How To Run A Successful Business... In Between Classes

Photo: Courtesy of Felicia Lasala.

There are three things you need to know about Alexandra Chang: First, she launched her own clothing line and website, The Zeitgeist, before she was old enough to drive in certain states. Second, if she hadn't been sidelined from competitive tennis career after an injury, she might never have realized that there was so much white space in the teen lifestyle scene. And finally, she calls Iris Apfel her "forever style icon." How many 17-year-olds do you know who would say a thing like that?

Intrigued and curious to know more about the young fashion entrepreneur — who currently fields business inquiries during free periods— we emailed her a few questions about what went into starting her own clothing line, where she finds her creative inspiration, and how she's planning to use the money she's making now in the future. Read on, and wish that you were this savvy back in high school.

What was the best piece of advice you received before launching The Zeitgeist? "'Take your ideas seriously, but never take yourself too seriously.' It’s also important to surround yourself with other entrepreneurs and ask tons of questions. You could read a book about how to start a business, but having coffee with someone who actually started their own business and achieved success is far more useful. Always be honest with people, be kind to everyone, and never take anything personally. Finally, read and understand an agreement before you sign it, and if you don’t understand it fully, ask someone you trust to help you."

What do you think is the biggest misconception other young women have about launching a business?
"I think a lot of young women (and people in general) believe that they need to have every single aspect of their business figured out prior to launching it. Although you absolutely need to design a business plan and conduct market research, you'll still have to improvise along the way. For example, some products you initially thought might appeal to customers may actually be less popular than an item that was not expected to gain as much traction. Overall, if you’re a young entrepreneur just starting out, you definitely will not know everything. I’m still learning every single day, and the key is to adapt to change. Also, always be willing to try new things, and if something isn’t working, figure out why, and take it in a different direction."

Photo credit: Stephanie Girard.

How did you fund it in the beginning?
"I borrowed the cost of the initial order from my parents, and I recognize that I am incredibly fortunate to be able to do that. I committed to them, however, that I would pay them back once the business generated sufficient earnings to do so. I am happy to say that my business is profitable and I have fully repaid the loan!"

Were they always supportive of the idea?
"Yes! Ever since I was little, my parents have always encouraged me to pursue my passions, and when I approached them about launching The Zeitgeist, their response was no different. My mom and dad are my biggest champions, and I am so grateful for that."

What are you planning to do with the money you make?
"I am focused on saving and investing. I also want to become a filmmaker in the future, and I plan to use some of the profits from The Zeitgeist to make my first short film. Through The Zeitgeist, I also donate regularly to organizations that I love, such as The Humane Society, Planned Parenthood, and Children’s Action Network."

Photo credit: Stephanie Girard.

Are there other people in the fashion space who have inspired you?
"Tavi Gevinson; she was such a pioneer and really helped teens make their way into the blogging world and fashion industry. Victoria Beckham is also an inspiration; it’s incredible how she completely transformed her personal brand from being a pop star to an established designer. I also admire Iris Apfel for her originality, wit, and sense of humor. Actually, we share the same birthday — August 29th! I had the wonderful opportunity to interview her for my blog, and to this day, Iris is my favorite person I have ever had the pleasure of meeting."

Do you have any plans to expand the clothing line beyond graphic tees?
"Yes! Right now, I’m working on designing some Zeitgeist accessories and back-to-school items, so be sure to stay tuned for that. I’m really excited. I also plan to expand The Zeitgeist beyond online content and e-commerce."