How Cynthia Rowley Built Her International Fashion Brand

I walked through a gold door into Cynthia Rowley’s West Village studio on a dreary, rainy weekday. Despite the weather, I slowly moved into a summer state of mind as I browsed through racks of colorful dresses, skirts, bathing suits and wetsuits. Cynthia Rowley walked in a few minutes later with her French Bulldog Ziggy trailing behind her.

Rowley serendipitously stumbled into fashion design when a local department store buyer discovered her on the train when she was in college. “I studied art and thought I would be a painter, but I always made my own clothes,” she remembers. “I switched to fashion at the Art Institute of Chicago and starting a company right out of school was sort of an organic evolution.” She packed up a U-Haul and moved to New York City to start her company.

“I’ve taken a lot of risks through the years, but I always followed my instincts and always explored new opportunities. The biggest reward has been having an idea and being able to make it a reality,” she says, “My passions always lead the way — travel and adventure, fitness, art and home.” I spoke to Rowley about her career path and advice.

Nigel Barker

Cynthia Rowley, the fashion designer behind her eponymous line.

Gross: What advice do you have for other women who hope to start their own businesses?

Rowley: Do it.

Gross: What are your responsibilities as designer and founder of Cynthia Rowley?

Rowley: First and foremost, I’m responsible for the creative vision and storytelling of the brand. This is the fun part that leads our business strategy. We have a great team and we all work together to push boundaries. This all sounds very high-level, but of course the day-to-day includes every single part of the business, from soup to nuts, designing all products, e-commerce, retail, public relations, wholesale and sales, partnerships, accounts payable and receivable, warehouse logistics and coming up with a clever caption for Instagram.

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