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Alumni Success Stories

Kim Camarella, B.S. '96
Kiyonna Klothing

What kind of business did the entrepreneur start?

Kiyonna Klothing is a Los Angeles-based partnership that caters to the "passion for fashion." It is not the conventional fashion-oriented apparel company because of its belief "that every woman, no matter what her size or shape, deserves to be attractively attired in the fashions of today." Kiyonna Klothing is a design company that focuses on a generation of young women who are size fourteen and above. With many of the traditional design companies catering to the needs of women’s clothing in the petite market, the plus size niche of Kiyonna is the fourteen and above category.

What is the background of the entrepreneur?

Kim Camarella was born into a family that possesses an educational background, as both of her parents were teachers. As a Business Administration major at the University of Southern California, Kim's passion directed her towards entrepreneurial studies where she pursued her emphasis/specialization. It was in this program that she felt as though her personal entrepreneurial flame was increased and her talents furbished.

While attending school full-time, Kim engaged in corporate America on a part-time basis gaining so-called "real-life" or "hands-on" experience. She held positions at Dean Witter as a Broker Assistant for three years and Tracker Technologies as a Marketing Coordinator for approximately one year. These two positions enabled Kim to not only establish a strong base of business experiences but also gave her the opportunity to expand her network.

How did the entrepreneur get the idea for starting this business?

During the spring semester of 1996, Kim Camarella was faced with the academic requirement of writing a business plan while in the Entrepreneur program at USC. Kim was particularly challenged by this academic requirement as she did not know about what she wanted to write. Contemplating possible ideas for the project, Kim stumbled upon the idea of designer clothing for plus-sized women from the media. She noticed the lack of advertisements for the full figured women and the idealistic nature of the fashion industry. This void was exposed as a result of the many commercials on television, commercials that neglect the majority of women in America and that depict the almost flawless nature of a women’s body.

With this idea in mind, in addition to others, Kim began to more acutely explore the validity and potential of this concept. She noticed that plus size women's needs were continually disregarded and rarely were the means to satisfy their demands offered. Research has shown that many plus size young womenhave to sew their own clothing. The cultural stigma placed upon size had steered companies away from this industry toward the "lime-light" petite markets. This was the point at which Kim decided to pursue this venture.

What did the entrepreneur do to start this business?

Having stimulated interest in the idea, Kim began the research process to verify her enthusiasm. As a participant in the Entrepreneur Program, Kim was assisted through her course work and curriculum, to achieve the goal of a complete business plan. The various sub-projects, such as a feasibility study and market research as well as alumni resources, enabled Kim to have an opportunity to gain the necessary exposure and learn the proper techniques of new business generation.

Kim began expanding her idea in generating the concept and completing the business plan prior to graduation. Furthermore, she interviewed individuals within the fashion industry to gain additional insight on the potential venture. The course work was utilized as her stepping stone to gain a systematic manner of knowledge, understanding, and exposure to the business aspects of the creation of the company and the industry. Having established the groundwork, in terms of the knowledge, the understanding, the feasibility, and the business plan, the business was ready to begin.

When did the entrepreneur do these activities?

After graduation, Kim Camarella began to work full-time, making it difficult to begin her venture. She never relinquished her dream of beginning the company, rather she continued the research and the furthering of her understanding. Her enthusiasm never waned and Kim attracted two partners that she felt were necessary for the success of the company thereby setting the stage for the actual launch. In October of 1996, Kim began to work full-time on the venture and the three formally made the introduction of Kiyonna that same month at a trade show in Las Vegas.

What major problem did the entrepreneur encounter during the startup of this business?

The founding team was responsible for all the tasks needed to support the daily operations of the business. The challenges of being young and inexperienced combined to provide the roller-coaster ride for the company during a year long span between October of 1996 and 1997. Most of the problems stemming from the uncharted encounter with a start-up were resolved over the learning curve of operations. But, the primary difficulty stemmed from the pitfall of a fruitless and disastrous partnership.

In addition, the issues faced in attempting to gain the SBA loan were almost as difficult. Kim whole-heartedly believed in the sacrifice of the present for the success of the future. For the next six months, Kim worked to enhance the business plan she wrote while in the Entrepreneur Program. During that time, Kim used her resources to the fullest extent possible. As a result of her trust in her parents and their respective backgrounds, her father’s work in the financial industry and her mother’s work as an English teacher, Kim constantly asked for critical evaluations. Kim felt it was important to receive feedback from people, such as her family, who were outside of the apparel industry. Finally, Kim felt conformable with and convinced that it was a superior business plan.

