SPC 005: Candid Conversation with Monif Clarke: Advice on Self-Improvement

It’s easy to become reactive to work, answering emails, taking phone calls or always putting out fires. Monif Clarke is someone that believes in blazing new business trails, staying centered and following her happiness. After obtaining a math and computer science degree she went into the non-profit world where she was running a youth program in Harlem called Playing to Win. She eventually burnt out decided to make a career change and bigger impact. Out of frustration of what was available for plus size women  Monif started a fashion label and e-commerce business Monif C in 2005. Personal development has been a big part of her journey.

Here are some lessons she learned along the way:

Have Tenacity
Monif and her mom hit the pavement travelling from New Jersey to Manhattan everyday searching for vendors. “People in the industry don’t want to share information but we kept going until I found a mentor that opened his rolodex to me.”  They found a factory to produce the goods in the garment industry and ran the e-commerce store from their family home for the first three years of business. To start the company they invested $35,000 for the website and inventory which came as a small loan from her dad. Later, they took a micro-loan from the SBA and the rest of their growth came from reinvesting capital back into the company. Now they have an office in New York City and turned the front of the office into the showroom which helps cover the rent.

They planned to launch in September but knew they needed to create a buzz and get traffic before the launch. In July they went to the Time Inc. building and dropped off press kits to all the major magazines. “It was post 911 so it was tough getting in that building but we made it happen said Monif.” The press packages landed them a spot on TLC’s What Not to Wear then Glamour magazine, Essence, and later was BET’s Rip the Runway 6 months after they launched. “My customers are reading these magazines and watching shows, dying to see something for them”.

Find a Niche
The special sauce behind the brand is what Monif calls an ear to the street. “I’m a plus size woman so I design for myself and women like me.” The company has introduced more fashion to what has traditionally been available for plus sizes including different, colors, silhouette’s, stripes and prints.

Manage Cash Flow
Think about your business as a growing business. According to Monif entrepreneurs shouldn’t price as if they are still working from home. “What happens when you have staff, office and insurance? You can’t just take a ten dollar product and sell it for twenty dollars. It’s important to look ahead and not just focus on the right now. You have to build a sustainable business. Learn how to build a P&L, balance sheet and to accurately read them.”

She says cash flow is sometimes a challenge for the business but last year they learned to project more and preserve as much cash as they can.  Project what your business will look like three years from now and what you need to do to get there. Even if you have the money to pay bills you have to keep some of it in reserve. Monif suggests when you get an invoice from a vendor send half right away and the other half in thirty days by establishing terms. “If you give me a $20,000 invoice you’re going to get $10,000 now and $10,000 in 30 days.” Terms are important, if you always have to pay before your ship product you’re going to run out of money.

Learn to Grow
The more that you grow personally, the more your business will grow. Every business owner needs a personal development plan. Mentors have been an important part of the expansion of Monif C. which is now exceeding a million dollars in annual revenues. Lisa Price the founder of Carol’s Daughter is Monif Clark’s mentor and she believes that it’s been invaluable to have a person that’s ahead of her in business to talk with and get feedback. Monif believes in self-improvement. She’s also had indirect mentors through entrepreneurial programs that she’s participated in. “Even if I get feedback that’s snarky and not constructive I’ve learned to listen and see if there is anything I can gain from it said Monif.”  She stays centered by practicing meditation in the morning and before bed. It helps to calm her mind, process ideas and make better business decisions. She personally challenges herself to read 100 books a year. Some of them she listens to using audio software. She loves books like Crush It andUnlabel: Selling You without Selling Out that tell the real deal about growing a business.

Live Your Purpose
“I see myself as a teacher, sharer and community builder.” Monif has certainly built a community of confident plus size women that now feel good about what they are wearing.  Always staying on top of what next has turned Monif into an innovator. “I’ve never been good at reinventing the wheel, I would much rather do something that never been done.”

Monif Clark says that as she moves forward in the business she is looking for more ways to merge the business with life. “I’ve sacrificed a lot in turns of my personal life, health and a lot of other things because I was running behind a business 24-7. Work-life balance is important. Now, I’m thinking about how I can build systems so I can be here, manage this business and take care of my own life.” Monif says that since starting to meditate she sometimes wakes up with an idea, writes it down and in the morning starts turning it into revenue. “Meditation helps me move away from the clutter and do-do-do and opens me up for more ideas.”

Listen to the full interview with Monif Clarke.

What books, business strategies or daily practices have helped you build your business?

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