Is building my own sustainable clothing brand fulfilling? Yes!
Am I relishing the challenges and the new skills I'm learning along the way? For sure.
Does it all bring with it a cold-sweat-in-the-middle-of-the-night abject fear? Absolutely.
After the mania of finishing up my previous job, launching the brand and then hitting the festive period with reckless enthusiasm, turning the calendar to January 2022 offered a welcome sense of calm. But for me, and probably for many of you too, calm isn't a natural state, and certainly not one that sticks around for any length of time. Some stark realisations came into focus, and the sleep of the dead that I had been enjoying in December after my market exertions gave way to 3am panics about, well, everything!
Restock (like Woodstock...in no way)
Obvious to most of you I'm sure, but not to me - when you sell things, you then have to buy more things to replace the things you've sold. So far so good. The issue here I guess is in the distribution of size options I offer - XXS on some items, up to XL, and now XXL (more on that shortly). So, for someone who has created a super duper chocolate bar they can sell, sell, sell online and at markets and, as they edge toward the bottom of their box of chocolate bars, they can place a new order with their suppliers. Even if they decide to branch out and create a few different wacky Wonka-style flavours, they can be fairly confident that there will be a reasonable spread of sales across the range, perhaps one bestseller beating the rest.
Now, when I hesitantly placed my very first order of stock last October, I did a bit of research (ok so mainly it was my Dad sending me useful links) into the current popularity spread of clothing sizes. In the US, things edge more towards Larges and Extra Larges, perhaps as expected. In the UK it seemed to hover more around Medium. Using this quality intel I chose my quantities of each size accordingly - fewer XS, S and XL, and a good few more Mediums.
Apparently I was wrong. Clothing sizing may have slimmed somewhat or people may have been getting taller and broader over the years - maybe a combination of the two - as I completely sold out of L and XL sizes in 3 of my 6 garments. Great news for Falling Leaf Clothing's popularity, terrible news for my inventory management. So, instead of spending the early months of 2022 investing my Christmas takings on marketing, new product development, perhaps even a haircut (!) I've needed to plough it all (and then some) into restocking for the giants (at 5'4" I'm just jealous) and introducing a hotly requested XXL option as well. No haircut for me for a while yet!
[For info, if you're 6ft or taller I'd recommend you go with XL to guarantee the length, then push to the XXL if you're also broad with it - but don't forget you always have the free return/exchange option!]
Bookkeeping, without the books
It turns out that taking Higher Accounts & Finance in 5th year and attending that one webinar last week is not enough - I actually have to get my head around my finances, and (more importantly) lay them out in a way that other people can get their heads around them too, mainly the lovely people at HMRC. I'm officially a sole trader and FLC is officially a business (I think!) so I need to officially create something a bit more legible than my current 20-tab-long Excel spreadsheet packed with little reminders, half-formed ideas and multicoloured fonts. Apparently, soon everything is going to have to move online (by law), but - and I've definitely spotted a theme here - these things cost money (please refer to the above re: money and lack thereof). So while I like to keep with the times, I think I'll be clinging on to my trusty beast of a spreadsheet a little longer. At least we've moved on from paper or I'd be buying buckets of Tipp-Ex right now...
Space, the final...straw?
It's a simple challenge but a big one - where do you keep all your stock when you're a home-based clothing brand and all your customers are giants?! At last count (and my husband Si counts A LOT!) we're up to 18 massive cardboard shippers of t-shirts, hoodies, caps and beanies. Because of boring things like minimum order quantities and target margins etc, when I topped up my larger sizes and introduced the all-hallowed XXL I had to order a good few more than I'd perhaps have liked, leading to even more boxes just when we thought things had calmed down. The spare room is now The Stockroom, and my mother-in-law will now need to nest down in a box of hoodies when she comes to visit rather than luxuriating in the queen-size bed that was in there and is now on Gumtree. Oh well.
While these things, and many more besides, keep me awake at night, I'm definitely still loving the autonomy, the creativity, and the rush of working for myself, so, if I re-introduce afternoon naps at some point soon I might just make it through without the bags under my eyes actually hitting the floor. I guess the moral of the story is: please, dear reader, buy more FLC clothing so my mother-in-law can sleep in an actual bed! Or something.