By: Melissa Thrailkill of Bonlook Melanie Daigle and Sophie Boulanger had traveled the world, worked and studied abroad. Both had spent their twenties on different continents, immersed in different cultures and doing things any person, young or old, would be thrilled to do. For Melanie, it was Africa, as a business consultant for businesses and the World Bank; for Sophie, it was Italy and fashion school and experience with the likes of Christian Dior Couture. Now, it was 2009; they were in their early thirties, and they had both landed in the same office, doing the same temporary contract work, which would be ending on the same date. Their paths crossed when both were at a crossroads in their journey, and starting and running a fashionable business was the road they decided to take together.
An entrepreneur “by blood,” Melanie admits she felt a little lost during this time. She had always wanted to start her own business, but was having a hard time coming up with ideas, she says. Sophie, too, had the entrepreneurial spirit. She also had an idea. All over the world, people relied on their eyewear as a fashion accessory just as much as they relied on them to see. Sophie wanted to help bring that style and fashion sense home and to the United States by designing and manufacturing designer-style quality eyewear at a truly affordable price.
With that, BonLook came into sight.
“We started brainstorming and coming up with different ideas, and we spent our whole summer writing our business plan and meeting people,” Melanie said.
BonLook launched in 2010 as on online eyewear company, selling its frames and lenses exclusively online. By cutting out the middleman and handling all the production in Brooklyn, New York, the company was able to provide prescription lenses and frames for as low as $99. For any long-time eyeglass wearer, this price point is a true bargain, especially when the style-appeal of the frames comes into play.
It didn’t take long for the company to catch the eye of fashion bloggers and fashion magazines and interest in the product began to spark. Just two years into business, the company found itself growing and a new opportunity presented itself in the launch of its Ambassador Program in May 2012.
Under the Ambassador Program, BonLook reached out to clients to see if they’d represent the company by holding “pop-up shops” in their respective cities. At these shops, the BonLook “ambassador” would bring the frames and styling expertise to various events hosted by different people and organizations. Consumers would learn about the brand and actually get the opportunity to try the frames on in person.
“The idea came from us doing it, because we were getting so many requests from friends and others to do pop up shops for them,” Melanie said. “We were having so much fun and selling so much when we were doing it.”
BonLook now has ambassadors across the U.S. and world, in Northern and Southern California, Texas, Colorado, Illinois, Virginia, Florida, Oklahoma, New York, Michigan, London, Sydney and Iceland. In many ways the ambassador program is not just a way to expand the reach of the company’s online presence, but it’s also a way to open the door to more people, namely women, to starting and running their own businesses.
“We are concerned; so few women are really jumping and starting their own businesses,” Melanie said. She adds that, in many respects, women can perform better than their male counterparts, pointing out the success rate of businesses started by women is higher than those started by men. “Unfortunately, we’re not as aggressive,” Melanie said.
The lack of women running their own business is all to evident Sophie and Melanie as they’ve been building and growing their business. Many times they’ll go to business-related events and seminars and they’ll be the only women in the room. Sometimes they’ll go, and there will be plenty of women, but there will be no entrepreneurs among these women attendees. In this environment, Melanie and Sophie realized that they’d have to take their game to a whole new level before others would take them seriously and give them the resources they needed to be successful.
“As young women we can’t be cute, cupcake mommy’s,” Melanie said. “We have to look tough; we have to have a [very] good plan.”
Although starting and running the business has been way more demanding than their 9-5 office job, Melanie says the payoff has been more than worth it. She’s met a variety of creative people, she’s learned almost every aspect of the business and now knows something about lenses and a lot about shipping, and she’s also learned a lot about herself and her own limits.
“You find you’re good at something that you didn’t know that you were good at because it has never been in front of you,” she says.
While it takes a lot of discipline and hard work, Melanie would encourage anyone, especially women, to make a go of it and use the resources provided by their local chamber of commerce and other, similar organizations. Anyone with a dream can do it, she believes, so long as they believe in themselves and put in the work.
“Your first idea may not be what your business is going to be, but it’s going to turn into something great,” she said. “It really, really is the best project you can do.”
Melissa Thrailkill - Bonlook Dallas Ambassador
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