How This Fashion-Forward Founder Got Her Purse Into 1,000 Stores — digitalundivided

Image via F&W Style

Fashion influences us in small and big ways. Alexandria Alli, the founder of F&W Style — a women’s designer handbags and accessories line featuring luxe materials and fashion-forward styling — grew up in multiple worlds… all of them filled with fashion. But it took her years to realize how much fashion was a part of her creativity and business prowess.

“The one thing I will always tell entrepreneurs is to get started. I didn’t start doing this first because I didn’t even realize I could. But know your potential and do it. Get started.”

For Alli, who started her company 13 years ago, the progress she has made in incremental steps — both from a business perspective — and from those initial years of believing in her ability to step into the world of fashion — has been a transformation.

“Do what you can now. Do something for your business daily and start filling that bucket up. Before you know it, it will start running over.”

Read on to learn how this digitalundivided DO YOU fashion-forward business owner realized she was a natural entrepreneur and built a successful brand with distribution in over 1,000 stores nationwide!

Image via F&W Style

digitalundivided: Your childhood was very much influenced by your family and by the world of fashion. What was that experience like?

Alexandria Alli, F&W Style: I grew up in Lagos, Nigeria. My mom was a designer. She would create beautiful, contemporary clothing made out of Nigerian fabric. At the time, nobody was doing anything like that.

I was joined to my mom’s hip ever since I was 10. I would go to the studio with her every weekend, and after school, they would drop me off at her studio. There was fabric everywhere, and we would have women come in. She always aimed to make them feel beautiful, unique, and empowered. I grew up with all of that, and I just always knew after seeing their reactions it was something I wanted to do as a grown-up.

It impacted me because I saw all of that at a young age. I was exposed to the fashion aspect of it. But I was also exposed to the running of a business aspect. I was privy to seeing all that information from age 10 until I was about 16 when we moved here to the States.

When we moved to the States, I didn’t have the fashion aspect of my life in Nigeria. I longed for it. Everybody would always say, ‘You should be a model.’ So, I got an agency, and I started doing modeling and pageants. My goal was not to have my brand. It was to become Naomi Campbell. When that didn’t happen, I wondered, ‘Where do I go from here?’ So, I got my MBA, and I went straight into banking.

Image via F&W Style

digitalundivided: What inspired you to start F&W Style? What was that moment like?

Alexandria Alli, F&W Style: I was sitting at my desk and had my daughter at the time. I was making money, but I didn’t feel passionate. I would think about my childhood, the legacy my mom created for herself, and the way she made women feel. I wasn’t doing that where I was.

I think my husband just got tired of me complaining. He was like, ‘Why don’t you ever think about starting your brand? You’re always sketching handbags?’ I love the shape of handbags. I love leather. It was just a light bulb that went off — like, you know what? I probably could do this.

F&W Style has run for almost 13 years. At first, I worked at the bank full-time while building my brand on the weekends. I would go from store to store and ask them to carry my line. I did that for years until about eight years ago, when I decided to put my all into it and go full-time. Since then, we’ve been able to grow the brand. We are in over 1,000 stores now, including TJ Maxx, Marshalls, Nordstrom, and Macy’s, and we are featured in magazines all over.

Image via F&W Style

digitalundivided: If you could go back and tell that woman, you know, eight years ago who was going store to store and asking these brands to stock her bag, what is that piece of advice that you would give her?

Alexandria Alli, F&W Style: Take it easy on yourself and know it’s compounding. Sometimes, I would do something, and then it would fail. Or things won’t happen. Or I tried to get into this store, and it wouldn’t work. When you’re starting, especially the first two or three years, something needs fixing. But it’s compounding. The stuff that you’re doing then is what’s going to propel you three years from now. What will propel you six years from now is some of the relationships built back then. Some of those same people became buyers. Some of those same people working at the bank or the stores then became editors and ended up writing about our brand or carrying it in their larger retailers. So keep doing the work and keep going because it compounds, and over time, you realize you built this big thing.

digitalundivided: What differentiates F&W Style in the fashion world? What do you think is your secret sauce?

Alexandria Allii, F&W Style: Our secret sauce is providing well-crafted quality leather handbags at an affordable price point. In this market, handbags are either at the lower end or high end. But we have that sweet spot where women look at our bags, and it looks like something that should be worth tens of thousands of dollars. Yet, we have an affordable price point. We also align with our customers’ values. We’re very focused on equality and diversity, speaking to our audiences in everything we do, from our company values to what we project out in our campaigns.

Image of the new “Miranda” from F&W Style. Check out the new ultimate boss bag here.

digitalundivided: How did the digitalundivided Do You Experience support your growth as a founder or as part of your brand?

Alexandria Alli, F&W Style: Being a part of the Do You cohort has been a joy. We’ve learned so much. We’ve done everything from marketing to building the brand from the ground up. We’ve learned about funding, where to get funding, and how to put our pitch decks together. It’s been amazing to see the growth of my company when we first started. I knew nothing about funding, pitching, or anything like that. But I got those skills by being in this program. And now, I’m about to go do my first pitch competition with all the skills I’ve learned throughout the year.

[Editors note]: This interview has been lightly edited from its original transcription.