Ever since I started Salut Kidswear, I got a lot of emails of people asking me all sorts of questions about starting an own brand - which is great, because I’m more than happy to share the little experience I have and I can only encourage other people to start their own business. I remember spending so much time comparing online shop systems, looking for packaging, finding the right credit card partner and so on. But as you know with small businesses you just have to put your product or service out there, try it out and iterate later. So I guess my aim with this blog post is to save you time and maybe help some of you to find the right solutions faster and easier.
First I want to clarify that these following tips worked for me, but that doesn’t mean they would fit any business idea. Trial and error is mostly what works for the kind of start-up like Salut Kidswear. And please feel free to keep emailing me if you have other questions that I didn’t answer in this post. Happy to help out!
INTERVIEWS AND SURVEYS
As a very first step,I conducted a survey and a lot of interviews with parents to know important facts like ‘how much were they willing to pay for an organic cotton sweater made in Europe?’ / ‘what do they think of gender neutral fashion?’ / ‘What are their shopping habits? Do they shop online or offline?’ / ‘What is their return rate if they shop online?’ / ‘Do they shop second-hand?’ / ...
I used Google survey, sent it to a lot of friends and strangers whose email I got from common friends. This survey helped me to
1) define more precisely in which direction Salut Kidswear should be going and
2) define the potential customer group and try to cover their needs in terms of price, product quality, design and brand philosophy.
I can only highly recommend to create this kind of survey, meet up with friends who could be potential customers or talk to people that are in the business. Even if you’ve already started your business. I see Salut Kidswear as an ever changing project that evolves with the clients’ needs and new technical possibilities like for example new sustainable textiles. This is why I even consider redoing surveys along the way.
At the beginning, I had a lot of ideas, so many patterns and designs I wanted to implement. But for financial reasons I had to strip everything down and concentrate on one all-over-pattern. I now think this was a fun thing to do and turned out to be one of Salut’s strength: it allows to dress your kid with the same pattern from head to toe as people are buying the matching top and bottom. So you could say that a constraint had a positive impact on the overall image and sales. Now that I’m working on the second collection, I have already decided to go for the same strategy.. However, I decided to collaborate with an illustrator for the second collection in order to bring in another perspective. As I said in the first section, I see Salut Kidswear as an evolving project. My first idea was to create pattern based on kids' drawings. This is however quite tricky as the drawings look pretty on paper, once transformed into pattern, it was not quite as great. So I'm thinking to evolve the concept into creating each collection with a different illustrator or artist. Let’s see where it will go :)
For the cuts, I wanted to have sleek and comfy pieces that enable kids to play freely. It was also important to me to make a design that allows kids to wear the clothes during day time and sleeping.As I don't have a background in fashion, I had no idea how to draw clothes. So I went to different shops and bought pieces I thought had an interesting and smart cut. Based on that, I measured them all up and drew technical drawings (I have a background in product design). After I then needed to find someone who could sew me some prototypes and create the sewing patterns that I would later need to send to the factory. Through a friend I came in contact with Annina Olga Frey, a textile designer and dressmaker from Basel. She made all this for me, and gave me great tips how I could improve the cuts and details.
To lower the costs not only did I use the same uni-colored pattern for all the pieces (the more patterns and colors you're using, the more expensive it gets), but I also focused on 2 types of fabrics. A thicker fleecy organic cotton for the sweater and the pants and a thinner organic cotton for the body and the t-shirt.
One question I get asked quite a often is "but how did you finance all of this?!". Well, I split the expenses in two parts.
One part was a crowdfunding campaign to finance the whole production of the clothes. 95% of the 16'833CHF were used for the production and 5% were used for packaging and other paper goods. I opted for the wemakeit platform as it's the biggest one in Switzerland and they offered a good deal in terms of support, % they were taking and convenience. Here you can have a look at the Salut Kidswear campaign. These 30 days were super intense, you run against a clock and depending on your goal, it's quite a lot of work to get that money in. If you wish to go that way and finance your project entirely or partially with a crowdfunding campaign I suggest the following:
Take time off work and only do this a 100% during the campaign as you will need to constantly convince people of your idea via SoMe, Newsletters, Videos, phone calls, SMSs, and so on
prepare the campaign very thoroughly in advance, all in all it took me about 6 months of preparation as I did this next to my other freelance projects
But of course, before you start a crowdfunding campaign, you need to develop your project, interview people, find the right idea, create and test the prototypes, take pictures, make a video, write texts, contact the press and bloggers, create a website and / or a webshop, design a logo and everything that goes with it, and so on. This takes a lot of time and cost me about 12'000CHF. These were personal savings.
So all together, Salut Kidswear cost almost 30k so far.
A previous colleague who has worked for several brands as a production manager gave me great tips on the production. Especially as I was trying to find the right factory. For ethical and sustainable reasons, I wanted to produce Salut Kidswear exclusively in Europe. She gave me a few contacts in Portugal and Turkey. After analyzing them and talking to them, I decided to go with Estrella - a medium size clothing company. Its collaborators have been very helpful: giving me tips on how to optimize the collection, going through several rounds of prototypes and helping with shipping the whole collection to Switzerland. I am very satisfied with the product and its quality and will definitely keep working with them.
