I always wanted to run my own business and ‘do good’ in the world.
In fact, I tried launching one before with an entirely different concept and failed. 2008 wasn’t such a great year to start a business!
You learn from everything you do though, and while my biggest lesson has to be getting the timing right, I also learnt the importance of doing thorough market research beforehand – and how hard it can be to sell your own product.
The idea for VILDNIS slowly started to form while I was working for another British retailer and doing an exec MBA on the side. While sustainability was always part of the idea, my initial thoughts about a sustainable swimwear brand being sold exclusively at holiday resorts was quite different to the final concept we settled upon approximately one year later.
Here is how I launched my own sustainable fashion brand:
1. Shape the idea. This time around I ran the idea past several people including fellow MBA students, colleagues, friends and family. While they all loved the sustainable foundation element, there were doubts about the swimwear and resort part. I took all of their feedback on board and tweaked the concept along the way into the ethical and eco-friendly fashion brand that VILDNIS is today.
2. Test your passion for the idea. Starting and running your own business is a BIG commitment. If you are not 100% passionate about the concept, it will quickly become a sour chore (unless you earn millions from the get go, but most business owners don’t). If, on the other hand, you land on something that you feel incredibly strongly for and can see yourself working with for the rest of your life, then go for it!
3. Do your market research. First-hand experience had taught me the valuable lesson of solid market research, and I therefore used my final MBA thesis to conduct several focus groups with women from our potential customer segment. It taught me a lot about their fashion shopping behaviour and their thoughts about sustainable fashion - enough to enable me to build a good business plan.
4. Check if it is actually achievable. Having established what VILDNIS was going to be about, I then started looking into what was actually achievable. Would I be able to find suppliers who could live up to our standards? Would I be able to source sustainable materials in start-up quantities? Fortunately, it turned out to be easier than I thought through using my network of great suppliers that I had worked with over the years.
5. Find funding. Then there was the big question; ‘how much money do I need to start the business and where will I find them?’. A friend helped me build a financial model and we established what the ‘magic’ number was. My husband and I then discussed the pros and cons of funding the business ourselves versus getting outside investment. We were both in agreement that self-funding would be the ideal scenario, as then there would be no risk of having to compromise on our values in order to meet financial targets from investors. And this is how we ended up spending our own savings towards a house on VILDNIS…
6. Get back up. Yes of course you can start a business entirely on your own. Any single person is rarely good at everything though and teaming up with experts in different fields can make a huge positive difference. That way, you also have a great team to celebrate the successes with – and to share those tough decisions with (and there will be tough decisions and difficult moments). I was fortunate to get both my husband, sister and a good friend on board. All of them bring lots of experience and valuable skills to the business, and it enables me to maintain my primary focus on the customers and product.
There is no denying it; starting your own business is hard work. Especially in this social media age with customers in all time zones. Your business is always open – the saying ‘no rest for the wicked’ certainly rings true here!
It is, however, also hugely rewarding and satisfying to see something you created take off. To get tagged on Instagram by amazing women who are wearing VILDNIS, and to feel that you are making a difference to people’s lives and the environment.
If you asked me today if I, knowing everything I do now, still would have launched my own sustainable fashion brand, my answer would be “yes, without a doubt”. I believe that VILDNIS is making a difference – that we are part of a movement that will change the fashion industry for good – and I am proud of it.