Profile: Diane Kroe

Author: Dr. Cheryl Cottle

Cottle's Professional Consulting Women in Business profile for September (2011) is Diane Kroe of Diane Kroe Inc, a design and manufacturing company that specializes in clothing for women. It is a Toronto; Canada based business that operates out of Diane’s Studio. Diane Kroe is an experienced entrepreneur who started her retail business over ten years ago with a store under the label of Diane Kroe on one of Toronto’s busiest commercial centre, Avenue Road. Today Diane leads Diane Kroe Inc; creating apparels for women who love to travel. She calls it The Travel Collection designed for women who love to travel in style.

Diane’s clothing lines are for women who love to travel in style and are beautifully designed, feminine, versatile and flexible. In addition, Diane also designs a private label clothing collections for Canada’s leading spas and resorts. Diane is the primary designer for her labels and all of her products are made locally. She proudly notes, “all my work is manufactured in Canada making it ideal for the tourist industry.” Ms. Kroe supports the local economy by providing employment to others within her local and national community.

Although Diane has been an independent business woman and a designer of her own private labels for many years, she has worked in the fashion industry for over twenty years. Diane pointed out that “I studied Fashion Arts at Seneca College and Ryerson, but gained most of my expertise working for designers in the industry.” Diane also noted that she worked for a fashion designer ― Judy Sokoloski under the label Streetwear in the late 80’s and later working for X:S Clothing in the early 90’s and her experience in fashion design and manufacturing does not stop there: She also designed for an international importing company that specialized in apparel and in that position, she traveled and toured garment manufacturing companies around the world; gaining a great deal of skills and knowledge which she transfered to her own business.

Women in business, who tell their stories as to why they started their own businesses often say freedom but Diane contributes her “why” to “creative freedom”. She notes that "I started my own business mainly because it gave me creative freedom. “Working for other companies I had to work within their brand restrictions.” Under her own business and label Diane felt that she had the creative freedom to design from her heart. This latter rationale ― control over one’s time or control over one’s life and not being limited to a nine-to-five schedule, provided her with the opportunity to live the life that she wants, as well as allow her creativity to flow. Ms. Kroe also pointed out that “over time I started a family and it was important for me to have control over my schedule. I soon realized that self-employment was perfect for my chosen lifestyle.”

Ms. Kroe describes the structure of her company as “quite simple” and adds that “I do (clothing) shows twice a year featuring my Travel Collection. I visit cities across Canada which takes me approximately 6 weeks each season.” She also adds that “in-between I supply spas and resorts with their merchandise from my Signature Spa Collection ― this I can do from anywhere by computer.” Diane states that “I chose this type of structure because I work hard for 12 weeks a year allowing me to be free the rest of the time.” This business structure is also perfect for Daine’s “chosen lifestyle” and it provides her with the opportunity to spend quality time with her family. She notes that “also my husband works in the film industry and is often on locations around the world so this business model allows me the flexibility I need for us to spend quality family time around his crazy schedule.”

Diane also faced challenges in her entrepreneurial journey, but she has found ways to minimize them. She noted that “being profitable while having freedom and flexibility were always a challenge for me” but she shares her strategies that worked for her to find a balance between maximizing her profit and maintaining her freedom and flexibility. She therefore notes that “many people believe you have to give up one for the other. In my case I did some research and learned how to automate a large portion of my work. I also learned how to reduce my overhead by working from home and farming out work rather than having the responsibility of hiring employees. I focus my time on products that bring me a higher gross profit margin and let people find me for the lower profit items. I no longer have to waste time traveling to work ― now I spend more time creating new designs and connecting with my clientele through social media.”

For most women in business, finance has been their number one challenge. How do I finance my business idea so that it can grow into a start-up and blossom into a successful business? This is a common question asked. Diane noted that “yes it was definitely a challenge” and elaborated that “I worked full time for a designer and worked on the weekend as a waitress to save up capital to start my business.” She also noted that “I had great moral support from my family but no financial support as my father was an entrepreneur himself and had suffered a stroke in his prime losing his business.” While she did not receive financial support from her father, she received invaluable advice which she used to build her business. She proudly adds “he guided me and taught me many valuable lessons. I eventually got a small business loan to expand and now my business finances it self.”

