What’s it really like starting a sustainable fashion brand: 2 years in
If you are thinking about starting a sustainable fashion brand, are looking into sustainable businesses, or are perhaps just interested in sustainability, then this article is for you.
This is a story of my honest thoughts and feelings about starting my own sustainable fashion brand.
I will cover the highs and the lows of growing our own sustainable business, and let you know what it is really like behind the scenes.
An idea was born to start our sustainable fashion brand Cariki
I can’t believe it now, but almost three years ago we came up with idea for Cariki.
My girlfriend and I spoke about creating our own fashion brand whilst travelling in New Zealand in 2016.
We had many hours of travel time where we just chatted and could relax, taking in the scenery and letting our conversations wonder as we drove our camper van around the beautiful country.
One of the topics we talked about was how so many brands get it so wrong. We toyed with the idea of starting our own fashion brand, and promised that when we got back to England we would give it a go.
We are fortunate that both of us share a similar mindset. Determined to work hard and unwilling to settle, we knew that we wanted to create something for ourselves that would have the potential to make an impact in the world.
First months back in England
When we got back to the UK, starting a business was not the first thing on our minds. We had to get jobs, move to London and start our ‘real’ adult lives.
Yet the idea remained on our minds for months. Now I can say that after starting a number of small projects over the past few years, the majority of which failed, if you can’t shake the idea then it is probably something worth pursuing.
Getting started is slow. Not only do you need to work for several months in order to save enough money to invest in your initial stock, you also need to spend a lot of time sourcing the products, finding printers you trust, designing the artwork, choosing materials and sizes. Everything is an optional extra, so if you want labels you have to design and purchase these separately.
It is easy to underestimate the level of work and commitment required to start even a simple T-shirt business. It certainly isn’t as easy as you might think.
After several months of working and a lot of planning, we eventually decided upon a name, saved enough to invest in our first stock order, and a total of a full year after we returned from New Zealand we took part in our first pop up.
Early days of Cariki
At this point, Cariki still wasn’t a brand with a sustainable mission.
We didn’t know how Cariki would end up, but we knew we wanted it to be different.
Initially we focused on creating pieces made from bamboo. Bamboo is an amazing material, feels incredibly soft, looks good, and manufactured correctly is also very sustainable. Yet sustainability wasn’t our initial goal at the outset.
Interesting, sustainability is actually something we grew into.
The more we learnt about the industry, the more we came to understand just how devastating the fashion industry is on our planet. We were determined not to contribute towards it.
Therefore, Cariki soon began to grow its own mission, a new purpose beyond just fashion. Cariki was now a business designed to raise awareness for sustainable fashion.
Our first sales as a sustainable fashion brand
Our first pop-up was… quiet. We attended an event on the 23rd of December, thinking this date would be heaving just before Christmas.
The truth was that London was a ghost town.
It seemed everyone had already done their X-mas shopping and left London for the provincial counties around the capital. If it wasn’t for our friends who turned up, I think we would have only sold 2 or 3 items.
Not the best start. But importantly, we had fallen in love with the process and wanted to carry on in order to create change.
First year of ‘business’
We slowly started to expand, as we saved more we had a little more to invest. The more products we had, the more we saw in sales.
Before you think this means it was off to a flying start, the first year or so was incredibly slow.
The online world is hard, particularly when you are not used to generating sales through advertising and outreach. I think if we are honest with ourselves, we massively underestimated how hard it would be to create awareness online.
As I keep hearing on my podcasts and business books, gone are the days when you can create a website and people will come. It now takes months, if not years of constant battling, often with little signs of progress.
A lot of our motivation to continue came from of pop-ups. Attend the right one on a busy day and you can sell hundreds of pounds worth of stock. A good event can really boost your confidence.
We did one such sustainable pop-up fashion event, Compare Ethics, which almost single handedly encouraged us to continue at a time when our motivation was starting to dwindle.
However, saying yes to anyone who asked us to attend their pop-up event meant that more often than not we were selling to the wrong audience, meaning we attended a number of events where we sold virtually nothing. This, coupled with the British weather meant that pop-ups can be unpredictable.
Get the wrong day, with bad weather or the wrong audience demographic, and you can stand there completely demoralized watching no one take interest in your products.
2nd year growing our sustainable fashion brand
Needless to say, owning a small start-up fashion brand is not easy. At times it can be an emotional rollercoaster.
As our second year of business rolls on, we continue to expand. Much of the past 6 months has been spent focused on sourcing new products, and we are very excited to see our new range released over the coming months.
Our passion for sustainability now dominates every business decision we make. We look forward to releasing recycled leather jackets, windbreakers made from recycled festival tents, shirt made from ultra-sustainable wood pulp, organic cotton shorts and a whole range of new organic cotton t-shirts.
Personal relationship with Cariki
The problem with both business owners working full time jobs is that Cariki sadly gets demoted to the evenings.
Every spare minute we have gets spent building our brand. Irritatingly, this slows down business growth.
The working world expects calls, meetings and messages to be sent between 9-5, and outside of these hours everything shuts down. Inconveniently, outside of these hours is the only time we can work, so often contact with suppliers and manufacturers can be painfully slow.
What makes matters worse is that a lot of manufacturers seem to only check their emails once every few days - a real grievance of ours!
Spending every spare minute working on our business is tiring to say the least. There are always times when we don’t want to do it, and we have to remember to take time for ourselves and our friends.
But we both love working on our business. There is nothing I wouldn’t rather be doing. I can now see how people can compare their business to having a child. The amount of love we have poured into Cariki has been boundless, but it has been so worth it.
I have no idea what I would do without it.
The dream is for it to one day provide enough revenue to support both of us.
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