Ashley Nell Tipton | Crain's Denver

In this ongoing series, we ask executives, entrepreneurs and business leaders about mistakes that have shaped their business philosophy.

Ashley Nell Tipton


Ashley Nell Tipton is a fashion designer who created a plus-sized clothing line. The native San Diegan was the winner of Season 14 of the "Project Runway" reality TV show.

The Mistake:

When I first started my business, I did it all on my own. I had no experience; I was straight out of college.

I decided that I wanted to show the world what I could do. I had the support of my family, and I wanted to see how far I could push myself.

As soon as I launched my line, orders began to come in online. I had more than 50 orders during the first week. People had learned about me through word of mouth, social media and my appearance on Full Figured Fashion Week, so people who were plus-sized knew about me.

But I didn’t have enough funds to get the collection produced. As a result, I had to make each item by hand. This went on for three or four weeks. My family members helped me, including my sister, who didn’t even know how to sew. I taught her.

This experience was really tough. At the same time, I was still promoting my line through any avenue that was free.

I couldn’t enjoy the fact that people were so excited about my clothes and that I had all of these orders. I thought I could do it all on my own, but it was exhausting, repetitive, and I got burned out.

When I started making money, I hired a production team, but all the money I made from orders I invested in production for those orders and additional inventory. I felt like I was going backwards. I just wanted to create, and not have to worry about production.

I thought I could do it all on my own, but it was exhausting, repetitive, and I got burned out.

The Lesson:

I went on "Project Runway," and while the season aired, even before anyone knew I had won, J.C. Penney saw what I was doing and contacted me. They wanted me to create a plus-sized line for them. Working with J.C. Penney allows me to create without having to worry about production. I also create patterns for Simplicity.

What I would advise a young designer just starting out is to, ideally, work under someone. But there were no plus-size designers in San Diego for me to work under. I felt that I had a niche, and I could take it on. I can be hard-headed, but I’m passionate and have drive. A designer needs to do research. Contact people in your niche to get advice.

Ashley Nell Tipton is on Twitter at @byashley_nell.

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