By Karen Axelton

Do you enjoy fashion and small business? Then maybe you caught the first season of “All on the Line,” a reality show on the Sundance Channel. But you don’t have to be a fashionista to enjoy the show, which features Elle Magazine creative director Joe Zee lending his decades of fashion-industry experience to help struggling designers turn their failing businesses around.

As a fashion fan, I checked out All on the Line as a replacement to get me through the drought between seasons of Project Runway. As a small business owner, I was quickly hooked. In each episode, Zee introduces a flailing designer, pinpoints his or her big challenge, and takes the subject under his wing, helping them get an appointment with a buyer, shape up their outdated/boring/cheap-looking designs and develop a collection worthy of showing to, say, Neiman-Marcus.

What’s of interest about the show is that most of the subjects are not startups—in general, they’re experienced designers who once enjoyed fame and success (some even hit it really big) before their businesses slipped out of control. Most are now desperately infusing their own capital (or that of friends and family) into their businesses in a last-ditch attempt to hang on. Some are at risk of losing their homes, savings or relationships as the stakes escalate. Watching them rush to plan strategy, meet deadlines and impress buyers makes for nail-biting tension that any entrepreneur can relate to.

The focus in this show is not solely on fashion or design, but equally on business sense. For instance, one struggling designer gets a dressing-down for maintaining a huge staff and fancy showroom, even though her business is hemorrhaging money. Other subjects are instructed to lose the less-than-helpful employees or find ways to cut costs—fast.

Zee doesn’t mince words and offers straight talk that his subjects had best listen to—or face embarrassment when those big-name store buyers come calling. Watching these businesses’ flaws laid out on screen will no doubt cause you to pinpoint some areas where your business could improve—no matter what your industry.

Of course, if your industry is fashion and you’re in the New York area, then now’s your chance to be considered for the second season of All on the Line. Visit the show’s Facebook page or send an email to You can also nominate someone you know who needs help taking their design business to the next level.