Before making her way into the world of fashion design, Cy Lauz worked in interior design, event and set design and prop styling. After moving to New York City, Cy was working as a fashion stylist when she discovered a gap in the market and a need within her own community- and decided to create a solution that was both practical and lovely, balancing form and function.
Using her keen eye for architectural shapes, Cy created her own undergarment line, Chrysalis Lingerie, designed specifically for transgender women. Cy understood the need for a new garment line that would fit and function the way she, and other transgender women, needed, while making them feel confident and beautiful at the same time. Her line is now a huge success and we admire not only her incredible business mind, but her dedication to raising awareness and support for the trans community. Today Cy’s chatting with us about the highs and lows of business, doing what you’re good at — and hiring smart people to do what you’re not good at — and the importance of viewing ourselves as our most valuable resource. –Sabrina
Why did you decide to start your own business?
I decided to start my own business for two main reasons. As a trans woman I saw the need and void in the market for undergarments that catered specifically to the needs of trans women. From a marketing standpoint, I also saw it as an opportunity to contribute to the voice and diversity of the trans community as a whole. It’s amazing to see that in a matter of a few years — thanks in due part to the efforts of trans activists like Laverne Cox and Janet Mock, as well as TV shows like Transparent and Orange Is The New Black — transgender visibility and support has increased tenfold and continues to gain momentum.
When you first decided to start your own business, how did you define what your business would be?
It really started with the development of our first product, the T-string. Which is a panty, or what I like to call a foundation undergarment, because it really is more than just a panty — it gives trans women a foundation of support and the confidence they need to live life everyday. Simultaneously, I was also developing our Chrysalis Enhancers, which is a bra with hidden pockets for use with silicone inserts to enhance the appearance of the bust line. From there it was obvious to me that Chrysalis Lingerie would be in the business of helping trans women feel good about themselves through the foundation undergarments they wear.
What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting off?
To be quite honest, when I set to launch Chrysalis Lingerie I threw caution to the wind. My immediate goals were to finalize the products, get them into production, and then launch our e-commerce soon after. I wasn’t really mindful about seeking advice at the time. Having said that, a piece of advice I would give to other entrepreneurs is to get your ducks in a row as much as possible, but don’t focus on getting everything perfect. No matter how much you try it will never be perfect, just get your product, service, or idea out there! Perfection is found within the process of entrepreneurship and the personal/professional growth you gain from it — the mistakes you make, the lessons learned, the people you meet, and the new skills you acquire, etc. It’s a profound and dynamic ride of your life!
What was the most difficult part of starting your business?
The most difficult part for me was product development. In essence, there is absolutely no product in the market like our T-string. I wanted to make sure it was the epitome of form and (multiple) function(s) — not only did it solve a very specific problem for trans women, it also had to look beautiful and feminine. In addition, it is also a waist cincher, a tummy tamer, and the T-string also gives you the appearance of longer legs. Needless to say, it took my team and I two years of testing and countless prototypes to achieve what we have today. Like I said, it’s more than just a panty — it’s revolutionary!
I was also developing our Chrysalis Enhancers. There are insert bras out in the market, but none compare to our aesthetic. Surprisingly, the majority of what is out there, I felt, looked matronly and unappealing. Beyond our customer base of trans women, we’ve had women who’ve undergone mastectomies tell us that our insert bras are both comfortable and beautiful.
Can you name the biggest lesson you’ve learned in running a business?
The biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I cant do everything. When you’re the founder and CEO of a start-up, you wear many hats and, in fact, you wear all the hats — at least in the beginning. I learned to pinpoint the tasks and responsibilities I enjoyed and thrived in and delegated those responsibilities that brought me anxiety and unnecessary stress. Basically, every entrepreneur should outsource the responsibilities that if they hypothetically did as a 9-to-5 job, they would get fired for their incompetence.
Can you name a moment of failure in your business experiences?
