Jody: Hello everybody. This is Jody Johnson. Welcome to Made In Miami, where we interview small businesses here locally to learn more about why they love doing business in Miami, how they got started in their business and what their advice would be for others who are about to start a business or looking to grow their businesses. Today we’re going to be with Liz Nieves of Ilo Gear.
Hi Liz. Welcome to Made In Miami.
Liz: Hi Jody. Thank you so much. I’m super grateful to be here.
Jody: We’re delighted. So tell me a little bit about how people can find you, the name of the company, and the best way for them to be able to find you once they know how terrific you and your business are.
Liz: All right. So we’re very heavily on social media presence, so definitely on Instagram, it’s Ilo Gear. On Facebook, it’s the same. We also have the .com as well. And then, we do have a physical store here in Miami, which is our flagship.
Jody: OK. So Liz, tell me how did you start this business and why did you start this business.
Liz: I started this business out of necessity. I am an immigrant, a Cuban immigrant. I am an only child from a single mother. And when my grandmother had passed away, I was 20 years old going to the University, majoring in biology, believe it or not.
Liz: Yes. Everybody thinks that’s very funny. She, my grandmother, passes away. And we lived in a very small efficiency. She used to receive food stamps, this was a great help when my mom worked in the factories in the 80’s and 90’s in the factories in Hialeah. So, my grandmother passes away. My mom has a heart attack six months later and I was basically up to feed us and pay the rent within that month.
Liz: Yes. So, thankfully, I had taken sewing classes in high school. I went to work Coral Gables High.
Jody: You never know.
Liz: Yeah. Thank God for those home ec classes. Actually, I ended up receiving a scholarship for actually creating garments. I had a home ec scholarship that I used for FIU and I had a lot of friends that were dancers. And, I reached out to them and said, “Guys, I’m in desperate need. Whatever you need, I’m here. I can make anything for you guys. I need extra money.” And, sure enough I started that way. And before I knew it, it was like, you should make business cards. And then, I was like OK. And then I was like, why would I make business cards, I’m a biology major. And they’re like, No, you should do it. And then, now we’re here. And then, after 2015, after doing a lot of custom work and really having a very small mom and pop, very local business, at one of a kind, custom made, we decided, let’s take this national. Let’s grow. This was implemented and, thankfully, we’ve had you guys to come and help us tremendously with that. We created Ilo Gear, and so Ilo Gear now is a national brand. We do sell internationally. We’re in a few countries now.
Jody: Yeah, you were just in Italy right?
Liz: Correct. And in London as well.
Jody: Right. So tell us a little bit about what you’re doing exactly, because my understanding is you’re still doing the dance wear for the young dancers, but you’re also doing activewear. So say a little more about that.
Liz: Correct. So one of the things originally, when we created Ilo Gear, I decided I really wanted to go out into the active world. I’ve been an athlete my entire life. I’ve done a half Iron Man.
Jody: I can see.
Liz: Thank you. I’ve run marathons, half Iron Mans. I’ve done track and field since I was in middle school, so my mentor said to me, “you know you’ve been in the dance world you already, have an audience. You all ready have a clientele. If you launch under an activewear platform”, I’m sorry “dance wear platform, you would be able to have a return on investment right away.” And, so now for this year we’re actually launching the activewear portion of it and we’re very very excited.
Jody: OK good. So tell me about a challenge in the business and how you’ve been able to overcome it.
Liz: One challenge.
Jody: One challenge. Yeah. I guess it’s not a very well worded question, is it. Most entrepreneurs have lots and lots of challenges. But, what’s one of them that you had, a big one that you overcame.
Liz: All right. So I think for me one of the biggest challenges that I overcome especially in the apparel industry is finance. Financial, or getting, you know, having capital and cash flow to launch the next collection and be able to have the proper marketing. Staying consistent. Staying on top of the market with an ever, super quick, changing market, right now, where people just want new product out every week. So, as a small brand, that we still are, we’re faced with those challenges. So I think it would be, my answer to be, Finance.
Jody: Cash flow?
Liz: Cash flow, correct.
Jody: Yeah. OK. And so, about other challenges. What are some of the ones that you see in your industry? You know that are common.
Liz: OK. So, as for here in South Florida, one of the things that, I mean, when I spoke about factories being here in 1980 in the 90s and there were many factories in Hialeah, we had all these Cuban immigrants and all these people that worked in a factory. So, right now we have a huge scarcity of that. We don’t have enough of Made in America here in Miami. It’s more in L.A. or in New York. So, it’s just now starting to come back a little bit more, and we’re able to find a lot more sourcing and factories here now. So, we’re really hopeful that we’ll be able to, one, have these factories here, and two, start getting in the labor force that would be able to work in these factories and manufacture Made in America products.
Jody: Yeah, because the state of Florida actually incentivizes manufacturing here in South Florida, but we also have to have the workers.
