Overcoming Adversity to Launch an E-commerce Fashion Brand
It's 6:30am in the morning. I wake up. From this day onwards, my life is going to change -- forever.
Three months earlier I snowballed out of my last job following my boss's illness, but long before that I'd realized, despite having enjoyed some great moments, the media industry was no longer working for me and I needed a fresh challenge in life. My last business, a print magazine, hadn't worked out, and to fund it/pay the bills I'd been a contractor editor for six years, followed by a Director of Digital. But this had never been the goal for me. After leaving my role, I sent out numerous job applications, to do the right thing, but received no interest, for the first time in my career. I've never been out of work before. So why the change? My CV screams that I'm an entrepreneur. A business man. An innovator. An overachiever. It says I want more from life and I want to do something I'm passionate about and believe in. It was time for a change. It was time to launch a new business.
In the coming months, once investment is secured, I will launch 2210 -- an e-commerce fashion company that sells clothing for men and women aged between 25 and 35. I intend to offer them clothes that are affordable yet feel exclusive. We'll be featuring designs from both established and up-and-coming designers.
The idea was born from my continual frustration at the lack of quality t-shirts and tops on the high street. That, and the ubiquity of certain brands. Just this summer I bought clothing that I thought would lead to me standing out from the crowd, only to see other people wearing it every other day.
How is 2210 going to achieve this? A diverse range of designers, variety of unique designs, a change of designs every 2-3 months, and the opportunity for our customers to own clothing featuring designs by the next Vivienne Westwoods and Alexander McQueens. What's new, fresh and exciting from 2210 today could be vintage tomorrow. We want to create value not just for now, but also for the future.
My launching a fashion brand represents a significant career change for me. I've been in digital for the past eight years, having worked for the Guardian, orange.co.uk and looked after digital projects as the Director of Digital for an entrepreneur.
Though I haven't been a fashion designer, the entrepreneur Seth Godin says that every experience we've had often leads to a business situation in our live that makes sense/feels right for us (I imagine that can be applied to relationships, too). Or, that a business makes sense of every experience we've had. And 2210 is that situation for me.
During the six years I worked for Orange as a contractor, I was also running Seven (I worked for Orange to fund Seven), an award-winning print and online magazine that interviewed the likes of Christian Bale and George Clooney during its lifespan between 2005 and 2010 (I ran it voluntarily from 2008 onwards, after the business didn't take off).
It's through Seven that I got to indulge my love for fashion on a larger scale, one I'd had since a child. Though I was a rugby playing, football-loving boy growing up, I also relished visiting the local fabric shop (not that any of my friends knew this) with my mother to pick out the material that my Bermuda shirts would be made from. I adored the whole experience, from looking at the designs/patterns for the shirts, through to wearing something that I knew was truly unique and made specifically for me. From that point onwards I've strived to dress differently, have my own identity. Seven itself, a politics and culture project that addressed issues eschewed by the mainstream media, stood out from the crowd. Everything I do is about being me.
What's more, I was always the only guy waiting for my girlfriend to show me the outfit she had tried on in the dressing room, and whenever I went shopping with my female and male friends, it would last for the whole day. And I'd love every moment. Even as a teen, to get dressed for parties, I'd visit a magical warehouse with my friends to find really cool outfits that would make us stand out from the crowd. Fashion, and feeling and looking stylish, was important to me.
My magazine properly engaged me with the fashion world, through photoshoots and picking out outfits for models to wear. My favorite moment was when we did a cover shoot with Ben Whishaw, who recently played Q in James Bond Skyfall. We'd had an issue with finding clothes for Ben, so I went down to Issey Miyake HQ and picked out clothing for him, not having met him before. It was instinctive, and the next day every item of clothing I put on him fitted perfectly. He looked amazing! The shoot was a success, and his PR team even wrote to me to thank me. I took great value from that.
Every experience I had on those fashion shoots was positive, and when I left them, I felt a certain sadness, knowing this is what I really wanted to do with my life. To dress men and women and help them feel unique. Hence 2210, named after the day I was born, came into existence.
At the moment I'm searching for a large investment to help build the e-commerce website and get the business through its first two years. I've assembled the right people, designers, manufacturers, to make this happen, but now I need the capital to put it into play.
