Author: Amanda Patterson, CBL Business Research Support Officer
Barbara is my neighbour, we’re very lucky to live in a picturesque mews not far from Hackney Central. Over the last year we’ve sparked a friendship over our mutual appreciation of all things beautiful: food, flowers, cities and clothes. I’ve sat down with Barbara, 2 meters away, over her little patio fence – I’ve borrowed a table from another neighbour so I can take notes of our conversation.
During the Covid-19 lockdown of March 2020, Barbara took the leap into owning her own business; “The idea of having my own brand was always there, the passion for working on my own projects started early in university, I was always happier being independent and being in control of my vision.” Considering that most of the world has been in lockdown for the last three months, Barbara has been able to make her business, a State of Nature, a quick success. “I make shirts and jackets, by hand in my workshop in my house – I strongly believe in this idea of being an independent maker, who sells hand made products, and supports other craftsmen. I source my fabrics from a family run business in Lancashire as well as the British Millerain. For me, getting my fabrics locally is more ethical than securing cheaper materials from other parts of the world.” Barbara believes that your supply chain should reflect your ethos, “my relationships allow me to be flexible, manage my finances and secure good quality material!”
Barbara knows that starting your own business can be risky, but she’s been able to develop a robust vision and ethos that is driving her brand, while remembering that while starting out, A State of Nature is still growing, shifting and changing as new ideas, new customers, new methods of promotion come to light. “I believe that people are becoming very interested in how and where articles from their lives come to be, people appreciate the transparency of knowing where my materials come from, feeling a personal connection to me, and being exposed to the whole process of making the shirts. When you think about someone making you a garment you might typically think of something very high end, or inaccessible. I want to make this process accessible. What develops is a very functional, comfortable garment – the styles are inspired my Japanese streetwear, they are oversized and versatile. You can wear it to work, cleaning for a walk or dressed up.”
“I’ve developed my brand, built contacts and partners mainly using Instagram. It’s an excellent free resource, if you know how to really get the most of it.” Says Barbara. She’s been quite successful so far in approaching influencers, brands and magazines and offering her product in exchange for press. “If I’m going to approach someone from a magazine, say I like the photography editorial – I will find the name of the photographer in the magazine, locate them on Instagram and contact them directly. Let them know where I saw their work, what I liked about it and what I’m proposing – I really believe in the personal touch, it shows that you understand them, you understand their work and share in and appreciate their art.”
“It’s important to reach out to people and organisations for help,” says Barbara, who sought the help of her family, who are graphic designers, artists and animators. “I had to make sure that my craft was strong, but I needed a wide range of skills, not just in making the clothes and jackets, but also in producing my brand.” Barbara used Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop for her website, labels and packaging, as well as movie making and photography skills for her Instagram page. Having worked for large fashion brands in the past, Barbara recognised the need to learn all the necessary processes. “I’ve watched and learned processes dedicated to press, merchandising, design, networking, studio management and ordering. It’s good to recognise the variables of what goes into running a fashion business and the work that you will need to undertake outside of my creative passion. You can’t just be a designer, you have to do the PR, you have to represent the brand, make sure the product is commercially viable.” Barbara’s business plan involved understanding how she was going to budget for materials, how she was going to reach out to like minded artists and stockists, “you can create something very innovative, but you have to base it in commercial decisions and set up the necessary connections to realise your vision.”
Right now, Barbara is easily working nine hours a day, outside of working in her workshop, she must set aside time for the “practical stuff”. A State of Nature is still in it’s early days, and so Barbara is still working out the amount of time that managing the business takes outside of the time it takes to make high quality shirts and jackets. “I really love being able to do my work from home, I can open the door to my workshop and listen to the birds, having the sun and fresh air streaming in. I can take a break and have a cup of tea and relax in the mornings. I get to dictate my schedule, sometimes I will have a slower morning and work slightly later into the evening.” But, this means that A State of Nature can grow organically, and Barbara can ensure that the quality of her work is maintained while growing intelligently.
Advice for those who wish to start a new business
“Take a risk! I didn’t know if I would be able to do what I loved as a job, but it’s important to be brave, be creative – don’t get stuck, take the slower days with the busier days and know that if you try and expose your passion and your talent, you will grow. Stability can be a mire, if you have a passion, try it out, allow yourself the time to test it out. You can’t just think, I’m starting this and I’ll be successful, but be smart, start small, approach it with a strong vision and a plan, and even if you don’t have investment behind you, you can give it a shot.”
She also recommends patience, take time out to meditate, relax yourself and take deep breathes. Real success doesn’t come overnight, it’s a mixture of hard work, dedication and a bit of luck. Believe in yourself and be open to ideas for improvement and advice – and finally be happy about what you’re doing, it’s so personal, there’s so much energy – you are presenting a part of yourself to the world and opening yourself up for feedback.
There are amazing resources out there for anyone with the passion and drive to start up your business. Resources like the City Business Library allow you to plan, to understand your market and find the space required to focus on your idea. Make use of free resources online and in your community, find the space you need, ask for help, ask for advice and build the relationships you need to get up and running.
Learn more about the City Business Library on the CBL website. There are business one-to-ones, market research resources, seminars, networking and events. If you are passionate, make it happen!