop online.  An idea before its time. Then she returned to NYC.

Hilary and Barri decided to give it one more try.  Their freight guy and distributor loved them and hooked them up with someone to make their shoes this time in Brazil.  It changed the game.  The samples were beautiful.  The price was right.  The amount they had to make was right too.  This guy set them up and for 10% her manages all their back-end for them.  It was a dream come true.  He in essence manages everything from the factor (money that is put up for each order until they get paid), to the manufacturing, to the distribution and takes a % of the gross cost.  His company is called Madison Management. 

It has been an exciting year.  They have broke a lot of major online companies, their shoes look better each year, they are going to do over $1m this year in sales.  They are hoping to move into some large retail chains this year too.  Are you asking if they paid their loan and $100K angel investor back?  The answer is yes.  The bank loan is almost closed and the angel investor is still getting cash back. 

Perseverence perhaps youth and the willingness to just give it that last time college try was the key.  Knowing Hilary, I am not surprised that she grabbed that last gust of wind and turned into a big sunny day.  Check out the shoes and treat yourself to a pair at Madison Harding

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