| TUESDAY, JANUARY 28, 2014
It's a Tuesday afternoon in January and Florida native Lauren Siktberg is housebound in Chicago due to the Polar Vortex. While most people may use the snow-infused serendipity to catch up on episodes of "Downton Abbey'' and "Breaking Bad,'' Siktberg is using her time like she always does -- working.
Although employed fulltime helping an online personal shopping service transact social media, Siktberg uses every spare hour developing her own lifestyle brand of clothing and accessories. "I work nonstop,'' she says. "I work before and after work and during my commute.''
Siktberg’s line, branded Anchored Style, includes men's and women's T-shirts and accessories such as belts, hats, neckwear, jewelry and drink koozies. Products are sold through Siktberg's website and at retail stores along the U.S. East Coast and Texas.
"My goal is to have a heritage brand,'' says Siktberg. "I want to grow gradually over the years to build a brand that I am proud of and can tweak along the way according to market needs and desires."
"This year I'm focusing on building stronger relationships with my current customer base and expanding to other markets,'' explains Siktberg. "I'm doing a trade show in Dallas to expand a little further into the South and add the right stores to give my online customers a home base store to shop in and to touch and feel the merchandise for a more personal experience.''
Coming About Full Circle
Siktberg grew up near the southern part of the Pinellas peninsula devouring issues of GQ magazine. "My true passion is men's fashion,'' says Siktberg. "I've been getting GQ since I was 15. I have a very long-standing subscription.''
Siktberg attended Bauder Elementary, Seminole Middle and Seminole High schools before graduating from Florida State University in 2003 with a degree in Textiles and Consumer Science. "Which is a fancy way of saying Fashion Merchandising,'' she says and laughs.
She currently maintains a condo in Largo and is contemplating ditching the Windy City for warmer climes. "I'm not sure if I want to come back to St. Pete permanently or go to the Carolinas. I want to be able to travel to my retail partner stores and do on-campus events at colleges -- like tailgating and things like that. It's really fun. I want to have those personal relationships.''
She's developed her latest business relationship right back home in Tampa Bay.High Cotton Living, a Tampa boutique located at 1619 W Snow Circle, is currently selling Anchored Style clothing in its Hyde Park store. High Cotton owner Andrew Smith says Anchored's business model impresses as much as its products.
"I like preppy lifestyle clothes produced in the U.S.,'' says Smith. "It's nice to see they're achieving. They do their screen printing in St. Pete. It's a very local brand. Not to mention the design of T-shirts are cool and fit in with Tampa Bay lifestyle –- lots of fishing and boating going on around here so it seems like a cool fit.''
Creating A New Southern Style
At first glance, Siktberg's brand appears to target the sailing set. However, Siktberg says she's found her niche with young men on college campuses -- particularly in the South. She chalks it up to good old-fashioned Southern tradition.
"Most Southern towns have a men's haberdashery store where a guy's grandfather shopped, then their dad shopped there and now they're shopping there,'' explains Siktberg. "It seems to be a very southern thing.''
Says Siktberg of her brand: "It's definitely a coastal lifestyle but on the more tailored end. I like to call it the Anchored lifeStyle, nautically inspired, preppy, all-American, classic but modern in colors and shapes.''
So Why Chicago? Why Now?
Siktberg explains her itchy feet are responsible for landing her in Chi-town.
"It's very important to travel when you're doing fashion. I'm here to experience more city life. It's kind of like a social experiment to see how I can market to people who live in different places and do different things. I'm always doing marketing research –- watching people, what they're wearing, how they're acting. I like to focus on a niche and really get to know everything about how they live their lives from work to play.''
Siktberg's social experimenting also took her to New York, where she worked as an intern under Lori Goldstein and culled a good deal of insight about the fashion industry and herself.
"I learned that I didn't want to live in New York,'' she says and laughs. "And I learned "The Devil Wears Prada'' is true. There were 11 of us -- all new to New York. Most worked at magazines; a few at showrooms. They were all done at 5 p.m. and went to happy hour. I wasn’t done until 7:30.''
Siktberg says that while these experiences make her a keener marketing person, social media has made her research all the easier. "I make a lot of things based on requests and what I know people want to see. I use social media to get feedback through contests and having people vote on new products; comparing two to see which one resonates with potential customers.''
