Vancouverite entrepreneur Liza D shares her fashion-biz savvy

Story updated at 13:48, August 21

In the fashion world, as in any other industry, there are the things you learn in school, and then there are the things you learn on the job. A native Vancouverite is making a name for herself here and south of the border by teaching the latter—the practical skills she picked up by building not one but two apparel-manufacturing companies from scratch.

Speaking on the line from her home in New York, Liza Deyrmenjian (or “Liza D.”, as she’s better known) says there’s a simple reason she’s run her own fashion businesses. “I can’t work for anybody,” the affable entrepreneur says with a laugh.

Then she adds, with the straightforward approach that characterizes her seminars, “Most people need to ask: do I want to be a designer or do I want to be an employee?”

Deyrmenjian was just 20 when she launched her own Vancouver studio, Arteenelle Designs Inc., in 1989. By 1995, the facility had grown into a 9,000-square-foot, 45-employee factory that manufactured pieces for such brands as Westbeach, Costco, and Umbro.

In 1998, Deyrmenjian sold Arteenelle, took a year off, and then started Noccona Manufacturing Services. Within 12 months the factory was making clothes for the likes of London Fog and Marmot, and pulling in sales of more than a million dollars.

Deyrmenjian sold Noccona in 2003 to move to the Big Apple and pursue her other dream—producing movies. Still living in New York, she has been pulled back into the fashion realm, launching a series of two-day seminars called Liza D. Fashion School: 48 Hours to Your Own Business, as well as a new DVD also covering topics like financing, sample-making, selling, and sourcing (available at ).

Deyrmenjian is also in demand as a consultant to celebs starting their own lines. Recently, she sat with Courtney Love for a brainstorming session; she’s helping Kristian Giambi (wife of Yankees player John Giambi) launch a lingerie line; and she worked with Project Runway winner Jay McCarroll to produce samples.

In her seminars, which she gives regularly in New York and Los Angeles, and occasionally in Vancouver, Deyrmenjian offers creative types hard-nosed business tips.

“What I teach is how to start your own fashion business, not how to become a patternmaker or draper. If you want to start a business, you need to know how to sell, how to do customer service, how to collect money,” she says. “Most people get wrapped up in questions that don’t matter, like ”˜How do I manufacture overseas?’ You’re five years away from that happening.”

Another common mistake people make is trying to start a fashion line by doing research on the Web. “You have to go hands-on and meet people you want to work with,” she advises.

She says that everyone from students to established designers has turned to her for guidance. In one case, a woman who had designed one bag in six colours that she sold at New York’s street fairs found her wares suddenly featured on style-setting Web site DailyCandy and had no idea how to get her 500 orders manufactured.

In the tote designer’s case, as with others, it came down to the most practical lesson Deyrmenjian has learned: “It’s just a matter of hard work. It’s not that you have to have all this money. With perseverance, the money will come.”