During our time studying at Bristol University, we decided to form Curio, a clothing label, whilst making sure we didn’t take ourselves or fashion too seriously in the process. I was studying Economics while Muirgen my housemate was about to graduate in biochemistry. So what did we know about running a clothing label? Pretty much zero. But we were enthusiastic about our products!
The idea had occurred to us almost a year earlier, we made two t-shirts for ourselves. Unexpectedly, we started receiving compliments from friends and strangers ,who described them as quirky and child like, with a hand made feel. So after finishing exams in July 2010 we decided to invest what money we had to make our first batch.
Born out of the necessity for simple design and integrity, Curio has a “less is more” approach to everything we create. This includes keeping our clothing free from excessive branding. The inspiration for the designs came from our own personalities and taste. Concentrating on quality rather than logos and for those with a carefree and fun image of themselves. After a brainstorming session we came up with the name Curio; which by definition means, “a rare, unusual, or intriguing object”.
Time was, by a large part, one of the challenges of starting a business while studying. Having to manoeuvre around educational and social commitments. It’s been a great experience and here are some learning points from our journey.
The most important thing is to begin. ~ 37 signals (Rework)
With the initial excitement and motivation we really wanted to jump in and get started. Good ideas came all at once but accurately judging the amount of energy to invest in them to make them succeed was difficult. There’s a balance of planning vs action in the early stages. But the most important thing is to begin.
Planning was essential with a lot to learn – business knowledge, legalities, identifying the market (consumers and competitors), making contacts with local suppliers, shops etc. The influx of information took a great deal of time and effort to gather and it was a little unnerving that things weren’t actually getting done. Some of the information was invaluable, though plenty discarded after contradictory first hand experience.
The ability to learn along the way, and rapidly translate that information into action kept things moving. Even with our fairly detailed plan unforeseeable problems arose that helped us reevaluate and prioritize where to direct our energy. Eagerness and excitement diverts your focus to the rewarding aspects of the business forgetting the importance operational tasks. In this sense securing the basics in the beginning are more important than the specifics.
The secret of all victory lies in the organization of the non-obvious. ~ Marcus Aurelius
Organization is the key for the business but should equally stem from yourself. Student life often provides quite irregular schedules, which can be difficult to get things done. Be realistic in your timeframes and opportunity costs of where you put your focus. Know your course deadlines so that you are aware of when your mind and body are available.
Our approach was to continually simplify and streamline our processes so time could be allocated to more important tasks. Making sure our supplies and communication were organized; such as checklists for what to do when online orders came through, or using dropbox to unify information and make it accessible.
Details create the big picture. ~ Sanford I. Weill
Be creative with everything. Fine attention detail makes you stand out and provides branding consistency. We often found it useful to take a step back and identify the customer’s experience, as well as spending time analyzing what other brands do well.
Cutting corners rarely saves time in the long run. Whenever we skimped on one off investments or tools we ended up replacing them afterwards due to quality or even appearance, which overall increased our costs. Investigating solutions used by similar sized businesses can help you a great deal in making the right purchases. For instance, we decided to use Bigcartel for our online store, who manage our backend and payment processes leaving us freedom to design and focus on our products.
Entrepreneurs are simply those who understand that there is little difference between obstacle and opportunity and are able to turn both to their advantage. ~Niccolo Machiavelli
University poses the challenges of time constraints and a price conscious market. But the opportunity of actually being amongst student life is something larger brands envy and a market they are constantly trying to associate themselves with. University provides an accessible avenue to enlist for help and resources. Word travels fast and social networks spanning diverse groups of people are often interlinked. For exposure we gave some shirts to friends DJ’ing at local nights and simply by asking local independent stores, that supported what we were doing, they agreed to stock some of our products.
Be a real person, the human touch. This is where you can let your own personality shine through your business and stand unique.
Delving into the social media vortex was a new experience, especially from a business perspective. Providing almost instant feedback from others about the impression you portray. The constant quest to form relationships, engage followers and be responsive connecting with them is something we struggled to catch on with. It’s also eye opening how searching online can help you connect with people on your doorstep.
Between business partners, clear understanding and communication is key; especially your perceptions and goals of the business and how attitudes change over time. For us we see Curio as more of a hobby, where we feel making the changes needed to pursue it as a source of primary income may challenge the essence of what it is.
Not forgetting the reason most people are at university is to pursue a course related career. So it is always likely that a partnership can break apart, especially as other companies can offer you a stable income. Currently Muirgen is travelling in South America and I am planning to travel early next year so we are taking it easy with Curio for the time being. However via Skype he tells me he was given some ultra rare, handmade patches by village people; which we may use for a limited edition run at some point.
Partnering allows you to let your individual knowledge and expertise naturally allocate tasks. Also providing more capital to work with. A business relationship is not the same as a personal relationship however, so communication is key to making sure you are always on the same wavelength.
Actual businesses worry about profit from day one. ~ 37 signals (Rework)
Pricing and cost management are a consideration in all decision making processes. Here are some insightful tips for pricing a creative business from the etsy blog.
- Pricing tips – Challenge yourself to charge a price that makes you feel slightly uncomfortable. Chances are, if you’re like most creatives, you are possibly underpricing your work.
- Think about what sort of clientele you want to attract. As creatives, we often think that our only audience are people much like ourselves – people who don’t likely have a ton of money. Consider that there are other audiences out there that would be more than willing to pay a lot of money for your original work – people who likely have more money than you!
- When you underprice your work, you’re sending the message that it’s not the best quality; that’s it’s cheap. Our work is an undeniable reflection of who we are. How seriously cool and valuable and unique is that? Let’s make sure we’re treating ourselves fairly and with respect by not underpricing our creativity.
High street fashion retailers often compete on price. However they also lack the soul and experience you can deliver as a smaller business. Know your worth and play to your strengths. It may seem counter intuitive to target a student market with a slightly inflated price, however individuals in this age bracket will pay to be unique, and often waiver their spending constraints.
Even if you fall on your face, you’re still moving forward. ~ Victor Kiam
Being a start up is never steady, through both the motivational bursts of success and the questioning, quiet times. Keep the passion alive and continue to learn through mistakes while building a strong and unique product. Making your customers happy is a reward in itself; do it for the love.
By Mayan Patel, Co-Founder of Curio Threads
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