Developing Her Own Style
Siktberg left New York to move home to Seminole in Pinellas County and began working at a boutique in Belleair owned by Lindsay Phillips, as well as for a T-shirt designer in Clearwater.
"Working with them is how I actually learned about building a business from the ground up,'' Siktberg says.
When Phillips decided to move her business to New Jersey, Siktberg opted to stay put, eventually ending up at the Sperry Top-Sider store at Tampa's International Plaza by 2010.
It was during this time that Siktberg decided to test the entrepreneurial waters. She started Anchored in Style, a personal shopping service for Tampa Bay businessmen.
"I did a lot of research on personal shopping and closet consultations, and started marketing myself. I also sold J. Hilburn men's custom dress shirts. I went to clients' homes or businesses, measured them and picked out clothing I thought would work for them.
"I found Tampa Bay to be a difficult market for me,'' Siktberg explains. "I didn’t have the connections I needed to be successful and I realized that I am much more successful selling a product than selling myself. So I ended up morphing my personal shopping business into a lifestyle brand. I already had a great logo that I often got compliments on, so I thought maybe I could start a new business with it.''
This is also when Siktberg made the college connection. "Kids would come in and ask for certain styles for fraternity rush. It made me think that preppy was making a comeback. So I envisioned my customer as a Sperry kind of person. I researched and wrote a business plan. I worked from 7 a.m. to 1 a.m. every day to prove to my dad that it was workable and to figure out how I could differentiate myself from similar brands.''
Siktberg's dedication paid off. Her dad ended up investing in her new enterprise, along with a family friend. Anchored Style was then built and set sail within a whirlwind seven-months, during which the young entrepreneur not only designed her initial line, but also developed both a marketing plan and strategic business partnerships to ensure the launch went off without a hitch.
She now has products in more than 20 stores as well as representatives on several college campuses to help Anchored grow its intercollegiate customer base.
Working at Sperry also provided Siktberg with an opportunity to meet Alexandria Boudreau, who appears to be a kindred fashionista. After her co-worker's custom canvas bag designs caught Siktberg's attention she began selling her Boudreau's bags under the Anchored brand.
"She is the real deal,'' says Siktberg. She's got great style. And she is a very avid sailor -- probably one of the best sailors I've ever met in my life -- better than any guy I’ve ever seen. She knows her product.''
Boudreau has since launched her own brand and site, Nautical Notions.
Unlike her competitors, Siktberg is committed to keeping all facets of her business stateside -- including manufacturing. From the graphic artist who transposes her sketches into sharp lines and colors, to the production line where original ideas become three-dimensional products, Siktberg insists on keeping it globally local.
"I like knowing that it could have been your aunt or family friend who made the garment for you,'' Siktberg explains. "I'm all about quality -- having something made by someone who has pride in their job. That's why I like Alex's work. You know there's a lot of love in that product. It's all unique -- hand-sewn vs. mass produced; based on how fast they can get it done. My key fobs and belts are custom made in Maine. I really like the quality of them -- they're leather and you can wear them and take the Anchored lifestyle with you everywhere you go.
"When given the opportunity to make a commitment to something that can make a difference, I want to,'' she stresses. "It is really exciting that ‘American Made’ has become a movement and I'm happy to be a part of it.''
Siktberg says that while keeping it stateside is costly, it's worth it. "I'm definitely taking a financial hit. My profit margins aren't as high as many of my competitors, which is why I have a fulltime job right now -– to pay down debt and grow my business slowly.''
She also admits her self-imposed work schedule has taken a toll on her personal life. "It's tough, as any entrepreneur will tell you. My social life takes planning. Dating, going out with friends, church, I have to plan ahead of time. If I go somewhere spur of the moment that means I have to work more on the weekend. If I want to have fun on the weekend, that means I have to work more during the week. It's about keeping your priorities straight.''
So is it all worth it? Well, Siktberg's business doubled in 2013 over 2012, and Siktberg says she expects to see another 25 percent jump this year. "I always tell people -- if you're really truly passionate about something, you will find a way to make it work,'' she says.