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Overdraft: The Dark Side of Overnight Success

Portrait illustration of Gingie McLeod, founder of Saint Chic, in a mauve shirt against a magenta background.

In this series, I speak with people who know what desperate feels like. While now blooming into success, these founders share with me their deeply personal financial struggles and lessons learned on their way back to black.

When her playful headwear design went viral, designer Gingie McLeod quit her day job to focus all her energy on her emerging brand, Saint Chic. But as quickly as the fickle fashion industry gave her the spotlight, it took it away. Two years after sales of the Paparazzi Visor took off, Gingie found herself with no income, starting over.

The experience taught Gingie a lot about her business—and herself. She learned to listen to her customers, expand her collection, and cut costs. Her hard work paid off. Less than three years later, Saint Chic is thriving again and, in August 2019, Gingie even incorporated the business. 

Today, her relationship with money is different—and she’s grateful for it. The ebbs and flows of success, she says, are just part of being a small business owner. She’s focused less on what she doesn’t have and more on making what she does have work harder. Here, Gingie shares the financial ups and downs (and ups again) of owning a fashion brand.

In Gingie’s words:

After the recession, a lot of companies in the fashion industry didn’t want to hire full- or part-time employees. I created a consulting firm to do a la carte projects. But I got frustrated with constantly designing for other brands and not getting credit. I had a financial cushion because I was hit by a taxi and got a settlement, so I used that money to start Saint Chic in 2011. 

It’s always been my goal to have the type of business that I have now. Saint Chic was like my baby. It was my side project. It was my happy place. But it wasn’t until 2014 that my Paparazzi Visor went viral and I was able to accommodate sales and customers. That was really the beginning of Saint Chic as a brand.

After a solid year and a half, there was a sharp decline in sales. I found myself reevaluating everything.

If you can imagine, going viral, that’s huge. It’s a dream come true that no one can really ever plan or construct. It seemed like things just couldn’t get better. It was the best moment of my life as a designer—there were just so many possibilities. Money was coming in, interest from magazines, department stores, stores that I love. I was 98% optimistic about everything continuing, but knowing about consumer trends, I always kind of had in the back of my mind that at any time, this could be over.

By then, I was no longer doing consulting for my other business and I stopped working for other companies. I was relying solely on Saint Chic because I had to—I had so many orders and so much interest. Then, after a solid year and a half, there was a sharp decline in sales. I found myself reevaluating everything. That was a huge struggle because not only are you out of cash, you're also emotionally depleted.

An advertisement to read Overdraft: a series of stories about deeply personal stories of financial struggle.

I found myself in the winter of 2016 feeling like, “Oh my gosh, I have to start all over again because the money is gone and the sales aren’t coming in.” I definitely felt ashamed because the viral moment of the Paparazzi Visor was celebrated by so many people, including family and friends. I felt like a failure after feeling like such a winner. That was really tough to get over.

I think most entrepreneurs and small business owners aren’t new to running out of cash and coming up with creative ways to get more. I definitely had to change my lifestyle. Instead of shopping at Barneys and Saks, I had to shop at H&M and Zara. I wasn’t going out to dinner as much. And my credit suffered a lot because I was using my credit cards to pay bills.

I try not to focus so much on what I don’t have.

Thankfully, I didn’t have to move or anything that drastic, but I definitely had to scale back in a lot of ways. I couldn’t run the business. I couldn’t buy digital marketing. Sometimes I couldn't even ship out orders because of the transaction fees and the cost of the items. There were times when I had to wait for the next cycle of sales to come in to be able to ship the previous cycle and pay for postage. 

I never wanted to give up. I always wanted to try to find a creative solution, but when you’re in a bind, and you’re depressed, and you’re scrambling, you don’t have the resources to be as creative as you want to be. When I hit a wall, I started to talk to people in my circle. My family is super supportive. They always believe in me. But they’re not in my business, so they couldn’t really give advice. Then, I had several friends tell me, “Gingie, maybe now it’s time for you to stop doing this. Maybe you need to give this up.” I’m not going to say I didn’t consider it. That put doubts in my mind and I realized that I couldn’t talk to certain people.

The type of advice and help that I needed lies within people who have been where I am. Talking to the right people made all of the difference. I just had to change my way of thinking and look at this as a short-term problem that needed to be solved. Money is not everything. Money comes and goes. I think that money should come and go because that’s how you keep things circulating and alive. I try not to focus so much on what I don’t have. 

When you’re running your own business and you don’t have money coming in, it gets real.

Anything is possible when you’re down. If I wasn’t taking and fulfilling orders then what was I doing? I spent that time really trying to restructure. I really got to understand my customer and learned to give them what they wanted. I started to implement drop shipping. And I got really good with digital marketing.

I had a lot of anxiety and emotion about money. Now, I feel a lot more confident in managing and growing my personal and business finances. I started to pay more attention to making every cent work for the business. It’s summer 2019 and things have picked up tremendously. Last fall/winter was the first time since 2016 that we didn’t really see any decline. Things are on a great track now, but there were some really steep downhill slopes. When you’re running your own business and you don’t have money coming in, it gets real.

Illustration by German Gonzalez