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Sunshine, Sourcing and Social Media: Meet Two Moms Taking on Summer Fashion in Their Small Biz

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Finding the right beachwear at the right price was a conundrum that friendsGeorgie Pickering and Sophie Mill had separately encountered, so a chance conversation last spring led to a new business idea that (luckily!) enjoyed instant success. Sister Design’s rapid growth has taught the founders many a lesson in what it takes to design and launch a kaftan collection. Now, they’re curious to discover what next season will bring.

 

We caught up with Georgie and Sophie to chat about chasing the elusive promise of finding work-life balance, using focus groups to drive new product creation and their favorite tricks of the trade.

 

 

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Names: Georgie Pickering and Sophie Mill

Business: Sister Design

Started: 2015

 

How did you create your awesome company?

 

Sophie: I have a background in fashion PR and have worked with brands including Versace, Paul Smith and Boden. But I struggled with giving up work after I had my kids. I always had it in the back of my mind that I would like to do something else, as fashion PR means constantly being on call — which doesn’t work with family life.

 

Georgie: I worked at a PR agency with beauty brands like Roc and Neutrogena and then as a management consultant. Like Sophie, it was difficult to go back part-time once I’d had my children. I wanted to start my own business so I could have control over my work-life balance.

 

We met at our kids’ school four years ago when our oldest children were in the same class and we instantly clicked. We have very similar taste and often buy the same niche item without knowing the other has bought it! One day, in May 2015, we were sitting in the garden in the summer sunshine and had a conversation about setting up a business. I said, “I have a kaftan idea.” Sophie said, “I want to do beachwear!”

 

Right away, we decided to do something that was at the right price point — not too expensive, but not really cheap either. We spent all that summer deciding on the name and registered Sister Design as a company. We got our website and our Instagram page set up. We chose five designs we were happy to launch with and we didn’t tell anyone. Only our (very supportive) husbands knew.

 

Our initial product creation took a long time. We’re not designers or pattern cutters and we went back and forth with factories and manufacturers. We did eventually find a pattern cutter who taught us a lot about fabrics. We then spent a lot of time sourcing trimmings online. Etsy has been great for that, and ours come from Thailand. When you sew trimmings onto a piece of fabric and wash it, it can pucker. Combining the right material with the right trimming is key to our designs. 

 

Starting out, there was a steep learning curve!

 

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Who was your very first customer?

 

When we were finalizing our styles, we set up a focus group with eight women. Once we launched, one of them came back and bought a piece immediately, as she was worried we’d run out! The focus group helped us enormously with making decisions about our product line. Every sample we showed was tweaked.

 

We stuck to two beliefs. First, you have to get it right. Second, you have to stick to your aesthetic. For us, that meant pretty, detailed, boho kaftans. 

 

By May we were happy and in June we launched with Instagram teasers. That was the digital platform we decided to market ourselves through because it reaches a broad range, it’s pictorial and it suits our style. We’ve had people shop us through Instagram or reach out and say they want to stock our items after seeing us post. 

 

When did you know your business was going to work? 

 

We believed in it right from the start. We sometimes questioned ourselves as starting a new business is such a big learning curve, but we believed in the product.

 

In July, we had a massive rush of orders and it was such a big confidence boost. Our reach has gone way beyond our network, too. We've sold to complete strangers and a range of ages, so we know our kaftans have a broad appeal. People aren’t just buying one, they come back for more!

 

What has been the biggest surprise so far starting your own business?

 

The learning process when it comes to fabrics! Especially, knowing the right questions to ask when you see material you like. How much do you have in stock? Are your fabrics seasonal? Will you be doing this one again next year? 

 

Also, we’ve been surprised by how much of an inspiration Etsy has been for finding things.

 

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How do you price your products?

 

Our kaftans will never be more than around £75 (about $92). Beachwear isn’t made to last forever — you get sunscreen, sweat and kids’ sticky ice cream hands on you! So, we decided on the price and worked back from that. We believe you can have gorgeous beachwear at this price point.

 

What we didn’t know was how big the markup is for retail: two-and-a-half times! We’d be bankrupt if we supplied wholesale. Our next step is to launch our website so we can be more in control over the pricing process.

 

What does a typical day look like for you?

 

It’s an unknown! We plan our individual schedules so that we do two or three days per week of Sister Design work together. Today, for example, we’ve already spoken to our accountant and we’re meeting with our graphic designer for our business cards, logo and tags. All the people we work with are local women — it’s great to be part of that network. 

 

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If you could go back in time, is there anything you would do differently?

 

We would have found an independent pattern cutter earlier on. We’d also have had our samples made in tulle first, as it’s more cost effective. 

 

It would have been useful to establish if the fabric supplied had been pre-washed or not. Now when we take a sample we always wash it to check that it won’t shrink. We’ve learned you can’t take the supplier’s word for it.

 

What would you like to learn today from a community of fellow small business owners?

 

We could use some tips on building and launching a retail website. We need to know how to manage customer expectations through the site and using the database it will generate. We're excited about taking this next big step in our business!

 

Can *you* help Georgie and Sophie out with their questions?


Have you launched a new retail website recently, and do you have tips that Georgie and Sophie can use when building out their new store online? How do you manage customer expectations, or run a database on the backend that will help you keep your orders organized?

 

Share your own stories and experiences with us in the comments below! :-)

1 Comment
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Level 7

Sunshine, Sourcing and Social Media: Meet Two Moms Taking on Summer Fashion in Their Small Biz

One of my side businesses is in the shoe industry and I would LOVE to hear experiences on running a fashion store online and anything else related to the industry. Thanks for your story, Georgie and Sophie!

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