By Sydney Page Lester
On any given day in a sun-drenched studio in Manchester, Andrea Gleason is making something memorable.
Step inside and you’ll find five to four women next to Gleason, all chatting and laughing while remaining intensely focused on the beautiful assortment of Swarovski crystals, beads, sequins, and pearls in front of them. Within arm’s reach are delicate ribbons of silk, satin, organza, tulle, and velvet.
What sounds like fairytale work is actually a small business called Helena Noelle. This business, owned by Gleason, creates sought-after, custom bridal pieces, including belts, sashes, jewelry, and headpieces, for brides around the world. Gleason’s handmade pieces are one-of-a-kind and unforgettable.
Having launched several other small businesses in the past, Gleason is no stranger to what it takes to manage a quickly evolving business. The fashion and bridal industries, however, are a different arena. Building a name in these industries requires staying up-to-date on trends, market demands, and competition in order to remain relevant.
“I think a smart entrepreneur should always think they are in a startup mode, particularly in the fashion space,” explains Gleason, whose foray in the world of bridal began with designing “very simple” garters. Quickly realizing the need for unique, one-of-a-kind bridal accessories, she founded Helena Noelle in 2011. Since that time, Gleason has worked with over 3,000 brides worldwide through her website, HelenaNoelle.com as well as her Etsy store and select retail locations.
The demand for Gleason’s Richmond-made products has allowed her to hire other talented designers (most of whom are Virginia Commonwealth University graduates) and also expand her online presence. As the business grows, Gleason is adding new products to Helena Noelle such as hand-beaded capelets and veils. In the coming weeks the company will announce a partnership with a major retailer.
Gleason credits a large part of the success of her handmade, one-of-a-kind products to the inspiration found in her immediate surroundings. Her Southside studio, which is located near her home, is steps away from the James River and nearby other entrepreneurs practice their craft throughout Manchester. She believes that Richmond provides an “active entrepreneur community … profound independent vibe and great quality of life.”
Andrea’s Entrepreneurial Advice:
- Solve a problem rather than pursue an opportunity. Think about problems that are so acute that people will pay for a solution.
- Take action. You can talk about it forever and spend a lifetime planning and brainstorming. Put your work in the market and get customer feedback. What you do early on won’t be perfect, so don’t wait until you think it is perfect to get started.
- Start with cash. Now may be the best time in the history of the world to start a business. With some extra hustle and squeezing a few more hours out of the day, you can put your product or service on the market for free, or close to it.