While most women entrepreneur would say that the business strategies that they use that works for them are networking, having a mentor, marketing and business promotion, direct sales and or social media, Diane shares with us that her strategy is maintaining a manageable pace so that she can effectively manage her business. She shares with us why this is so important to her. She says, “My strategy is to remain at a steady manageable pace. Growing a business is not always profitable. Many people are mistaken with what it means to be successful. To me success is the luxury of having a profitable business that I love and to have an abundance of quality time with my friends and family while enjoying life to its fullest. It took me many years to come to this realization and learned the hard way.”

Computer-based technology plays an important role in Diane Kroe’s design and manufacturing business. Diane uses the computer and the internet to reach her clients world wide; and it allows her to process her orders, shipment and handling and process her payments. Ms. Kroe notes that “my computer allows me to work from anywhere in the world. I can run my business from the dock at my lake house or an airport while traveling. I connect with my customers on Facebook and Twitter and customer orders are automatically processed through Pay Pal. Signature Spa orders are shipped direct from the contractors so there are minimal problems while I’m away.”

In response to the question, what is your personal philosophy and how has it transcends your business philosophy, Diane provides us with an answer that shows how her personal and business philosophy impact her management style, creativity and designs. Diane notes “My business philosophy is less is more and change is everything. By less is more I try to create clothing that allow my customers to have less fashion and more style. “Fashion comes and goes but style is forever” ~Yves Saint Laurent.” She also notes that “structuring your business right allows you to work less while having more fun. I also believe that change is the foundation of life, so I base all of my designs on change. Life changes, our mood and circumstances also change, so I prefer creating designs that accommodate change."

Finding balance between work, self and family is often a difficult feat for most women entrepreneurs, particularly those with a family. I have spoken with many women entrepreneurs who noted that their most creative and productive time is when their children are at school or when they are asleep. Diane notes that to find balance, she makes a to-do- list and structure her time to get things done when her children are at school. She also notes that she too “work at night while they are in bed" and goes on to say that “I will work hard before a vacation so when I’m away I can focus on family time.”

Diane’s recommendation to other women entrepreneurs or women now thinking about entrepreneurship as a viable livelihood is a very long list of useful advice. Diane notes:
  1. First of all write down what success means to you then structure your business around it 
  2. Always have realistic goals. 
  3. Delegate work that you are not good at. For me it’s bookkeeping and accounting 
  4. Always pay your taxes. It will cost you more in the long run if not done properly and on time 
  5. Avoid partnerships, employees and overhead for as long as you can.
  6. Have a solid business plan and write it yourself. It will be the map to follow while building your business 
  7. Be grounded spiritually . . . do fair business and good things will happen (if you do unfair business bad karma will be at your heels) 
  8. Keep learning, reading and evolving 
  9. Take care of your self. When self employed if you are not well your business won’t do well
  10. Make sure to do something you are passionate about otherwise you’ll loose interest when times are tough 
  11. If you are planning to use the social media for promoting your brand make sure to minimize personal information The internet is a very powerful tool. Use it wisely
Diane also has future plans for Diane Kroe Inc. She notes that “in the future I would like to have my Signature Collection in Spas and Resorts world wide and would like to build a solid customer base for my Travel Collection while increasing my online sales. She would also like to increase her clientele across Canada by doing shows in each city twice a year.

This article was first published in 2011 on Women in Business Networking and Leadership Group.

Diane Kroe Inc.

1 comment:

  1. Great story !
    I had thought about becoming a clothing designer. I used to design and sew by hand all sorts of "Barbie" clothes for my oldest daughter when she was little as I had no money. One year, I made a whole box full of them for her :)
    I make all sorts of things, but mainly do pampering items these days.

    You gave folks some good advice to think about should they want to try to open a business.