Melinda Villarreal: Founder & CEO of Fashion Conservatory
Preserving the history of fashion online through commerce, community and education.
Pro Tips & Life Lessons
As a female child, I was always reprimanded for being bossy, outspoken, opinionated, and confident. In truth, I was demonstrating tendencies that could have been cultivated into amazing leadership skills and likely would have been if I was born male. Even though I reconized and rebelled against the gender gap at a very early age, it has affected me my entire life. All of the traits that were shamed out of me in my youth are traits I need as a founder.
Society often wants you to feel ashamed of the things that make you different. Lean into your uniqueness. No one ever got ahead by being the same as everyone else. A single person can change the world and that person can be you.
Position: Early Stage Startup Founder
What does a typical day look like?
There is no typical day when you’re an early-stage founder. No matter how much you plan or organize, it’s going to be chaotic. Everyone on the founding team is trying to do the jobs of 5 or more people, triaging what’s most important that day or week. We’re constantly having to learn new skills or software and plans can change on a dime based on new information. The most important thing is to be flexible, make decisions quickly, and keep moving forward.
I typically roll out of bed at 8am and I’m working by 8:15. First thing in the morning is usually decision making, and triaging problems that have arisen during the night. Late morning is coordinating with the team what needs to get accomplished for the day. By lunch I’m usually taking meetings, sometimes back to back 11am-5pm. After 5pm is when I can get my own work done. I try to be wrapped up by 8 or 9, but often work until 11pm or later. Then it’s back at it first thing in the morning!
I know this sounds exhausting, and it can be(!), but I love what I do. I adore the people I get to work with and I deeply believe that what we’re building will help people, small businesses, and the environment.
What was you path? How did you get here?
My grandmother gifted me my first piece of vintage when I was 4, a 1950s child’s circle skirt with hand painted gold flecks. It was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen, and I was hooked.
When I was 7, I started my first business selling my “art” (it was not art, it was the type of dirt clay creation only a young child could get excited about) on the side of the road. Living on a farm in the middle of nowhere (our closest neighbor was a mile away) did not deter me from setting up my roadside stand and waving to the 1 or 2 cars that passed by every hour or so. A very kind lady stopped and bought all of my “art” for $10 and I was over the moon! I didn’t know it then, but that woman was the spark that started my journey to becoming a startup founder.
By 13, I was looking for opportunities to make money on the side. The term “side hustle” had not yet been coined, but that’s absolutely what it was. My side hustle of choice was candy sales. Whatever was trendy, I had it. Blow Pops, Twizzlers, Caramellos, were all popular choices at the time and my mom’s warehouse club membership made it easy to stock up. I didn’t know the terms for what I was studying, but 13 year old me was very interested in profit margins, market size, and customer behavior. Two treats in one, Blow Pops were a clear winner. Easy to transport, multiple flavors, kids were willing to pay a premium, and you could get away with eating one in class.
In college, I was wearing my mom’s highschool bell bottoms, scouring vintage shops and mapping out antique malls on roadtrips. I was also renting out rooms in my Brooklyn apartment to make ends meet. In the late 90s, I was buying on eBay, and by the early 2000s I was a seller myself, dipping my toes into the emerging world of ecommerce.
My love of fashion and entrepreneurship grew hand in hand, eventually converging into my first full-time business venture in 2010, when I began selling antique, vintage, & collectible (AVC) fashion online. AVC fashion expertise is self taught and although I had been a customer in this product category since I was a child, I still had a lot to learn. I searched high and low for advice, a mentor, an organization, anything that would help me become a better seller, but I kept coming up dry. There were a few small groups on social media that were supportive and helpful, but that was about it. Nothing that really filled the need I had.
On the ecommerce side of the business, marketplaces were failing us. Like all AVC fashion sellers, we work with one-of-a-kind items (in retail terms, meaning we typically only have 1 of each piece), and people selling OOAK do better in groups. But marketplaces were pushing us aside, creating policies and search algorithms that helped big brands succeed, while simultaneously harming small businesses like ours. Sellers were struggling to make ends meet and many of our peers had to close their businesses. We were seeing vintage fashion become incredibly popular, yet watching vintage experts, people that have been selling for 20+ years, close their businesses. It was heartbreaking.
The heartbreak was the catalyst. I set out on a mission to build Fashion Conservatory, a place for our beloved community to thrive. A platform focused on AVC fashion where we can share our knowledge and support eachother.