I think failure is a difficult topic to discuss for anyone, especially for entrepreneurs. Even though they say to take emotions out of business, as an entrepreneur your business is such a huge part of you. It’s your dreams, blood, sweat, and tears all rolled into one — it’s your baby! When I was able to (soft) launch the Chrysalis Lingerie e-commerce, the majority of my customers were delighted and ecstatic with the product and overall branding. But in addition to the accolades, I also received a handful-or-so of very passionate, unenthusiastic feedback about the lack in range of sizes, the high price point, limited product selection, and even how I marketed the Chrysalis Lingerie brand. As an entrepreneur who also happens to be trans, I took it personally and internalized all the feelings of guilt and disappointment. There was a huge part of me that felt like I didn’t do enough, and that I was insensitive to the needs of my customers, and that everything I had done was a huge mistake! I felt defeated and internalized this for a very long time.
Quite some time had passed before I had the strength to pick myself up. I realized that I needed help, so I decided to hire a business coach, and with her help I began to see the light again. I still work with her to this day and she’s an integral part of my team. Another piece of advice I would give to entrepreneurs, is that if you’re going to be in this line of work, a business coach is a luxury but a therapist is a necessity! All entrepreneurs are a little crazy to begin with, but this entrepreneurial odyssey that you are about to embark on is an unceasing, emotional roller coaster of the highest highs and the lowest lows — and it’s okay to ask for help AND cry!
What has been the biggest sacrifice you’ve made in starting your business?
I also have a “day job” of many hats. I’m a freelance interior designer, set designer, prop and fashion stylist, and all-around creative ninja! I think all freelance ninjas understand that money isn’t always consistent — additionally, with all start-ups, investing your own money is a given at least in the beginning. So for me, the biggest sacrifice I’ve made would be investing my own money into Chrysalis Lingerie to get it to where it is today. I’m currently working on taking Chrysalis Lingerie to the next level, and with that improving on our less-than-perfect start. In general, as a creative professional living in NYC, every day is a hustle.
Can you name your greatest success in your business experiences?
My greatest success would be the self-empathy I now understand and readily bestow upon myself. In many aspects of our lives, we’re trained to be our own worst enemy and as a society, I don’t think we realize that we can or should be our own best friend. To be able to show forgiveness and kindness to oneself is a key principle. There’s something about the dynamics of being an entrepreneur that forces you to — in fact it requires that you — take a constant internal inventory of your thoughts and feelings and assess whether it is helping you or hurting you and, in turn, helping or hurting your business. My greatest success is acknowledging and honoring that I am my most valuable resource.
What business books/resources (if any) would you recommend to someone starting a creative business of their own?
1. The Right-Brain Business Plan by Jennifer Lee
2. Left-Brain Finance for Right-Brain People: A Money Guide for the Creatively Inclined by Paula Ann Monroe — Because every entrepreneur should have a proficient grasp of their financial landscape.
3. The Three Faces of Mind: Developing Your Mental, Emotional, and Behavioral Intelligences by Elaine De Beauport — I think every human being on the planet should read this, not just entrepreneurs. Any effort put forth to gain a deeper understanding of oneself is greatly rewarded.
4. The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell — Provides great insight into the human social psyche from a marketing perspective. You can potentially rule the world after reading this!
5. The Art of Woo: Using Strategic Persuasion to Sell Your Ideas by G. Richard Shell — All entrepreneurs are salesmen in the business of persuasion, not coercion.
6. Fashion Institute of Technology, Center for Continuing and Professional Studies — FIT has a number of amazing, non-credit certification programs specifically for creative entrepreneurs, in addition to individual classes that will help you hit the ground running! Always evolve your skills and knowledge as an entrepreneur as if it were your religion!
In your opinion, what are the top three things someone should consider before starting their own business?
1. Invest the time and research in developing your business plan, first and foremost! It will help you tremendously and even answer your current questions and/or questions you haven’t even thought of. It really helped me fine-tune the bigger picture.
2. Second, I would say DREAM BIG and be consistent.
3. Last but not least, figure out what your place in the business is going to be. And in doing so, figure out what you’re good at and also enjoy doing — inversely figure out what you don’t like to do and what you don’t excel in.