Setting up a small business is difficult for anyone, especially by yourself during a global pandemic. Setting up a small online clothing business is even more difficult as this industry is very competitive and has a low barrier to entry. The main reason ARETE was founded was to provide high quality clothing, at a reasonable price using local businesses. I wanted to go into brief detail to show the beginning of ARETE’s journey to showcase the ups and downs of launching and building a small online business.
To help me start this business, if I remember correctly, I first contacted Big Ideas Wales for support. I worked with a business advisor to help develop the business idea and create the business plan. Once I had done this, I was then given a business mentor but soon after that my journey with Big ideas Wales ended. They help support people aged under 25 to start a business but I then turned 26 and the support stopped. I then started a very similar process with the Prince’s Trust. I did their online classes and mentoring as I was working full time and was not able to go to their courses in person. I did this for several months but I feel that I do not learn in that way and did not receive as much help as I would have liked. Fast forward a few months, I had left my job and moved back to my home town. I then enrolled onto a three-day course to help start a small business with the Prince’s Trust. I decided to do this course as it was the only way to receive funding for my business at the time. After completing the course, I was assigned an advisor who worked with me to fill out the paperwork correctly for financial support. From this I was able to receive funding to buy prototypes for my first few t-shirt designs and also my first stock order. This really did help the business out and removed the stress and pressure off myself of needing to sell to stay afloat. Once this was completed, I was assigned a Business mentor which I continue to speak with once a month to talk about my progress and to help point me in the right direct of who to speak to when I need advice.
When looking at manufacturers and suppliers for my clothing, I wasted a lot of time with international organisations. I must have spent months talking to different manufacturers abroad but I always ran into the same problems. The time difference when communicating really did make it impossible to have a fluid conversation. The language barriers were very difficult to overcome. The delivery time was far too long (more than a month). I was never able to tell what the quality would be like until it arrived and more often than not it was poor. One of the biggest pain points was the minimum order quantity demanded by these manufacturers. Some of them wanted 50-100 items of clothing to be ordered, which was impossible for me to go ahead with, seeing as the demand for my brand was very low. I then focused my sights on more local suppliers where I managed to find a small screen printer business in Cardiff that I have a good relationship with. This helped solve all the problems that I had with dealing with international manufacturers. I wanted to take this experience into sourcing new products which is why I use a local embroidery business in Cross hands to create my sweatshirts. I have tried to keep the business operations/services local to myself to help other small businesses as long as it does not incur too much costs to my business.
The main challenges I keep facing with the business is the process of creating new clothing as I need to make sure the quality is to the highest standard it can be and the low number of sales. When alterations have to be made to the clothing to ensure I am happy with it, a lot of time goes into this which can be very frustrating until I am happy with the final product. A perfect example of this would be when I initially tried to have an embroidered design on my t-shirts, which was a problem as in hindsight they were too thin and stretchy to hold the shape for it. This cost me months to sort out and in the end I did not go through with it, but hey that business! In terms of low sales, this could be a result of Covid, the fact that it is a small business, maybe there is not a demand/interest for my business yet, or even all the above!
Some advice I would really like to pass on to others. People always say that it is ok to fail as long as you learn from those mistakes and don’t repeat them, which I totally agree with. I would like to add to that by saying that you will make a crazy number of mistakes when starting out in business. The most important thing is how you react. Do you get angry, give up, complain and say why always me? Or do you take it onboard and deal with it as soon as possible? One thing I like to tell myself is the 80:20 rule. 80% of the work you do will yield 20% of the results and 20% of the work you put in will yield 80% of the results. It can be the small things that make a huge difference so I think its important to test different things and see what results you get.
Nothing in life will come to you, you need to put yourself in uncomfortable positions to make things happen. As Albert Einstein famously said, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes there is no right or wrong way to do something, whatever works best for you and your business is usually your best bet.
Future plan for the business would be to increase brand awareness to then increase sales. I am currently using several different methods of marketing and continue to use more to see which is going to work best. My main aim of the business is for it get to a size where it becomes my full-time job but also it allows me to create work experience and internship opportunities to people that are struggling to find full time employment. This is something that really resonates with me as I am currently struggling to find full time employment and I am continuously being told that I do not have enough experience.