Sheer Apparel is a carefully edited collection of the best in sustainable fashion. Everything in their store is produced with respect for the people that create them and from fabrics that are not only of exceptional quality, but also good for the planet. For the first in my Female Founder Series, I speak with the Woman that created style with substance.
What inspired you to start your company and how did you set about doing this?
After 10 years working for other people in very large organisations, I felt a real urgency to create a business, and one that would serve a broader purpose. So in early 2016 I decided to quit my City job and change my career path.
I was inspired to start an e-commerce platform dedicated to sustainable fashion as I had reached the point where I’d heard enough about the awful labour conditions and pollution in fashion, to know that I wanted to start shopping in a different way.
As well as this, for me and for women like me, there is a limit to how excited we can get about organic cotton T Shirts. Our careers mostly don’t allow us to show up in the wide-legged culottes or asymmetric dresses offered by existing platforms and we’re simply too busy to spend hours on the internet searching for that perfect outfit. I decided to build my own platform to solve that problem.
Had you had any business experience before this?
I had experience in business but not in running my own company.
How big is your team at the moment?
I have one member of staff and employ a variety of freelancers for specific projects.
How did your fundraise for the business (if applicable)?
So far the business is completely bootstrapped.
How do you promote and PR your business?
Sheer Apparel has been growing its fanbase through a variety of ways – events, content marketing and some nice coverage by publications.
What are the challenges with running a company like SA?
A key challenge for any founder is staying positive and energised while working more or less alone, on something very challenging for a long period of time. In the beginning that often includes many more mundane tasks that aren’t particularly sexy but are essential for the business.
What are the rewards from running such a company?
Inspiring other women to think a little more deeply about how they shop and seeing them fall in love with the brands on the platform, that’s pretty special.
Do you have any other entrepreneurs in your family?
What future plans do you have for expanding your vision?
I want to grow Sheer Apparel into the best sustainable fashion platform in Europe. It’s still early days but already the curation in terms of style, quality and value for money is incomparable to the existing competition. The enthusiastic response reflects that.
Tell us more about some of the aspects you are working on and further developing
We’ve just launched a beautiful new website and a Capsule Collection curated by the best sustainable fashion brands around Europe. We’re working on collaborations with exciting partners, to leverage the enthusiasm that’s building for a better choice of fashion. We’ve got several brands in the pipeline to join the platform. And we hope to do more events in 2018. It’s so nice to be able to create a beautiful shopping experience for our community.
What does a typical work day look like for you?
I am still involved in all aspects of the business so I may be working on the marketing strategy, preparing a shoot, or speaking to new brands. I mostly enjoy talking to customers about our products.
What advice would you give to someone looking to start in e-commerce?
E-commerce is not easy, so spend some time really defining your brand and your ideal customer. Also make sure you’ve properly budgeted time and money for marketing, photography, promotional materials. You certainly shouldn’t be doing everything, not everything makes sense for every brand, but it’s not easy to stand out.
Do you think consumers care more about price than social impact? How can we improve that, if so?
I think consumers first and foremost care about value for money and so they should. It’s just that for our customers value also includes knowing that there is no exploitation involved in the making of their clothes, or knowing how long their new jumper will stay beautiful, because it’s made of a high quality fabric. It’s just not good enough that some premium high street brands are, for example, selling us knitwear for £100 when they are mostly acrylic!
It’s also true that some consumers prefer being able to buy more often and more cheaply. Or if you are buying clothes for children you may not know that there are affordable options for buying more sustainably, such as via innovative kids’ clothes rental companies.
What we try very hard to do is never to preach, or say you shouldn’t buy a certain thing or boycott a certain brand. Sheer Apparel is there to provide positive alternatives that in terms of cost per wear are excellent value, and, yes, also to educate a little.
How does running your own business compare to your previous career?
I’m really grateful for all the opportunities I had in my previous career. Many things I learned in the first 10 years of my career make me a better founder. But it’s completely different, much more hands-on and immediate. And it’s genuinely a rollercoaster – for better and for worse.
What’s been your biggest achievement in life thus far?
In life, I have a great family and deep, sometimes lifelong friendships, and I recently got married to a great guy. That’s a lot. I really believe and care passionately about my business, but life is more than that.
And biggest failure?
I have at times, spent too long chasing after career goals that weren’t really me. I think I could have saved myself that time. But sometimes you have to try things and give them your very best shot for a good while to know whether they are for you.
What’s been the funniest moment of your career?
Oh there have been countless. The best moments have always involved working with people who work hard to get a good outcome but then also see the sometimes absurd side of corporate life.
What do you think the advantages and setbacks are for a female founder in the startup space?
Since I started I have had the pleasure to meet and collaborate with so many talented and generous women. I couldn’t comment on whether guys do the same, but my experience is that as women we really cheer each other on and help each other succeed.
When it comes to funding we do need more diversity though. Research shows that male founders attract the lion’s share of investment. It’s the responsibility of all of us to make ourselves more representative of the start up community.
Who were your role models growing up?
Everyone who showed commitment and passion for their work, rather than just doing the minimum has really stuck in my mind. I can think of a couple of teachers who were like that.
Did you have a mentor or people you asked for advice?
Starting a business in an industry that differs from your background means doing things you’ve never done before, pretty much on a daily basis. I ask people for advice and their opinion constantly.
Having a mentor can be really powerful, but I would say choose that person well. A lot of people love giving business advice, regardless of their experience, but that doesn’t mean they definitely know what’s best for your business. Make sure you’re aligned.
How has what you do, changed you as a person?
I hope it hasn’t changed me fundamentally, but I do think about my career in a much broader way now and see many more options. And I get to do more of what I love doing – writing, building something and helping customers. That’s quite liberating.
How do you like to take time out for yourself and stay healthy and active?
So important! From the beginning I’ve found it important to keep to a regular work schedule just as much as when I was employed by someone else, i.e. absolutely no working in Pyjamas, or keeping my laptop next to my bed. I’ve been trying a new routine of 30 min of Yoga every morning. It sets you up really well for the day. And I try and keep at least one day of the weekend completely free of work. It makes you more productive the rest of the time.
What are the top 5 books and blogs on your reading list?
I’m currently learning Spanish so that takes up a lot of my reading time. I also loved Freerange Human and am looking forward to reading Reclaiming Conversation – a book about our obession with our phones. For work, Magnifeco and To Die For: Is Fashion wearing out the world are powerful books. It is really important to read for pleasure – I recently finally read and loved Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth. It’s visionary.
If you could do any other job, aside from what you do now, what would it be?
Play in an orchestra. Music is magic.
Do you have any unconventional words of advice?
Say ‘no’ more.
I’ve heard people say, say ‘yes’ more. It’s good to try new things, but you know, if that party sucks or you just can’t face another networking event or you know that business ‘opportunity’ will cost you more than it’s worth, sometimes you’ve got to have the confidence to just say no.
If money and time were no object, what would be on your to-do and to-see list?
I’d go travelling for a while. It’s the ultimate luxury and privilege to see the world. But I’d probably also start another business, I love creating.
What is your motto?
Whatever Beyonce has to say. I mean that.