Entrepreneur and Merchandise Product Development Grad Taylor Gilkey Launches Leather Bag Company

August 19, 2016

Taylor Gilkey graduated from FIDM in 2012 with her degree in Merchandise Product Development. A year and a half ago, she started designing leather bags and launched her own company, Gilkey.

She returned to FIDM last week to share her experience with students in the Premier MPD Group, an elite group of students who qualify to attend special guest speaker presentations because of their excellent GPAs and outstanding performance.

Taylor prepared a presentation for the students, full of first-hand entrepreneurial advice and tips on how to start a brand.

Before the meeting started, FIDM Instructor Rebecca Eliason dropped by the conference room to say hello to her former student. Rebecca and Taylor have kept in touch since Taylor graduated, and Rebecca recently referred her to several sewing contractors located in Los Angeles, which reinforced to the students the importance of networking in the fashion industry, and that it all starts at FIDM.

Taylor grew up in the central valley of California, between Fresno and Bakersfield. The Gilkey family is a rarity in the fact that they still grow and gin a large acreage of Pima cotton. Their long staple, luxury cotton is still used in high end fashion brands. Taylor is a fourth generation farmer. In fact, before attending FIDM, she majored in Dairy Science at Cal State San Luis Obispo.

Her goal with Gilkey was to create a company to honor her family’s legacy. Her brand is about heritage and family. To this point, her logo incorporates the wings of an airplane, cotton, and the sun.

“This is your brand,” she advised students thinking about launching a brand. “Know what sets you apart, and set yourself apart. Have your brand tell a story. Stay true to your brand and don’t change it for anyone.”

She started by selling bags at a craft fair in San Luis Obispo. She sold a clutch made from scrap leather for $175, and she knew she was headed in the right direction.

But, let’s back up. When she was still a student at FIDM, she had three internships: Armani Exchange, Club Riviera, and Bollare. After graduation, she worked for two years at Hot Chillys, doing product development—sourcing synthetic material, doing cost analysis, line sheets, and the catalog. She also ran the sponsorship athletic program.

At 23 years old, she felt it was time to move on, so she quit her job and moved to Silicon Valley for a startup aerospace engineering firm. It wasn’t long before she left that and moved to the central coast to work for a leading innovative ecommerce direct to consumer wine business called WineDirect, where she is now.

She’s currently an Account Manager responsible for 60 winery accounts. She has a full-time job, while also managing Gilkey, which is quickly growing. She hopes that soon she can make that her full-time job. No doubt she will.

She had lots of entrepreneurial tips for the students. She said when having something manufactured and produced, to be sure to include line sheets and samples. Establish the turn-around time, and agree on it. Confirm pricing. Draw up a contract or a service-level agreement (SLA).

She recommends doing online sales when starting out. There is no middleman, so all the profits are your own. She said it’s critical to know and understand your brand identity. Be confident in what you’re selling. Know your pricing.

Taylor also recommends finding mentors who inspire, and then read their bios. She said she’s particularly inspired by girlbosses including Katherine Powers and Hillary Kerr (co-founders of WhoWhatWear), Ivanka Trump, and Alle Fister, to name a few.

In fact, when Taylor was a student at FIDM, she interned under Alle Fister at Bollare, a top beauty, fashion and lifestyle public relations firm.

“She’s a total badass, an unstoppable badass,” said Taylor. “What I noticed the most was that Alle, her husband, mother, and father were incredibly nice and worked together as a team. I think that’s so important in life. To be successful, we all need a TEAM and ‘yell-leaders,’ as my grandmother would say (cheerleaders).”

At the end of her presentation, she opened it up to questions from the students. One of the students recommended a place in Illinois where Taylor’s bags would be a perfect fit. The networking continued with swapping of business cards.

We can’t wait to see where Taylor takes Gilkey. With her energy, education, and talent, the sky is the limit.

Categories: Alumni News, Merchandise Product Development