One bright and sunny Friday in 2017, I got out of the office early… and decided to celebrate with a big shop. This shop was going to be solely dedicated to buying clothes for the office – I wanted to get my work wardrobe totally refreshed and decked out and what better place to do that than in Canary Wharf… the once upon a time the financial capital of the world?
I spent hours shopping the 2 different malls in the Wharf, but finding high quality work clothes proved more difficult than I imagined. I was willing to spend – but not £300 on a skirt. And I wanted something corporate but fashionable – not boring and old-fashioned. I wanted high quality – so goodbye Zara, H&M and co. In the end, I returned home that day with a coat from Mango… and not even one for work. After passing several suit shops for men – the likes of T.M. Lewin and Moss Bros – I felt that something similar was missing for women. So I decided I was going to create that.
Enter – my attempt at building a fashion brand. 2018-2020.
First of all, I asked my boyfriend Levi to get on board with me to co-found the business, we had uhm’d and ahh’d over a few business ideas during university so it felt natural to work on this together. That said, I struggled to get his attention on the business so I instead reached out to someone from my university who had their own corporate fashion blog to help me co-found the business. At the time, something about founding a business completely alone terrified me. Unfortunately, my new business relationship was short lived so in 2018, I entered the year ready to go it alone. The brand was called DAME (the website is still up), and the slogan was “affordable luxury”. In my opinion, if I could get the £300 price point for a skirt down to the £50-75 range, and a suit in the £100-200 range, I felt that there was a market for smart clothes from the young, corporate, female community which was growing quickly.
My short-lived journey into fashion was an interesting one. I started by sending out hundreds of surveys to ladies on LinkedIn in order to help to justify there was demand for my idea. I then took this data and used in my entries for a few free funding competitions, namely my university’s Generate free funding competition where first place wins £10k, as well as the NACUE Varsity Pitch. Whilst I got to the second round of Generate, I didn’t make it to finals, but decided to move ahead anyway and self fund as much as I could.
In 2018 I worked closely with a designer to professionally design the first collection and all of the technical packs. I forked out a few couple hundred pounds for that. In the meantime, I also launched the social media for DAME (now closed) and ran it on the back of advice from a friend that works in PR. I was posting frequently, sending out monthly newsletters, and starting to build up awareness for the brand (who wants to drop a collection to the tune of “who dat?”). I managed to build up a few hundred followers and was also in talks with some social media managers to take the page forward post launch. Whilst that was happening, I was also meeting with several Sample Houses – getting price quotes to toile, sample and small manufacture my first collection. It’s all a bit of fashion jargon – but in simple terms, I was talking to people that would help me bring the designs into life. I eventually was ready to move forward and pull the trigger with a sample house based in Shoreditch.
As you can see, everything seemed to be moving ahead at a nice pace – it definitely felt as though good progress was being made.
I hit a wall when it came to the fabrics. When it came to sourcing the fabrics, it was the first time I truly felt out of my comfort zone working on the business. I remember even going to a fabric show, and feeling totally confused about what I was meant to do there. The issue was not that I didn’t know the first thing about fabrics, because I could always learn, but really the issue was that I soon realised… I didn’t really care to know. As much as I enjoyed wearing nice clothes and even (at the time) designing nice clothes, having to structurally put the clothes together left me yawning. Slowly but surely, the business started to feel like it was dragging on me. I’d go weeks at times without even thinking about DAME and having to work on it suddenly started to feel like a chore. 2018 was also the year I truly hit my burnout.
Over 2019, I tried to revive my passion for the business – I re-entered my university’s funding competition, and I paid for a professional pitch advert to be shot, but I was still finding it hard to find the passion to push ahead. I know myself and I know that if it’s something I am interested in, I will find the time for it, no matter what else I’m doing with my time. Yet finding the time for DAME always felt harder than it needed to be.
It also felt as though times were changing too. As soon as my office officially jumped on the smart-casual-work-clothes bandwagon, it really confirmed to me that we were moved away from matching suit jackets and skirts to a more relaxed vibe. When the pandemic eventually hit, and we all started working in our pyjamas, the idea of corporate office wear continued to feel more and more outdated. Suddenly, I had tons of fabric swatches, 1.5-year outdated designs, and a social media page collecting dust. And who was forcing me to work on an idea that I was no longer enjoying?
My boyfriend and I thought of one reiteration to the idea in 2020 (clothing rental), however, I eventually decided to drop it all for good.
It turned out that I started working on something absolutely completely different that I’ve been enjoying building way more.
But what’s a blog post without a few lessons from my brief foray into the fashion industry?
Life is so expensive as it is… and creating a business is pretty pricey. I was very naïve when I first had the idea to create a start fashion label, and figured I could fork out a total of £2k to get it off the ground. But I really think it would have costed me anywhere from £5k+ to get things kicking. It’s money that I have and would be happy to invest into an idea I believe in, but it was harder to part with it when my heart was no longer in it.
It’s okay to give up
After some time, working on the business felt like a chore. I would dread it as much as one would dread doing homework back in the day. The difference is doing homework is a must, whereas nobody was holding a gun to my head and telling me to continue with this clothing business. If I was not passionate about it anymore, then it didn’t feel like I was the right person to carry it out. Also, because I know myself enough to know that if I really enjoy something, I always find time for it (just think about this blog), I also knew working on this business wasn’t the right thing for me to be doing. Naturally, when working on any project, there will always be tasks you don’t want to do and times where your passion for the project feels more intense than others. But this was different, I knew in my heart that I was not interested enough to carry this out to a point where it could/would be successful.
I prefer digital
When I started working on Soulful Kitchen (launching later this year) I really felt at home and in my element. I realised that I prefer building things that are digital. Me, my laptop and some editing software… that is and always has been my shit. From being young and editing videos of my family holidays, to eventually teaching myself to code and design websites – you have to play to your strengths in life and that is what I am doing going forward.
Sometimes the timing can be wrong
I feel like throughout my life, I’ve experienced the most personal growth from mid-end 2019, through 2020 up to where I am now. Not just in my confidence, but also in the efficiency of how I work and how I tackle different tasks. I think if I was to approach that business again, I would take it on in a totally different and more mature way. Similarly, if I was working on Soulful Kitchen back in 2018 – the output would also have been different vs. what I am able to do now, and I would like to think the quality of what I can produce now is much better. Sometimes, the timing for these things is very important too; and you just need to trust that the right things will happen/come to your when the time is right.
What’s right for you will always be
Lastly, I think its easy in today’s day and age to feel as though you need to have your own “thing”. Your own side hustle, or your own thriving business, otherwise you’re not securing the bag, or you’re just a corporate slave. Because of this, its easy to want to jump at any idea you can muster up, even if it’s just to have your gold star “CEO”, “girl boss” badge. I think this is why I held onto the idea of DAME for much longer than I should have – I really felt as if I didn’t have that, then I didn’t have anything. Perhaps one for another blog – but over these past few years I’ve just become a lot happier with where I am in my life and the things I have achieved. Including the things I am achieving in my corporate job. When I eventually did decide to give up DAME, I was finally totally satisfied with the decision. It freed up my headspace and allowed me to focus on other things and even muster up new ideas organically. What I’m trying to say is – it’s not by force. Work on things you’re passionate about and that passion doesn’t have to come with the accolade of being a #entrepreneur #bossbabe if you don’t want it to.