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What Dress Has This Model Smiling?
Our Q&A with Garnet Heraman, Director of Brand Strategy, Karina Dresses

I met Garnet Heraman recently at a surprise 40th birthday party in the West Village.  Our hostess cooked an absolutely lovely dinner, but our host (who is generally a fantastic bartender) was late to arrive due to a flight delay.

Garnet therefore took it upon himself to make sure that everyone’s wine glass was filled, and topped off as necessary.  The surprise was successful, the wine was delicious (and plentiful), and our host arrived in time to eat.  In between catching up with some old friends, Garnet told me about his work and how he’s made a bit of a specialty of assisting small companies grow: he’s a serial entrepreneur.

One of his current projects, Karina Dresses, sounded rather intriguing, so we made plans to get together to discuss it further.

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Before I made it to his office to see the dresses in person, he kindly offered to send me one. I wasn’t sure that was appropriate, but he said that it was part of their brand philosophy to have an open heart and mind and be generous. So, I took a look at the website, and selected a Kate in navy with white microdots, which soon arrived at my door.

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I am pleased to say that Karina dresses are great: they are comfortable and forgiving (you can wear them if you gain or lose some weight, and the staff there told me that because the fabric has some give to it, most women can use them all through pregnancy).

They are machine washable and drip dry, wrinkle-free, which means that they are absolutely terrific for traveling.  And they’re made in the USA (many of them are made in Brooklyn in the very same building that the company is headquartered in).  Best of all, they’re inexpensive.  I see now that it was actually a clever sales technique to give me the first one, because I now have my eye on several more.

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We met for pizza at Roberta’s in Bushwick, Brooklyn (which was excellent, by the way) and then I was given a brief tour of their office/distribution center, met some of the staff members, and had the opportunity to see where some of the dresses are handmade by talented seamstresses.

The company has been around since 2007.  The founder, Karina Cousineau, is an inspired designer, using limited edition fabrics, a retro aesthetic, and a serious attention to quality, fit, fabric, draping, and construction.  Garnet came on board, with no particular knowledge about women’s apparel, but with a wealth of experience on the business end, and has been helping create sustainable growth, managing business processes, establishing a brand strategy, and developing a sales and distribution network and a social media platform.  Here’s what we talked about…

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Q&A with Garnet Heraman

Garnet-Heraman

Date of interview:  May 29, 2015
Age: 48
Hometown: Freeport, NY
Current town: Brooklyn, NY

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How did you develop this expertise in assisting start up companies?

I started three of my own companies and found myself coaching and mentoring young staffers in that context. That taught me the bottom-up perspective. After exiting the third company, I worked in private equity as a venture capitalist and one of the things we did was help large corporations acquire small partner companies.  That was more of a top-down approach.  I left that, to come back to New York, and help companies to try and instead, to build from the bottom up but with the unique insights of the top-down approach.  I decided that I wanted to spend more of my time doing what I enjoyed most and less of my time doing what I didn’t enjoy.  I started meditating and attempting to live in a more mindful way, and this is what I wanted to be doing.

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So you currently have a variety of rather disparate projects going on, is that correct?

Yes, besides being the co-owner of Karina Dresses, I am also involved as an advisor to a company called AdaCare, which creates scheduling software for home care agencies in the United States and in the UK.  I am also involved with another business project with an activist/consultancy group, run by my friend Majora Carter.  She was a MacArthur “Genius” Award winner and was a pioneer of the Urban Grange movement in the mid-1990s.

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You keep busy!  Majora sounds really fascinating.  Is Urban Grange similar to what New York has seen over the last several decades with community gardens?

Yes, but with the addition of a focus on sustainability, and a greater use of technology through green infrastructure.

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red-polka-dot-megan-image
From Karina Dresses’ Megan Line

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How can you work in such varied fields without having a background in the particular subject matter?

What I bring to these projects is a horizontal kind of knowledge.  How to monetize talent and products, how to grow in a sustainable manner.  Business skills.  For what my talents are, it doesn’t much matter what the underlying project is.  The founders of these projects have more vertical knowledge: a much deeper understanding of the subject matter.  To be successful, you really need both.  Many creative and talented people are not good business people, and that is where I come in.

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Going back to Karina Dresses, how is it that you are able to sell these dresses, which are of high quality, at such a low price point, and have them manufactured locally (and obey labor laws), and yet make a profit?

One of the ways we do that is by not spending much money on advertising.  We are not trying to grow quickly, we are happy to grow slowly.  Word of mouth is how our customers find us.  We keep getting more likes on Facebook and more followers on Instagram.  We have some brand ambassadors who love our product and get some complimentary dresses in exchange for their promotions, but our costs are really low on that front.

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What’s a book everyone should read?

I’m usually reading five or six books at a time.  But I really, really like Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. I re-read parts of it quite often.  I’m also pretty fond of The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf.

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Kate-image-SP15
From Karina Dresses’ Kate Line

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Where the Wild Things Are is an excellent book.  Let the wild rumpus start!  What is the biggest risk you’ve taken in life?

Walking away from a lucrative, but standard and constraining business world.  I left a very profitable private equity investment group in Denver, Colorado, and came back to New York.

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What is the best advice you’ve been given?

I wasn’t told this by one person, but in a way, my life was saying something to me.  I left a fancy job on Wall Street in my 20s to travel.  I got a large bonus, got disillusioned, and left. I traveled from age 24 to 29 and saw the world.  It was the best thing I’ve done, and it made me who I am.

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What was the most amazing place that you went to?  And are you sure you’re not Australian?

Maybe an honorary Australian?! I’d say both India and Thailand.  India especially, because that represents my ancestry.

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NORA-~-love-mary-SP-15
From Karina Dresses’ Nora Line

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Do you have a favorite celebrity?

Yes.  That’s easy.  Does a writer count as a celebrity? Kazuo Ishiguro, a British writer. Everything in life is very much a shade of gray.  There is nothing positive in life without great losses.  His themes are loss and memory, and he’s the most poetic writer of love and loss.  His writing is bittersweet, and that’s just what life is.

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What is the funniest or worst thing that happened to you this week?

Funniest: I re-watched The Big Lebowski.

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If you could go back in time and do one thing over, what would that be?

Now that’s a hard one.  I’ve made lots of mistakes. I mean lots. But my meditation practice has taught me the benefits of forgiving yourself, forgiving others, and moving on in life with no regrets.  So I don’t know.

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penelope-image-SP15
From Karina Dresses’ Penelope Line

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What’s something most people don’t know about you?

How much I like Where the Wild Things Are.

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What is your strangest phobia or superstition?

I’ve really only one.  Snakes.  I don’t like snakes.

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Last, but not least, is there anything you want to pitch, promote, or discuss?

Yes, check out Karina Dresses.

We’re also on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/KarinaDresses1

And Instagram: https://instagram.com/karinadresses/

And I’m always in the market for new business partners and opportunities.  If you think we could work together, look me up on LinkedIn.

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megan-image-SP-15
What Dress Has This Model Smiling? It’s The Megan Dress, A Crimson Navy Floral Design, From Karina Dresses. Click here for more details.

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Images Courtesy of Karina Dresses

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Laura LaVelle is an attorney and writer who lives in Connecticut, in a not quite 100-year-old house, along with her husband, two daughters, and a cockatiel.

Laura can be contacted at laura@newswhistle.com