Q&A with Hillary and Laura of BRANDSHOP





Together they have produced pop-up shops for brands including Cynthia Rowley, Bonobos, Exhibition A and top retailers like Barneys, Colette, and Lane Crawford. Co-founders of Brandshop Laura Martin and Hillary Crittendon are the ultimate #GirlBoss crew.

BRANDSHOP NEW ORLEANS will bring its unique energy and collaborative community to New Orleans for the first time on June 3 –June 4 featuring speakers and shopping opportunities with more than 30 top emerging designers.

Our Founder and Creative Director, Andi Eaton, had an opportunity to chat with Laura and Hillary about their company, and so much more. Read on to get the full scoop on Laura and Hillary's approach to starting and running your own badass business and why they chose New Orleans for their next event!


Q. Tell us about Brandshop? How it began and the sparking of the idea… from the beginning!

A. We’ve been privileged to work with & get to know many smart, independent designers over the past few years and that, combined with our prior work in fashion & retail, highlighted a real problem. For many young brands, trunk shows and events are key to growth, development and building a customer base in cities around the country. But most of these brands have extremely small teams and limited resources to execute a nationwide trunk show strategy or invest in broad digital marketing. We created Brandshop to help designers expand their distribution beyond major fashion markets, through experience-based retail events (large and small) which help customers discover brands, get to know them and hopefully, become brand advocates who will help push their message & name forward.

Q. When you started Brandshop, looking out into the market, what problem did you believe Brandshop to be solving?

A. Our events offer brands a unique bricks & mortar retail opportunity in cities outside major fashion markets. For many young designers, there are only a handful of appropriate permanent retail opportunities in any given city, and if a designer isn’t carried in a specific store or hasn’t yet created a presence in a certain city, her ability to develop a customer base is quite limited. Through our events, we can help those designers expand their retail footprints, connect with new clients & local media and test new cities through short, tightly-curated events which require little upfront risk on their part.  

Q. Our readers are female entrepreneurs, creatives and are often aspiring to follow their personal dream - what were the steps you took to begin the company?

A. We started by building a network. We had hundreds of coffee dates with creatives in cities around the South and spoke with them about problems they faced in their own businesses. And then we started small, testing our concept with friends & peers before launching our first, large-scale event in December this past year. By the time we held Brandshop Charlotte, we’d hosted about 12 small events in 5 cities and had pulled together some great data-- which proved to us that this was a model that both customers and brands were interested in.

Q. If you could give our readers one piece of advice on starting their own business, what would it be?

A. I think testing your concept is really important before investing dollars into a business. Whether you can test on a larger scale in beta mode or even on a smaller scale with focus groups and anecdotal feedback, an idea and business model improves greatly with input from others-- who would be potential clients, customers or advisors-- so talking to those people is key in helping avoid missteps right at the beginning.

Q. What resources are out there for female entrepreneurs?

A. Community is very important, and can be defined in many different ways. We’ve been so impressed with how genuinely interested & supportive other female entrepreneurs have been as we’ve worked to build our business. Whether through sharing advice and feedback, making introductions to other friends in the industry or taking part in one of our events as a host, designers or speaker.  For other women looking to grow a business, I’d say-- ask for help, ask for advice, ask to have coffee or a phone call. You’ll likely find the best support from peers. And those peers can steer you in the right direction to find amazing resources, city-by-city, like connecting with SC-FD, Idea Village or The Scout Guide in New Orleans. Those groups are amazing and each city has its own unique roster of leading organizations who work to help entrepreneurs succeed.   

Q. In regards to work ethic, what keeps you going each day?

A. We’ve both talked about this before-- but it is truly great to have a business partner who pushes you to do your best. And for us, we also have a whole network of designers we admire and they push us to succeed. We want each of our events to be great, so that they have an awesome experience, so that they can grow their brands and so that they can continue to push forward as successful entrepreneurs in their respective fields.

Q. In regards to your personal style, what are the rules that you live by?

Hillary: I try to remain true to style fundamentals which I’ve always loved- like classic lines, solids with pops of color or print to accent a look. Right now, my closet is full of white pants and navy or white shift dresses, but I adore white and navy so investing in pieces that I love and that I know I’ll wear makes sense to me. I also now have a little one so comfort is key for me. Despite adoring a pair of shoes, if I’m never going to wear them, I don’t buy them. And what’s fantastic about the advent of athleisure, smart sneakers etc. is that you can be comfortable and stylish at the same time.

Laura: There are no rules! I just wear what makes me feel happy!

Q. What did you each do before beginning your company together?

Hillary: I was a retail strategy consultant with McKinsey and helped large retailers bridge the gap between their online and offline strategies. Before that, I spent time with online menswear retailer Bonobos and, in a former life, was an investment banker.

Laura: Directly before this, I started an online art company called Exhibition A which partners with top contemporary artists to produce signed, limited edition prints of their work. Prior to that, I ran business development, licensing and operations for Cynthia Rowley & in my early days, sales & marketing for jewelry designer Robert Lee Morris.  

Q. What are some lessons you learned in previously jobs that you’ve applied to this business you have together?

Hillary: I think you hit on one of the lessons in your first question-- make sure you are solving a clear problem and don’t lose focus on what that problem is.

Q. What’s currently on your music playlist?

We've got a healthy balance of pop favorites like Adele &Taylor Swift playing alongside indie favorites like the Alabama Shakes, and Shovels and Rope playing in the office.

Q. How do you find new brands to work with? What gives a brand uniqueness to you?

A. We do a lot of research - we're constantly reading WWD, Vogue, etc. We've also found that Instagram and referrals are great ways to discover new brands.

We're lucky to get to interact directly with the designers behind each brand - each of whom have a unique story and perspective. Every brand that we work with started as a simple idea and it's really interesting to see that vision grow. I think the most compelling brands choose a lane - they have a clear vision. Often they become great at one thing whether that's the perfect bag, a great necklace, or a super tailored collection of womenswear before they venture into other categories or concepts. I know that sounds simple, but it can be really intimidating and require a lot of confidence and focus to say, "I'm going to build my business around this one idea" and have the commitment to let that define you.

Q. Your next event is in New Orleans? Why New Orleans? And what are your favorite things to do in our city?

A. One of the major things which attracted us to New Orleans at the onset was the amazing artist community. We love visiting the studios of Mallory Page, Ashley Longshore & Amanda Talley among many talented others when we’re in town, as well as shop with Nadine Blake, Villa Vici, Rivers Spencer, Perch & Julie Neill. The supportive, creative community was what originally drew us to New Orleans and so when we come back, we love connecting with those women and checking out their latest achievements.  

And we can’t mention New Orleans without a nod to the food and the cocktails. The 75 + oysters and beef carpaccio at The Franklin are hard to beat, as is the Mexican Chocolate donut from District Donuts.

Q. Anything else you’d like to share with us?

We’re so psyched to be opening our doors in New Orleans June 3-4 as it’s truly one of our favorite cities. We hope the women of New Orleans will stop by our event to check out the brands, meet the designers, sip some cool coffee and fresh pressed juice and event get a custom fashion illustration, or nail art! We have so many fun elements to Brandshop and are open to the public all day Friday-Saturday so hope girlfriends will use this as an opportunity to get together, have a cocktail and enjoy all that our weekend has to offer.

Want in? Tickets and a full schedule are available here. Use the code SCFD for 20% off. 

And! Come out to our Mimosa and Coffee hour in partnership with Revelator Coffee and shop the Emerging Designers on Saturday, June 4th at 3 p.m. RSVP to Andi@SC-FD.org.