The Freelance Life spotlights members who are pursuing their passions through independent work. Meet Tennille McMillan: Fashion designer and owner of her clothing company, Nakimuli.
What’s the 1st lesson you learned about being a solopreneur?
Time management! In the beginning, it’s hard to manage your time wisely because you’re by yourself and everything seems like a priority. But the more you work on your business, the better you are at deciding what is and isn’t important. Even though I now have an employee, this is still is a challenge because I am involved in every aspect of the business and then have to manage my employee and any freelancers and interns I may hire. But I am much better at it now.
*What’s the best lesson you learned? *
Listen to your intuition. By listening to your own heart and mind, you create a business that is uniquely yours. People love to tell you what you should do, how you should run your business, what items you should create. I have even had so-called friends tell I wouldn't go far because I'm not running my business the way they envision. You have to listen to yourself and do things that you think will benefit yourself and your business.
*When did you realize you could turn your “passion for fashion” into your own business? *
I always had a thing for expressing myself through clothing. In junior high, on days when we were allowed to wear something other than our uniform, I would wear "weird" stuff, clothing that the other kids would not wear. I just always marched to the beat of a different drum. But it wasn't until college that I really began to pay attention to fashion as a real, tangible thing.
How did you land your first client?
After college, I worked in a small boutique in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where the owner, my mentor, encouraged me to designed pieces for her boutique. So my first clients were her customers or my friends spreading the word.
How did you start building your freelance business?
Once I left that job, I worked at a wardrobe storage facility and then branched out on my own; but I still kept a lot of my clients/customers from the boutique. And once I was on my own, I began selling online on Etsy and promoting it on Myspace and Facebook.
You're self-taught. How did you go about that?
I graduated high school when I was 16, which left me at home while my friends were still in their senior year. I stayed home and would take apart denim jeans to turn into skirts. My mom recognized my talent and bought me a sewing machine for Christmas that year. I began to teach myself how to sew and practiced making things for family and friends.
*Would you do it the same way again? *
I think I would do it the same way. Not going to school made me fearless about trying different things with my designs, especially early on. I think I would have taken a few continuing education courses/private lessons to learn all the technical stuff faster than I did, but I have no regrets about my journey.
Do you feel that honing your skills outside a more traditional career path benefited you?
I think each path has its advantages, but being self-taught has benefited me in the way I approach my business. I think outside the box and try different things and explore more unconventional paths; it's the only way I know how to be since I don't have any rules to go by.
*Following your passions isn’t easy. What keeps you going on the bad days? *
Receiving nice emails or pictures of customers in my clothing always makes bad days easier to get through. It is a lovely reminder of why I started designing and to keep going.
What’s one thing that you would want every solopreneur to know?
I think it’s important for every solopreneur to know that you must have a great support system and to surround yourself with positivity. The road will be very challenging and you want people around you that will lift you up and help you get through.
As you continue to grow your business, do you tend to collaborate/work with other solopreneurs?
Yes, the more I grow, the more opportunities I get to work with other solopreneurs, which I love because we can relate to what the other is going through, the challenges we must face, and the ambitious drive we need to make things happen.
Do feel these relationships can be more supportive or effective than working with industry standard resources?
These relationships are definitely more supportive because our backgrounds are similar. However, it can be a challenge since solopreneurs are usually overworked and spread themselves too thinly trying to wear many hats in their own businesses.
Several celebrities have been seen wearing your designs, and you've done custom designs for others. How did you start working with high profile names?
Social Media makes it a lot easier for solopreneurs to connect with celebrities. Erykah Badu, who was my dream client and the first celebrity I worked with personally, contacted me via email after a few of my fans told her about my work.
Would you say being a solopreneur was helpful or challenging in developing these relationships?
I don't think being a solopreneur makes it challenging to develop relationships with celebs. Social media has leveled the playing ground for us. As long as you have a good online presence, people will begin to talk about you and the word will get out.