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Business Lessons Learned from Calvin Klein

February 18, 2014 | Valerie Wong


For those who've lived under a rock in the past few decades, Calvin Klein is an American fashion icon that founded the company that bore his name. When he was young, he spent his time inside his room teaching himself how to sew clothes and sketch designs. It was tough for him to have a passion for an industry that few of his friends shared. Regardless, this was his real passion, and he didn't feel an ounce of shame or embarrassment for it. He joined his mother's quest for discount clothing, and saw what each and every shop lacked. Ideas began hatching inside his head.

Calvin Klein's Rise to Success and Fame

Klein ended up practically broke after graduating from New York's Fashion Institute of Technology. He was still working in his family grocery store when he decided to take $2,000 of his savings to start his own entrepreneurial pursuit. He then went on to design a coat line. From there, as luck would have it, a businessman from the Bonwit Teller Department Store ended up getting off the wrong floor and wandered into Klein's office. He liked what he saw, bought the $50,000 worth of coats, and told Klein his name was about to be discovered. This humble coat maker ended up making $1 million worth of business on its first year.

Fast forward to 2002, and Klein was able to sell $30 million worth of stock and his whole company for a whopping $400 million. Before CK's sale, Klein had worldwide sales of over $3 billion and 900 employees under his wing. Would-be businessmen should take note that the secret to success roots from focusing on whatever they're most passionate about. Calvin was able to build an empire partly through luck, but mostly through him making excellent coats. The Bonwit Teller businessman wouldn't have bought $50,000 worth of coats were they not quality made. Loving what you do can make all the difference in your end product.

Calvin Klein Taught Us to Not Trade Passion for Glory

CK the brand and the man behind the brand showed businessmen all around the world the importance of becoming the expert. If you're passionate about your work, by sheer motivation and repetition, you'll get really good at it. In order for your products to sell such that having your name on them is enough of a seal of approval for your customers,then being the expert of the field of fashion or anything else is called for. You should be better at what you're doing than your competitors. Aside from that, you should make people know what it is you're doing better.

In order to hone your craft the same way Calvin did, you should take jobs, acquire classes, volunteer your time, sign up for internships, and get loads of experience. Before you start your business, you should learn about your industry inside and out the same way Klein did, which allowed him to have those $50,000 worth of coats sold after a businessman took a glance or two at them. You can increase your chances of success—and many opportunities come once in a lifetime—by knowing the ins and outs of your field.

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