Cenia Paredes on building her successful business and what it takes.
It’s a Friday afternoon and I’m headed right around the corner from my showroom to the FITDE space at 520 8thAve in the heart of NYC’s garment center to interview fashion designer, Cenia Paredes.
So first of all if you don’t know what FITDE is, it’s the showroom space for the Fashion Institute of Technology Design Entrepreneurs Collaborative. This is a program that helps emerging designers grow their businesses.
The Collaborative offers the space at a less than market lease price and is open to graduates of the Design Entrepreneurs program of FIT.
The space is configured so that brands can showcase their merchandise and meet with buyers in a jointly shared open showroom space shared by 9 small businesses, each having their own small private office space as well. Each business schedules their appointments for the main showroom so that they can conveniently share the space.
Now, if you don’t know who Cenia Paredes is, I’m going to tell you!
She is a Dominican born entrepreneur who started her dress business in 2008 while she was working at another job and in 2010 she made the leap to run Cenia New York as her main form of revenue. Currently sells to over 100 specialty stores and has previously had her brand at HSN and in Macy’s.
She has been high-lighted on many television news segments and has been touted as one of the top emerging designers to look out for.
Fashion dreams started growing up in the Dominican Republic
Cenia tells me that her fashion dreams started while she was a young girl growing up in the Dominican Republic. Her mother was the seamstress for the town and Cenia would sketch dresses for her clients and imagine what it would be like to be a designer.
When she came to NY, she enrolled at FIT, and then got a job right out of school, but at the same time, she felt that climbing the corporate ladder in NY was very competitive. She says the school pumps out thousands of fashion graduates every year, and being an immigrant and a woman of color, she didn’t really see many people who looked like her in successful high level positions. She decided she wanted to control her own future and decide just how far she could get on her own.
A void in the market for designers
Cenia also felt that there was a void in the market for designers who understood the different variations of a woman’s body. She expresses that she is an island Latina and is very curvy.
She could never find a dress that fit her right. If it fit on top, it didn’t fit on the bottom and vice versa. She felt she could fill that void because she understood the female shape even more so because of her experience watching her seamstress mother fit women of all different sizes and that’s how her brand, Cenia New York started.
High odds of success
She initially started manufacturing domestically in New York City. Eventually she entered the The Workshop opportunity program at Macy’s with 900 other companies. Being 1 of 22 who were then chosen to attend, and then 1 of 4 who received the final award which was to launch their product in Macy’s stores.
Upon winning this award, she immediately needed to have her line mass produced overseas in China. She expresses current concern with the China tariff situation now because as a small business, every hit really makes an impact on her profit. She is looking into producing in other countries like Sri Lanka and also coming back to the US.
She designs anywhere from 25 to 40 styles per delivery and produces around 50 to 200 units of each style for her specialty stores.
As we interviewed on Friday, her newest collection for Spring/Summer 2020 was on the road in Atlanta and then going to Dallas because the dress market is very busy in August. It will follow up with its next largest market in September.
Cenia says her biggest challenge as a small business is meeting minimums to make a cutting with a factory. She has to consolidate enough orders to make a cut so she tries to give herself about 3 months to generate enough orders and then estimate her cutting per style.
She sometimes has to take a gamble and guess what the best sellers will be and then hold excess inventory to sell in season if buyers still have open dollars to spend.
Since the newest collection is on the road, she shows me some of her current Spring and Fall 2019 pieces to give me a feel of what her style is.
Cenia says that her philosophy is all about embracing femininity, being colorful, loving prints, and creating styles that enhance curves.
She says that her style is classy calling it “tastefully sexy”. Her dresses are for day to evening.
They can be worn to work and then by putting a pair of heels on, they are ready for the evening.
She also has some cocktail dresses and will be adding in evening gowns going forward.
Cenia believes in getting her product to trade shows to sell, hence why all the newest items are on the road.
This is her sole livelihood, not just a hobby. She says she doesn’t have the luxury to just be in a fashion show for the fun of it. Fashion shows cost money and she’d rather put her money into trade shows to grow her sales.
That being said she has had great brand exposure at many fashion shows and is getting ready to have her collection presented at the Voge Fashion Runway for this September’s fashion week. There will be lots of press, buyers, and celebrities there to help follow up with actual sales.
Always looking to expand her business, Cenia launched a very unique jean 3 years ago.
The Convi Jean was picked up by Russia’s home shopping network. It was shown during a prime time slot and she sold every piece!
She knew she had a winner on her hands so after that success, she immediately got the jean patent pended and about a year later released it in the US market. It has been successful here as well with its zippered back darts that can accommodate women of many shapes and sizes. She was inspired to design this for herself because she literally says she had such a problem finding the right jean for her “small waist and big butt”.
This is a common problem among many women. Some women just live with this problem, some will try to tighten their jeans with a belt, and others will have them tailored at the back waist with 2 darts to provide better shaping.
The Convi Jean solves this dilemma. When the zippers are closed up, the Convi Jean fits curvy women who have trouble with this gapping issue because their hips and booty are larger than their much smaller waists. When the zippers are open, they are a similar size to market standard sizing of competitive jeans brands. The jean is offered in assorted washes, different distress levels and prints as well!
She is now busy designing a clean easy line of tops that can go back to her jeans line.
Cenia looks to her everyday life for inspiration and she also works with well known trend forecasting services to make sure her brand is in line with overall high level concepts being touted for the season. These services help make sure that she aligned with what’s going on in the rest of the retail mark
In addition to all of this, can you believe that Cenia also teaches a course at FIT.
She teaches Hot Topic non-credit courses. They are about tools of the trade that help entrepreneurs. From our interview alone, I can tell that Cenia puts herself out there for all kinds of opportunities.
She says that her mom raised her to think that “everything is possible and you can accomplish anything you put your mind to”. She says “she always goes for things, and tries new things, she knocks on doors, seeks new opportunities and doesn’t wait for them to come to her”.
I am so excited that she will be joining us at our Latin Biz Today Spectrum of Success Event – NY at CUNY Baruch College on September 17th. She will be featured in the fashion show finale. You can get your tickets for our extravaganza of an evening…see the video and learn more here: bit.ly/LatinBizToday
You can also find Cenia’s dresses and jeans at www.cenianewyork.com