There's big business back Stage and here are
four entrepreneurs to help you find it
Backstage At The CATWALK
Audrey Smaltz began her entree into the fashion world as a 15-year-old model, which led to stints at Lane Bryant and Bloomingdales. She was the fashion editor at Ebony magazine as well as the commentator for the Ebony Fashion Fair for seven years. But the entrepreneurial itch took hold of her and she decided to hang out her shingle in 1982, when she started The Ground Crew (www.groundcrew.net), a New York City-based firm that provides all of the backstage nitty-gritty work for fashion shows and photo shoots. Her client roster includes Bad Boy Productions, Donna Karan, Betsey Johnson, and Oscar de la Renta.
"At the time I started [my business], you couldn't be front of the house," says Smaltz. "So I went where they would let me in-backstage." And while there, she noticed a niche that needed filling. Traditionally, friends, interns, or gofers usually handle the behind-the-scenes chaos at fashion shows informally. So Smaltz offered a more professional alternative. Her staff, which expands depending on the project, does everything from steaming garments, hemming gowns, dressing the models, and even providing directors and stage managers.
"We do the job that no one else wants to do," explains the fashion industry veteran. "It is one of the most important [jobs], but least-recognized and least-paying. You do the backstage work in fashion because you love it."
Challenge: "One of the biggest challenges in this business is receiving compensation for your labor," explains Smaltz.
Success Secret: Despite the challenge, Smaltz has grown her 20-year business that is known for its excellence and customer service. And in a niche industry, word-of-mouth is key. "You have to be the best," explains the business owner who works out of her penthouse apartment in Manhattan's with two full-time staff members. "I do not solicit celebrity clientele. Most of the designers I work with I've worked with for several years in other capacities. Therefore, networking is a must."
Up next? In addition to her business, the Harlem native tends to her other pursuits like painting and professional speaking. "In five years, I want to be able to sell the business to someone who will take it in a bigger direction. In ten years, I'll still be painting and giving back to others." Her philanthropic efforts include mentoring high school and college students and speaking at the High School of Fashion Industries and Fashion Institute of Technology [CONFIRM THE SCHOOL'S NAME]. She advises those who want to follow in her footsteps to take as many classes as they can. "Business classes are a must, as well as fashion styling, hair, and make-up. I am still learning new things everyday, because to be in fashion is to be in