Last year was the turn of crisp a new page – the next chapter for Ponytail Journal. The site had just turned 2 years old and it had started to run itself, a machine oiled by all the wonderful contributors who make the journal so tasty, and myself. I began gathering thoughts for W’menswear, a kind of materialisation of our unique style-juju that powers creative work here. Like another brick paving its progression, the W’menswear brand was born into a network that had set roots in the Ponytail landscape. So I’d like to share with you some of my experiences as a fresh business owner who, like all others, is feeling my way through the darkness.
W’menswear has been a lesson in being niche, and making something that comes truly from yourself rather than creating for the crowd. That has lead to success for us at the journal. I recently watched this clip of David Bowie articulating the creative process beautifully in an interview on ‘Why you should never play to the gallery’. I think being under pressure can lead to great bursts of creativity, but all the same, having others’ hands to hold in the dark might get you to the end of the tunnel much more comfortably. Here is the story of how I became friends with spreadsheets.
So here’s the thing, I’m writing from my own experience, which is probably unique to others, but sometimes living through the mistakes of others can make you stronger and wiser. I would like to share some of mine with you. The first think you should always me clear about is to know your end goal. Like anything, understanding your purpose is much more powerful than living the journey. If we have something to aim for, we can always find a way to reach it. A lot of us have great ideas that become clouded with external influence, like when I was conceptualising W’menswear I wasn’t 100% sure about my market, and the avenue in which I would link product to consumer. Honestly, it took much research and an established industry network that I had built up with Ponytail Journal. Today I see many online start up brands pop-up over night, but I’m not convinced that one can reach production minimums by selling on a platform has yet to form a voice amongst billions of others. Yes folks, the internet is vast, so how about growing a community of retailers before diving in?
Lesson two, don’t be an island. If it wasn’t for the helping hand of friends and colleagues who have been seasoned with careers in fashion, I would be a complete mess. Starting a fashion brand requires a broad set of skills that I am learning to master over time. From people-managing, to problem solving, designing, budgeting, accounting, marketing, sales, and punching data into spread-sheets, there is no way that one sole person has the right mind to be good at all of these things (and more). So you need people to call on when you need advice. Treat them well, never forget that they are the reason to your success, and be humble.
So know that you can’t do everything perfectly, and think about recruiting people who are passionate experienced in a field that isn’t your strongest point. You will free up time and brain space that will allow for growth and development in your business. What about interns? I think that enriching someone’s future by showing them the ropes and by giving them space to push forward, you can also give them confidence to be leaders. However, I don’t believe in using interns to do mindless tasks – like using them as free labour with out any kind of return. There are so many ways you can motivate your interns by paying them or if you’re really strapped for cash, look into government funded incentives. If you are doing something exciting, chances are there are people who would be thrilled to work on it too. A great option is something like a paid overseas internship offered by Oztrade, an initiative from the Australian government, so look into whats available near you.
Being obsessively-organised has been my saving grace. This means filing things in labeled folders, compiling receipts into spreadsheets, and colour coding things to make sure you never miss payments. These things sound obvious but I’ve seen too many piles of documents in offices to know that it’s so easy to fall behind. If you’re like me and hadn’t used Microsoft Excel since 6th grade, then look at Google Docs, a great online platform. It also means that if your computer crashes in the middle of sales season and you’re in the Japanese alps, your information all is accessible online. BIG learning curve.
Be militantly disciplined and stay on top. In my design studio, every collection gets a new folder, every receipt is filed into its specifically labelled file, swatches and trimmings are compartmentalised into a library, and I keep a working log book with me that’s named and dated on every new entry. I’m also a list maker and the day feels complete when I can cross off the most urgent things off my list.
The most difficult aspect of doing business is the unexpected part – it’s about human nature. Sometimes you’ll find difficulty in working with certain people, or partners. At the end of the day, people are different for good reasons but it means that some of us won’t see eye to eye. My best advice is to never bring your personal life, nor your emotions into your working life. Deal with issues as diplomatically as you can, and if that doesn’t work, then carefully evaluate your relationship with the other party. Keeping a lasting bond is rewarding, but never get into a situation where you feel trapped into doing things you don’t want to do – your business can suffer from it.
Last but not least, always remember why you got into your business in the first place. I hope it’s not simply to get rich, that’s not the right reason to me, but I hope doing business enriches you with happiness and a new set of skills. Running yourself into the ground is never sustainable, and growing a business too fast has its upsides but without the right foundation, can fall over easily. Keep to deadlines, keep good relationships with your customers, distributors, manufacturers, staff, suppliers, and surround yourself with a good energy that will do miles for your reputation.