Vaute Couture founder Leanne Hilgart is at the top of her game. The animal-loving fashion designer swept New York Fashion Week with her line of coats, shirts, dresses, and accessories. Her show—the first completely vegan solo show in the history of NYFW—set the media on fire, garnering a top spot on CNN.com’s homepage, and coverage from US News and World Report. Business Insider even named Vaute one of the 25 most innovative businesses in New York City, among other accolades. Here, Hilgart shares her top five tips for success.
1. “Become so wrapped up in something that you forget to be afraid.” – Lady Bird Johnson
Fear is an interesting thing. It’s easy to think that if you’re meant to do something, you’ll have confidence, and you won’t be afraid. But, the best things I’ve done have come from being insanely terrified that I can’t do something, but knowing that I absolutely must. Pushing into the fear so far that you push through it is the best way to make a huge leap. On the other side is a new land where everything that scared you before seems like a piece of cake.
2. Be prepared for self-sabotage when going for your unlived life.
My all-time favorite book is The War of Art by Steven Pressfield. He starts out by saying, “Most of us have two lives. The life we live, and the unlived life within us.” Pressfield personifies the self-sabotage that people feel during any project they are meant to do, calling it Resistance. And man, do I feel it. Resistance will try to keep me from doing my work by telling me all kinds of lies. It told me that there was no market for vegan coats, that I should first work in apparel for five years before starting my own company, and that I should just watch Ellen in bed. Most of all, it would make me feel guilty for not having done more yesterday. Knowing that this is normal and what to expect from someone sabotaging you who knows you so well (yourself) has made all the difference to me in starting and growing my company. The self doubt, the loneliness, the fear, it can all be overpowering sometimes, and it’s so important to know that it’s all part of the process so you can say to that self-sabotage, “I see you, I know what you are, and I’m doing this anyway. So there.”
3. Consider yourself a lucky person and look for evidence to support this.
I once went to a screening for a short wonderful film called Lemonade about people who had lost their jobs and then made the most of an otherwise bad situation to make their dreams come true. Afterwards, during the Q&A, the audience asked questions like, “Well, those people were in advertising, I’m not in advertising,” or “Those people didn’t need health insurance, I do.” I found this fascinating because it made me wonder: “Who does it serve to think that you are not like this person who became successful?” Why not figure out how you are like this person and how you too can make the most of it? I am obsessed with reading the true stories of “overnight successes” and finding out how much “failure,” hard work, and exploration it really took for someone to succeed—everyone who seems lucky really just worked super hard.
4. Always look for your tools in your life.
After college, I had no idea what I was supposed to do. But I took opportunities that came along as adventures, and they all gave me tools I wouldn’t have expected. When a scout asked if I’d considered modeling, I didn’t remind him I am 5’5” (the requirement for top agencies is 5’8”). I was signed the next day, and worked with Ford Models for five years. That chance happening gave me experience with photoshoots, fashion shows, film sets, and castings—all of which helps me today an incredible amount when it comes to running a fashion label. Not everyone is designed to be an entrepreneur (and believe me, it’s rough! If you can do something else, do that. I promise you, you will be much happier.) Everything you have been given in life, every experience, every skill, every person—they have taught you something that creates a combination of tools that you and only you can use, whether in your job, your activism, or just in your daily life.
5. Never leave your dreams up to someone else.
Everyone wants to get discovered, get signed, get picked. If your dreams depend on someone else’s goals and someone else choosing you to fulfill their plan, you might be waiting a really long time to find the plan of someone else that you fit into. Don’t leave your life up to someone else! It’s fun to get picked, and easy to keep waiting for someone else’s approval, but this is your life, it’s up to you to make the most of it. You pick. You start. You do the work. Don’t leave it up to anyone else.
Books have played an enormous role in forming Hilgart’s business savvy and personal development. Here are her top five must-reads:
1. Finding Your Own North Star by Martha Beck
2. How to be Lovely (a compilation of Audrey Hepburn interviews) by Melissa Hellstern
3. Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
4. Rules for Revolutionaries by Guy Kawasaki
5. The War of Art by Steven Pressfield
Photo: Anthony TwoMoons