How to start... a sportswear business
Gone are the days of day-glo lycra and unflattering gym shorts when it comes to sportswear. There's recently been in a resurgence in gear that's both practical and stylish, that can take you from the running track or the yoga studio to the everyday. One such business is Paria. With designs are created by super-cool artists, and edginess in everything they do, this is cycling wear for people not afraid to stand out. Here's how founder Sam Morgan started his business.
Finding the right location
My business is based in Leeds, Yorkshire. Obviously, it’s where I live, but it also fits with the main underpinnings of the brand. Yorkshire is fast becoming one of the UK’s hotspots in terms of cycling. The terrain, and legacy from the Tour de France, means more and more people are making trips here specifically to enjoy the riding terrain. Leeds is a real crossover between the urban fix culture into the road cycling side of the country, fitting with the urban influence in my cycling apparel.
Deciding to start up
I've always wanted to work for myself, and whilst I’ve worked in some big blue-chip companies, I’ve always felt there was something out there calling me which would allow me to indulge some of my passions; namely, a love of things alternative and keeping fit. Both myself and my wife struggled to find something we felt comfortable in and which looked stylish when we were out training and cycling, and felt we could do a better job with the apparel than some of the big boys on the market. Over the space of 12 months this frustration grew into a full-blown business.
Qualifications, skills, and equipment
There aren't any qualifications needed to set up in the industry - just a bit of experience and nous. Whilst I have A levels, a degree and post-grad qualifications, I’ve found the skills I’ve drawn on the most, are ones that I've developed over the years in the various roles I had with the big blue-chips.
In terms of equipment, we started with a laptop, a phone, and internet connection… and it's useful to have a car too. (Oh, and a supportive wife, but not sure she will appreciate being referred to as a piece of equipment…) Once you start attending trade shows you need gear and branding to support this, but we have made a lot of this ourselves, and pulled favours left right and centre. It can look a bit cottage industry sometimes, but it’s all part of the fun!
The most important skills you need are interpersonal ones; I can’t emphasise the importance of being able to relate to people from all walks of life, and all levels. The old adage of “it’s not what you know, it’s who you know” makes the business world go around, so getting out and talking to influencers, contacts, and industry stalwarts is a must. I’ve found being open, receptive to feedback, and interested in anyone who is interested in me, has opened many doors.
Market research ranged from anecdotal to quantitative data from the cycling market. Anecdotal information was feedback from friends, peers, and fellow cyclists who we asked for comment on their perceptions. I also interviewed cycle shop staff, and buyers on their opinions of the market place, current trends in apparel etc. Luckily one of my old school friends worked for Evans Cycles, as well as Fred Perry, and runs her own branding agency, so she was perfectly placed to help me navigate through the market. Another friend works for the worlds largest sportswear manufacturer, so a chat over a beer gave me some good insight. Finally, as a cyclist myself, I was already aware of some of the trends in cycling fashion, so it was a case of pulling all these pieces together to support my business plan.
Finding the right premises
I'm working form home, but also negotiated storage space (and a desk when i need it) with my distributor. It helps as we are both in the same industry, and it’s amazing what you can pick up just being sat near someone for a day a week!
We budgeted £15k for starting up, which included buying all the stock, photography, and website production.
We focussed mainly on social media, with postings via Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. There was also a feature on the newsletter with the distributor I was using, which went out to key industry contacts.
We decided to soft launch across different platforms. One element has been a slow build via seeding, focusing on certain people from the target market place then gifting them products, or supporting them in their chosen discipline eg. young up-and-coming riders who are without sponsors, and supporting local cycling initiatives to drive awareness. I also exhibited the artwork from the kit around the Tour De Yorkshire, and exhibited at a Tour De Yorkshire show, which was fantastic again for raising the profile of the brand.
The first few weeks
The first few weeks were quite the learning curve! My expectations were off the chart from where they should have been in terms of sales, awareness, and generally getting my product in front of people. I had this vision that once my website was live, the punters would come and buy as they would love my gear as much as I did. And whilst there were appreciative comments, it was very slow vs what I planned. Getting your brand in front of people is a challenge in itself. Getting your brand in front of people, making it resonate, and then converting that into sales is whole other game, and definitely a marathon rather than a sprint!
Tips to others thinking of starting a similar business
- Network; it is amazing who you know who can help. Input and support has come from the most unlikely of sources. A random e-mail from a recruitment consultant, who was herself a startup, led to us sponsoring a rider who will be pushing for national competitions over the next 2 years.
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and I would say from literally anyone. The worst they can say is no, and if they are negative in their response, move on and find someone else who will say yes. For every no, there are ten people who have been where you are, and know how tough it can be, and will help.