STARTING AT THE BOTTOM WITH ZERO BUDGET
And just like that, it's October! This month has always been a bit special to me since it's our anniversary month. This month, four years ago, we started with an Etsy shop. It was supposed to be my creative side hustle along with my corporate job. Little did I know it would be the start of the business I'm running today!
Back in 2014 I used to work for an international fashion company and gave workshops to empower staff. I did like my job but I really missed having a creative outlet. So one day I dusted off my sewing machine, which was gifted years before, and started to make accessories for our then 3 month old baby Noëlle. I had no sewing experience at all but thanks to YouTube tutorials and with lots of support from Daniel, I managed to make my first pair of baby shoes from scraps of leather I collected over the years.
Although I wasn't very active on Instagram, we got a few requests to sell our stuff. Since I had lots of leather left , I thought I might just as well open up an Etsy shop and make more shoes until we used all our scraps. This was the perfect way to be creative in my spare hours and have fun with it while it lasted. Our first model wasn't the prettiest, but we sold quite a few shoes in the first weeks. I also started to connect with lots of like minded people on Instagram which was so encouraging. It's amazing to think that some of you who are reading this have been following our journey from the start. Anyone remembers the Minty Moccs??
After our first month of business we got invited to participate at a fair. I accepted the invite, even though we didn't have an actual collection, let alone stock and we were already halfway through our pile of leather scraps. But we had two months left till the event, which I thought was pretty doable. I spend all my money I earned with our Etsy shop to buy my first hides of leather, a proper sewing machine and sewing needles especially designed for leather which was the best investment to get our production skills to the next level. Both Daniel and I worked every spare hour we had, after our dayjobs and after taking care of our baby's needs to design our first collection and make enough stock to sell during the fair.
Unfortunately, we did not have any budget left for stand design, so we had to make a setting with the cardboard boxes we used for our shoes. I was so bummed about this and I remember how inadequate I felt. I was afraid it wouldn't be good enough, not professional enough and I was convinced people would think we were just a joke. But nobody laughed at our zero money stand and we actually had an amazing time. We caught the attention of a very friendly lady who happened to work for MilK (can you believe I did not know who or what MilK was then?!) and we even got an online interview out of it. Frontpage! (you can read it here) We also got highlighted in a presentation about stand design because our stand was so very minimal that they thought it was very convincing. Yayyy for no budget, eh!
That event was such an eyeopener. It didn't matter I had no experience in running a business, nor did it matter I didn't have lots of money to invest. It didn't matter my work or presentation wasn't picture perfect from the beginning. These were all things we think we NEED to have before we can start something, but that's NOT true. I realised I could just start small and work my butt off to get better and better until I was ready for the next step and so on.
Four years later and we still work this way. I like to grow at my own pace. We learn, we make mistakes, we shape, we polish and we retry over and over again. With each collection , we are able to grow and take another step. And we only do what we are able to afford with the money we earned the season before. At this point , we want to invest in improvement and sustainability so we still do not attend fairs (crazy expensive!), we do not work with agencies yet, we build and handle our own website and we still make all our pictures with our mobile phone. However, we do our work with lots of love and passion and I think it shows.
Why do I share our story? Because we started at the bottom with a zero budget. We taught ourselves new techniques, believed in our family business, and eventually I was able to retire from the corporate world to start life as an full time entrepreneur. No favors were given, we worked into the wee hours day in day out, we almost gave up several times, but we did it… and if we can do it, you can too! With or without budget.