How were those problems solved?

The delicate issue of severing the partnership took place at a critical time in the growth phase of the start-up. Taking precautionary steps by consulting with lawyers, the three were able to reach an agreement. Fortunately, the company did not suffer any major setbacks as a result of the dissolution due to the fact that Kim and Yvonne were already performing the functions for which the third was responsible.

At the same time, in order to receive the needed loan, Kim’s persistence proved to be frustrating, but worthwhile. Attempts to receive the loan from two separate banks were futile and appeared to be a result of an inattentive committee. Kim felt dejected after the great amount of the time and effort spent writing and finalizing the business plan, presenting the samples, and arranging the purchase orders. Kim channeled this frustration towards working even harder to locate the necessary funding. After exhaustive research and referrals, Kim applied to the Small Business Administration (SBA) Women’s Pre-Qualification Program and received an apporval in only three days which was one of the fastest seen by the women who packaged our loan. Simply stated, Kim said, "do not give up."

Who did the entrepreneur use for help and guidance during the start up of this business?

Besides having come in contact herself with many people within the industry through personal contact and interviews, Kim Camarella cites that her close relations with her family has assisted her throughout the process. Their relationship can be described as interactive and open, as is evident from the business plan preparation process. The parents were always willing to lend a helping hand and continuously supported her passion. With her mother’s literary expertise and her father’s financial understanding, Kim benefited from their knowledge and experience.

What advice would the entrepreneur give to someone thinking about starting a business?

Despite being a relatively young entrepreneur, Kim Camarella has been exposed to the cruel world of business. Having learned from her mistakes, in hopes that she will be able to refrain from repeating them in the future, Kim says that one of the biggest assets one may have is the ability to learn. The ability to be attentive in examining one's surroundings and constantly attempting to achieve better results. The ability to learn has enabled her to achieve this level of success. Failure and the dangers of the future will always loom, yet if one is ready and willing to recognize, adjust, and take the challenge, he/she will be able to survive.

Why was this entrepreneur successful at getting into business?

Kim Camarella and Yvonne Buanauro are pleased with the present state of Kiyonna Klothing, but are constantly trying to learn from the company’s success and failures. Did they win the battle of a "Start-Up"? Many would say yes, but they realize that there is a long road ahead. The incremental successes and victories, over the course of business, for the two partners can be identified in their search, psychology, and social context.

Despite maintaining various responsibilities within a given time, responsibilities that range from additional school work to full-time employment, Kim Camarella never stopped the learning process. The search for knowledge and understanding was and will remain a continual process for Kiyonna Klothing. The search processes employed may be defined as the cultivated chance and good bet methods.

Kim constantly exposed herself to input and information, furthering her understanding and establishing occasional connections that would assist in reaching her objectives. Whether these objectives were the formation of a business plan, an understanding of design, or the generation of capital, the thirst for searching never diminished. Furthermore, by completing market research, they were able to identify, with reasonable certainty, the desires of the market and customers. The search to further the business is ongoing and includes the attempt to seek projects with favorable calculated risks.

The start-up phase of a business will often times bring forth unforseen occasions. Kim cited that even though her business plan submitted during her academic term at USC was considered to be outstanding, there were many flaws. These flaws were not the result of a lack of effort or research understanding, they were due to the absence of real life application. A business plan is a guideline which directs the objectives of a company, but until one is in actual operation he/she will never be able to completely comprehend the business. The flexibility and dedication of the founding team will be tapped during the many occasions in whichh the business is being "side-tracked".

Sometimes the incorrect or unacceptable behavior is not apparent, but the attentive characteristics of the founding team will enable the business to blossom. The dedication is also apparent in the mentality and enthusiasm of the founding team. The sacrifice of today's success for that of the future is the vision evident in all of the actions taken by Kim and Yvonne. Their one hundred percent commitment is distinguished through the passion for success and the reluctance to fail.

Under the social context, Kim Camarella fostered the interdisciplinary spirit by absorbing the abundance of information and knowledge of others. The personal vision harbored the concept of targeting the plus size market. Trying not to leave a door unopened, Kim was able to utilize the spirit by constantly searching, talking, surveying, and interviewing. Kim and Yvonne clearly possess the aptitude to not only recognize and establish enthusiasm but to also continue that enthusiasm to search, understand, and extract information from others and the market thereby creating a successful business.

- Avo Adourian