Growing up during the tech boom seems to have given young entrepreneurs like Parisa Wang and Allison Patel a definite advantage. They are savvier about building brands and are tireless about using the Internet and social media for promotion and fundraising.

Like many creatives, Wang is versatile and fearless. Despite cultural and family pressure to pursue a more traditional career, she insisted on cultivating her artistic goals. With college degrees in both accounting and art, and previous experience in business and fashion, Wang understands that an entrepreneur must think both creatively and critically. For her, personal misfortune and self-doubt presented opportunity and that’s when she started Parisa NYC. Wang says her handbags are all about inspiring women to access their own inner courage in the face of heartbreak and adversity.

Patel, on the other hand, enjoyed a more circuitous route after leaving the Joffrey Ballet to become the distiller of her own whisky. At 23, she decided to pursue her passion for traveling and sampling food and drink in different countries all over the world. She visited local markets, wineries, and distilleries and broadened her aesthetic awareness of her favorite spirit: whisky. When Patel returned to the U.S., she was disappointed by the limited selection of whiskies on offer in America. So, she took matters into own her hands and set up an import and export company to fulfill the demand. While exploring the world’s whisky scene, she met a third-generation Cognac producer who distilled a distinctive malt at his farm distillery in the heart of Cognac, France. Three years later, her company Brenne was born.

Ultimately, Wang’s and Patel’s stories show that talent and desire for success in one field can carry over to another, if only you have the vision. This is the first in our new series highlighting creative women in business. – Ellison Walcott

 

Parisa Wang, Image credit: P. Wang
PARISA WANG

It’s not easy breaking into the fashion industry? Was it always your first choice?

I’ve always loved drawing, designing and fashion since I was a kid. I never knew that I could become a designer though. Artistic expression was not a warmly accepted idea during my childhood, because the arts were seen as a waste of time and as an impediment to my academic success in China.

I didn’t openly pursue art until I attended college in the U.S. where I majored in both accounting and painting. I could have followed my parents’ advice and taken a traditional career path. At the end of the day, I thought about taking their advice but ultimately chose to trust myself. I’ve never looked back since.

What inspires your design? And why handbags?

Disappointed in a love affair, I found consolation among my female friends. I was inspired by their emotional support, and I was compelled to spread an equally encouraging message to others, so I created Parisa NYC, which offers a line of handbags that captures the stages of love — from hooked to free. Every handbag is handmade with genuine leather. Like a great love, it takes time and effort to craft.

How is it being a small business/entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Being a solopreneur means you are in a constant battle. You are fighting for opportunities and fighting against fear and doubt.

I imagined what I’d tell my grandchildren one day when they asked about my life. I could tell them that I chose the safe and responsible career, but I wanted to tell them that when I was young, I decided to take a risk and follow my dream.

What advice would you give to others?

We all go through phases of self-doubt and self-questioning. “Should I launch a crowdfunding campaign?” “Should I go to this fashion conference in Texas by myself?” “Should I …” Fear and hesitation are the underlying reasons for many of my decisions.

I turned to an entrepreneur friend for help, and he told me that the only reason I was questioning my instincts was I hadn’t actually tried them out. That was my “light bulb” moment. Test things out.

When my fellow entrepreneurs ask me whether they should do certain things, I tell them “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

Image credit: P. Wang

I took that trip to Texas alone and made valuable connections for my business. And I launched a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign two months later. When I clicked the launch button, it felt like I had jumped off a cliff. That was also the moment when I realized I was freefalling and had no safety net or backup.

When all the odds were against me, I learned to not take no as an answer. I learned how to create opportunities for myself.

 


 

Allison Patel, Image credit: Sarah Baumberger
ALLISON PATEL

What inspired you to take the plunge, to become an entrepreneur?

My history as an entrepreneur began in my childhood when my mom told me the only way I could have a pet rabbit was if I paid for it. I was in first grade. I started a business with my sister, and we sold our crafted home decor at the end of our driveway. Then, when I turned nine, I auditioned for and was selected into the Joffrey Ballet and danced professionally until I was 23 years old.

After running my whisky business successfully for the past seven years, I can say a lot of my initial trust in my own resourcefulness and creativity in achieving results came from my dancing days.

How is Brenne whisky produced? What infuses the flavor?

I’m currently inspired by two things: 1) authentic original innovation and 2) what can be created using my whisky as a catalyst.

Brenne whisky is the only single malt in the world aged in new French Oak and Cognac Barrels. This is significant because 60-70% of the flavor of a whisky comes from the barrels in which it is aged. By aging Brenne in two barrels that promote both creamy vanilla and bold fresh fruit notes, we’ve created a whisky that is truly delicious, smooth and incredibly unique.

In addition to the actual technique and art of dance, we also had to manage ourselves like a small business. I had to negotiate my own contracts and market myself to stand out from a crowd. In essence, I have always been an entrepreneur!

How is it being a small business/entrepreneur? What are some of the challenges you’ve faced?

Being a small business owner is about being a dreamer and having the courage to take action.

My team is pretty lean. It’s basically me, based in NYC, my distiller, and a team of farmers in France. All of our barley is grown organically on site! And in 2016, I welcomed Katie Schloss to help focus Brenne’s voice on social media.

I had never worked in the whisky industry before Brenne, so every day of those first three years felt like I was climbing a new mountain each day. While there are still plenty of terrifying and unsure moments, I do rise with curiosity and gusto every single day.

I created this business from scratch. I face difficulties every day! That’s part of the fun. Learning to navigate new challenges in a way that is kind, intentional, creative, and on every level, is a way of positively serving the world.

Image credit: Sarah Baumberger

What advice would you give to others?

Create strong ties with two distinctive communities: those in your industry who can be your professional cheerleaders and support systems, and those in your personal life who will continue to relate to you as yourself. It’s hard to remember that you are not your business when you work at it seven days a week. However, it’s really important to make that distinction, so that your business doesn’t cause you to feel drained. Get out, feel the sun on your face, dance, laugh, support your friends, do what makes you feel alive REGULARLY, so that you can bring that aliveness back to your business. You’re the heartbeat after all, so feed your personal beat, too!

 

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