It isn’t very often you hear very heart felt stories about why businesses close. At least, not the small ones. We all hear about the big names on the high street and how that impacts our economy. For smaller businesses, the numbers of startups and close downs is far bigger.
Very often, in our excitement as we give life to our little empire, we try to run before we can walk. But there are huge merits to staying small and my one piece of financial advice to small businesses is don’t grow too fast. Don’t over commit, don’t overspend, don’t over produce, and don’t remortgage your house for it.
I don’t know what I would do if my business folded. Sewing and creating garments has been a part of my life since I was 12 years old, that’s about 3/4 of my life now. It’s almost all I know. But I have always been very aware of my limitations. I always wanted to do it my way because ultimately I just wanted to be happy in life. That meant going against the grain of what we think of when we hear ‘fashion designer’. I don’t want to have branches all around the world. I don’t want to have a staff around me and factory lines churning out thousands of garments in one go. This doesn’t appeal. It never has. Not only is this just not me, but in our modern age, it is incredibly risky. Fashion is fickle. Its customers are just as ruthless.
Staying small has without doubt been the key to my survival. Sure, I’m never going to make a million, but I started Falcieri Designs for one reason and one reason only. I like to make things. It has never been about me being able to buy a house with the profits, or change the world or forge my way in the fashion revolution market. When my circumstances change, as they do on an alarmingly regular basis, I can pick up the business and take it with me, or bend the rules to keep going, whether that’s moving city or having to take another job in lean times. Or as in the last two months, losing my studio entirely. It doesn’t matter. These are not failures. It’s all a part of the journey.
I am grounded enough to know I may never be any bigger than I am now. I have seen enough of the modern mass market fashion industry and the high street, to know that it is not a world I want to be a part of. It preys on the vulnerable and the poverty stricken in both its industry and its customers for its survival. It only cares about the bottom line. Profit. Rachel Pines wrote very poignantly about where she thinks fashion needs to go. It is a movement that is already growing slowly, but surely:
‘I feel that the fashion industry needs to
revisit the past and go back to the time before
World War II when people chose their styles and
fabric from a pattern book and clothing was
made specifically for them. This purposeful
relationship with clothing would have the added
advantage of allowing us to develop the patience
that has disappeared from our buying habits….
‘Rachel Pines, Moonbird via Eco Warrior (source)
I don’t want to change the world, not because I don’t want to, but because I don’t think I can. But perhaps I can change my corner of it, or sew the seeds that will encourage better practices in future generations. Trying to change the world, or an industry, is a very noble if very misguided cause. You are dealing with so many aspects. It isn’t just the business you have to change, it’s the customers, the economy, global warming, supply chains and the class system. You can’t do all that. You won’t.
I’ve seen lots of small home based and eco businesses go to the wall in my six years. I would say most of it was down to marketing and to money. Marketing sucks when you’re creative. We don’t enjoy it but you have to do it. And I always liked the idea of doing everything myself. And that’s why all these years later, it’s still only me. I have almost no business overheads to worry about right now.
And that at least preserves the roots of my business, no matter what else happens. It’s not big, it’s not glamorous, but you know what, MOST of the fashion industry isn’t. It’s not all Vogue front covers and Instagram selfies in temporary glamorous backdrops. Dig behind most social media accounts and you’ll find a very different truth to the one that’s presented. Not enough fashion businesses are honest about the struggles they face. I suppose because they think customers don’t want to know about that side of things. And they’re possibly right.
Of course I struggle with the ethos of my business and my current lifestyle. I couldn’t afford to buy regularly from my own brand. I work from home. I have to budget hard to stay on top of things in business and in my personal life. But that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. My respect for things, for money, for creation, is heightened and it means I follow the rules of business in real life, probably a lot more than most eco-businesses. I refuse to consider producing large orders through factories. I refuse to end up with stock that could ultimately end up in landfill. If I sell cheap, people will regard my product as disposable. And what kind of sane person is going to bin a £180 dress? Mine are carefully considered purchases, and that’s my kind of customer.
Moonbird, despite its closure, has learned a lot in its five years, lessons I hope it can take forward to the next venture. No experience is ever wasted. There are points raised in Eco Warrior’s article, which I see happening all around me here in the UK. Sustainability, upcycle, recycle, make do and mend. These are the ways forward if we are to stop the pollution of our planet from the greed of industry and if we are to manage our ever twindling budgets at home. Fashion is a flexible enough industry that it can nurture this much talent, and has enough scope for individuals to do it their own way. Art, after all, is subjective. And fashion is, in many ways, just another art form.