Along with success in the UK and Europe, I want to conquer the American market (I'm a New Yorker trapped in an Englishman's body), where few British fashion brands have succeeded. I truly believe 2210 can be The Beatles of the fashion world and the next fashion behemoth.
People tell me it'll be tough, but as someone who has got through life without any family, made it through two personal bankruptcies (the first because I bailed out Seven, then worked 100 hour weeks for a year-and-a-half, only to have some of my contractor work moved to another part of the country. I desperately wanted to launch the Seven Foundation, a charity to help young people get into creative arts projects, alongside Seven Magazine, hence my fighting on for so long. The second happened because I didn't deal with the emotional impact of the first properly), there's no challenge that phases me. As Susan Jeffers, the brilliant life advice writer, who sadly recently passed away, said: "Feel the fear and do it anyway!"
I've visited America more times than any other country, taking in New York, Chicago and LA in the space of 10 days at Christmas. I've also built up a number of business contacts over there. What I've learned from my time in the U.S. is that people who come through bankruptcy and make a success of their lives are viewed as showing courage and determination. It's a sign that you tried to make something work, you failed, but you got back up again and learned from your mistakes, as I am doing. In the UK, bankruptcy's seen as reckless and dirty. It shouldn't be. It could happen to anyone.
With my first venture into business. I had so many things go wrong, but I fought hard turn things around. A printer bailed on a spoken agreement with me (yes, I was an idiot. I was also 26 and way too trusting), leaving me with the choice of letting the magazine go, wasting all the time my team spent on it, or lending it the money myself and hoping an investor would come in. One year and a half later, after putting in 100-hour weeks -- contracting and running Seven at the same time -- and one 30-day straight stint at work (four half days), I caved in and declared myself personally bankrupt. The debt wasn't large, but I was killing myself to pay it back. Naturally thin with a high metabolism, I had ballooned in weight due to a diet that included six bottles of Coca-Cola a day, to keep me awake between 6:30am and 2am every day. I had holes in my clothing and, much worse, my shoes. I was earning good money, but it was soaked up by the debt, and I would always have soaking wet fee when it rained. There were many times when I would starve to make sure I had money to pay the bank. And with no bank of mum and dad to turn to (I have no family in my life), I was the only person who was going to get myself out of this situation.
Across both bankruptcies, I worked non-stop for six years with no holidays, so I did everything I could to avoid insolvency. My payments came first, and me a distant second. There was no breathing/thinking time, and I did not grow as a person. I was a robot, working Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, in the hope Tuesday and Thursday would bring that change for me. What needed to change was me. And I have.
Steve Forbes recently said that America is
a dynamic country, one that has wide scope for individual initiative in all facets of life; that has a vibrant civil society; that is oriented toward risk-taking and accepts the hit-or-miss nature of experiments with innovation and their possible failure; that has a profound belief in self-improvement, which dates back to Benjamin Franklin; and that creates ever greater material abundance by enabling its people to discover and develop their talents to the fullest.
If all that is true, and I've never seen anything to counter it, then America is one of the countries where my brand will thrive the most.
The past year has enabled me to focus on what is important to me and what I want out of life, and 2210 is just that. The opportunity to make all of my experiences count. When I am in a financial position to annul both bankruptcies (they were personal, not business bankruptcies), I will do so. I take responsibility for everything I do.
I'm still only 33, and having overcome adversity, something I'm extremely proud of, I feel better positioned to make a success of my sophomore business. If Abraham Lincoln, Mark Twain, Henry Ford, Walt Disney, Stan Lee and Donald Trump can overcome bankruptcy and make a success of their lives, it means so can I, using everything I have learned from the experience.
Someone recently said I'm a survivor. Yes, but I'm also a winner, and, despite the bankruptcies, I've had a career of distinction to prove that. I've never let anyone down, and that's something I'm truly proud of.
Through 2210 and the clothes we produce, I will put everything I have learned into play and showcase the talent, ability and uniqueness I was born with. And as a result of that, I know our customers will feel truly unique through wearing our fashion.
This article is dedicated to my grandfather, who inspired me to go for my dreams as a child and was the first person to truly believe in me, and the brilliant Susan Jeffers, author of the inspirational Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway, who recently left us for a better place.