I used to help out at the Waldraud store from time to time. That’s where I got familiar with shopify. So when I started looking for an online shop system for Salut Kidswear shopify was already quite high on my list as I was already familiar with it. It’s super intuitive, easy to use and I can manage a lot of things on the road through their app (like writing this blog post at this very moment). Not only can I link all my other apps with the shop (like mailchimp, social media, google analytics, ...) but they offer also a lot of tips, insights and tutorials to improve the shop and increase sales. They have nice free and affordable webshop themes. You can find a good theme that fits your requirements by adding filters. For me it was important to have big pictures, to have the option to add different sizes and to be able to sell gift cards. I’ve bought the Blockshop Motto theme. See all themes here.
There are different subscriptions you can choose from. I opted for the one that costs 80 US$/month as I wanted to be able to offer gift cards. But there are also cheaper versions, you can find shopify’s different solutions here.
STRIPE AND PAYPALL
To be able to accept online payments via credit cards for example, you need to create a so-called merchant account. There are several companies who offer these merchant services. The important thing for me was to have something simple and functional that doesn’t take a too big of a % of the income. I’ve compared quite a lot of them and stripe was one of the only ones that’s perfect for tiny companies; you don’t pay any subscriptions, but they keep 2.9% + 0.30CHF per sold item. You link it with your bank account and the money is being transferred to your account on a weekly or monthly basis. Stripe is super easy to set up and link with shopify. They also have an app to follow up on everything in case you’re on the road. I’ve never had any trouble with it so I highly recommend this system.
I also created a Paypal account for Salut Kidswear (about 25% of my customers are paying via Paypal), and linked it with shopify- that was super easy.
The more payment options you have on your website, the better it is for the client. Make sure to have them easily visible somewhere on the website (for example in the footer).
SHIPPING AND PACKAGING
Shipping costs is something I still need to optimize and is still on my "to-do-list". I want to be able to offer consumers a better deal when they order from Switzerland or Europe. For this, I need to create a business account at the Post and at an international courier service company, like Fedex for example. If you have a good tip I am all ears because I really need to fix this in 2019.
Regarding packaging, I wanted to used craft-paper packaging and avoid plastic as much as I can. Through a friend, I found the Swiss company innopack who offers good and simple packaging solutions. You can also order quite small quantities which is great when you just start. Another friend sent me the link to no issue a few days ago - cool start-up producing eco packaging.
IMPORTANCE OF PHOTOGRAPHY
From the beginning, I had a clear vision on how the clothes but also the Salut Kidswear imagery should look like. Having a strong and recognizable visual identity will help you stand out from the crowd. So I'd suggest thinking about all that before the launch - even if that means launching a few weeks later. Look at how other brands are doing it, look how they communicate their message via copy, images, illustrations. If you have no inspiration, browse through platforms like Pinterest and slowly figure out in which direction you would like to go. Of course, if you need any help with your visual identity or general brand image, I'd be happy to help. Feel free to send me an email.
One thing that amazed me since I launched Salut Kidswear and its online shop is that the more effort I put into online marketing, the more conversion I get. Of course I knew it would be that way. I just didn't know it would be that extreme.
There is a few things that I figured out work quite well for Salut Kidswear.
PR was very efficient at the beginning. I had quite a lot of Swiss magazine writing a clipping or small article about Salut Kidswear which brought a lot of traffic to the website and resulted in conversions. So if you're thinking about launching a new brand or product, make sure to keep in mind to knock on the door of some relevant magazines.
As Salut Kidswear is quite visual, it works well on Instagram and often gets a high interaction rate. This is definitely the channel I want to push more because I feel like the people who might be interested in Salut Kidswear and in slow fashion in general are on Instagram. I've started testing the ads, which also work quite well.
Retailers help Salut Kidswear grow tremendously. Of course, I don't earn a lot of money if I sell the clothes to a partnering store, but it increases the brand’s visibility a lot. This is why it's important to me to find the right stores and partners, the ones that share the same philosophy about high quality and sustainable good. Make sure you choose your partners wisely and have a handful or them rather than 3 in one city. My goal is to have one well selected store in every major Swiss city and know them all personally.
You can also reach visibility through smaller events or fairs. For the brand launch I organized a party at the partner store Waldraud and we organized music, a kids workshop and a buffet so people could hang out, discover the brand and meet each other. In the summer, I built a small booth and went to a sustainable market. Next winter I want to focus more on fairs and maybe go to one or two before Christmas.
The thing that didn't work so well for me was google ads. As the competition within the kids' brands is quite big, I would have had to invest quite a lot of money to get the wished traffic and conversions on the website. But for this, I'm simply still too small. However, it's still good to test out different things and see what works best for you.
I think I've covered more or less all the questions I often get asked. If not, don't hesitate to send me an email, I'd be happy to give further information and help out. And of course, I'd love to know more about your business idea.