Liz: Very important, exactly. I actually have had this conversation before with a few other people and I really feel that if we, through education, at any of the vocational schools, we can get immigrants that are coming here and have them be legal through the education system and incorporate themselves into learning how to do and work in America, and be legal here, and understand what it is to be an American, and then incorporate them into our workforce. That would be an amazing, amazing incentive. It would be amazing for people coming in. I mean, I’m that. I’m that story, you know, and I’m so grateful that we were able to come to this country. And, that my mom was able to work in the factories. I mean look at where I am now. Look at what that led to.
Jody: So as an entrepreneur you have to juggle many, many things. You’re a mother, you’re a wife, you’re a business owner, you’re a superstar, so, how do you manage it all? How do you stay focused?
Liz: Meditation. So, I’ve done it on and off. I’ve done mindful meditation, specifically. I’m currently doing a class at UM. Right now. An MPSR class.
Jody: What’s an MPSR class
Liz: So, that is mindful stress reduction program. I mean, it just sounds really complicated but it really isn’t. It’s just an eight week course that you take that provides you with tools on how to handle stress, how to be able to be living more in the moment. At the end of the day, that’s the class. The rest is the practice. The rest is how committed you are to practicing every day. How you implement everything that you learn.
Jody: You get up early.
Jody: And you run.
Liz: Yeah, I do. I don’t run as much anymore. Now I’m lifting weights because I feel that I’m getting a lot older, so it’s time to pump up those muscles a little more. A lot less running now. No more than three miles now.
Jody: So Liz, if you only had a thousand dollars to invest in your company what would you invest it in?
Liz: Yes. I’ve had this question happen before and people have asked me that. And I think it’s advertising. Right now, I’ve always said it, I would be just a small little warehouse manufacturing anything in Westchester, Miami, and nobody would know how amazing our product is, everything that the company stands for, what our message is to the world. If it wouldn’t be through advertising and there’s a lot of very cost effective ways to do it now, more than ever, with social media. It’s so simple to start it yourself and really be able to grow with that. And then, eventually, you do have to hand it over to a company, but it is an amazing tool. And so, you could do it very cost effectively at the very beginning, so a thousand dollars would actually go a very long way.
Jody: On Instagram or something like that?
Liz: Right, through social media. I think that social media outlets allow us to to do so much. And then, we have a Shopify platform for our website, so with that, it’s all integrated and it allows us to be able to click and go directly into the shopping market of it.
Jody: So what advice would you give to somebody who wanted to start a business?
Liz: Business plan. Yeah. Sign up with you guys. So yes.
Jody: What is it about the business plan that you think makes a difference? Because, sometimes, people go like what do we need a business plan for? Why do you think it’s important?
Liz: Well, one, I started without one. So now, looking back, that’s the reason I’m saying it. That’s one reason I’m saying it. Number two is for more than any other reason, not necessarily for investors, or for people to see it, or to have, to say you did it, is because it structures your head. It really asks you and makes you face questions that are so important for you to answer, that once you are in the business you’re just running a thousand miles an hour. When you’re a small business and an entrepreneur, you’re doing 17 jobs in one day. You’re cleaning bathrooms at same time that you’re writing checks, and you’re designing, and picking fabric, and seeing customers, and that all happens within a two hour span.
Liz: So, that allows you to really be able to work, you know, on the business, not just in business. Right? So, I feel that that would be my advice to someone.
Jody: Yeah, because we often advise people to do the business plan, not so you have the book, or the document, but so that you’ve done the thinking.
Jody: Because let’s say you do go to an investor, or a bank, and you’re standing there, they know, because of how you speak, that you’ve actually done the thinking, whether they ever look at the document, or not.
Liz: That is correct.
Jody: They’re investing in you and your ability to pull it off. So, Liz, to finish up, what’s great about doing business in Miami.
Liz: So as somebody who travels a lot, I’m gone eight months out of the year, 10 to 20 days. There’s not one single time, that I don’t want to come back. I love coming back home, not just because of the beautiful weather that we have or the food, but more importantly the mix of culture that we have here. It really opens you up to being more set, to have more acceptance towards people. It actually is an empowerment when you do travel, especially for someone like me, that I had never traveled anywhere. I mean, because of where I come from, we didn’t have the financial means, but yet, I had met people from a lot of different places in the world. So, I think that that would be one of my number one reasons, aside from that I think we do have the most beautiful people in the world.
Jody: A lot of people speak to the wonder of the diversity of people that live here in Miami, the mix of cultures, and how this kind of sleepy southern town has become a real international city where everyone is welcome.
Liz: Correct, and and I feel that it truly is. And whether someone’s aware of it, or not, it is an asset to you. Whether you use it, or not, everyday, you’re dealing with people from all over the world, with their culture and their idiosyncrasies, and you have to deal with that in the business world, and you have to honor certain things that are important to them, that, if you only dealt with people that are uni-cultural, you wouldn’t have to do that. So, I think it also gives you, on a greater scale, that insight when you do step out of Miami, and are starting to do business nationally, or even internationally of course.
Jody: Yeah. Liz, thank you for being with us. It’s always a pleasure to be with you. And that is Made In Miami.