Stephanie was a Sophomore in college when she started her venture.
Wonderful story of a student entrepreneur growing into a multi-million dollar ultra-light e-commerce business.
Sramana Mitra: Let’s start at the very beginning of your journey. Where are you from? Where were you born, raised, and in what kind of background?
Stephanie Madesh: I was raised in a small town in Lebanon, Oregon. My mom’s a school teacher. My dad works for the power company. My grandparents were entrepreneurs. My parents didn’t take that path, but I have always been intrigued with it. I started very young with my own booth and table at craft fairs.
Then I moved to Wellesley, Massachusetts and went to school at Babson. I majored in entrepreneurship. That’s where I started Kalon. I started it in my dorm room with a $1,100 loan from my bestfriend.
Sramana Mitra: What is the premise of Kalon?
Stephanie Madesh: Kalon is derived from a Greek word that means the woman who possesses both inner and outer beauty. We started more as an online boutique. We sold other people’s brands and not so much our own designs. We evolved to where we are now, which is we do all of the designs ourselves and only carry our own label.
Sramana Mitra: What year was this when you started this in your dorm room?
Stephanie Madesh: This is in 2005.
Sramana Mitra: You were a sophomore?
Stephanie Madesh: Yes.
Sramana Mitra: What happens? What did you start with?
Stephanie Madesh: I moved into this dorm on Babson’s campus called E Tower. Everyone one in E Tower is starting or running a startup. It’s a really cool experience, but I didn’t have anything yet. I was really interested in staples, so not so much high fashion but everyday pieces at a modest price.
I went to my first trade show which was very difficult as a sophomore in college. I have always sold only online. You can imagine, in 2005, I got a lot of push back from professors and mentors about selling on the internet. It was not heard of at that time. It was hard to convince people that selling on the internet is the same thing.
Sramana Mitra: Before you go on, I must tell you. I started one of the first ever online fashion company in 1999. Just imagine the kinds of pushbacks I was getting in 1999.
Stephanie Madesh: I can only imagine. I remember Victoria’s Secret. I say, “Victoria’s Secret is doing it.” They were like, “Yes, but Macys isn’t.”
Sramana Mitra: What category were you able to acquire some inventory for that you could then start selling online?
Stephanie Madesh: At the trade show, I was able to do my first inventory purchases. One of the LA groups started getting online. I was able to order from them and get it shipped out to Wellesley.
Sramana Mitra: What items did you go for?
Stephanie Madesh: I mostly went for tops, dresses, and some undergarments. Now we’re mostly into undergarments. It has evolved.