Bloggers are taking the world by storm with their creative and dynamic ways of showcasing their talents. It’s no news that African bloggers in the creative space have started making headlines. From the likes of Cynthia Andrew of Simply Cyn, Ezinnne Chinkata to Kenya’s own Silvia Njoki; we continue to see these digital influencers create a niche and business for themselves by tapping into their creativity and utilizing the wonders of the internet.
For fashion blogger Brett Robson, since starting her blog, Fashion by Brett Robson in 2010, she has successfully worked with many brands, been featured in multiple publications and continues to creatively grow and enrich her brand. Brett saw an opportunity to go beyond just blogging to now creating a clothing line, Shop Brett Robson with the mission to create awesome and stylish pieces for different seasons.
Her passion and experiences in the fashion and merchandising industries have been instrumental in launching her into this new journey as a designer and entrepreneur, while also creating multiple streams of income for herself.
In this exclusive interview, Brett takes us into the inspiration behind her clothing line and how she’s been able to build a thriving business.
What was the original inspiration/thought process behind the Shop Brett Robson brand? Tell us your story.
Starting a clothing label was always something I had envisioned for myself. I had this idea while I was studying Fashion Design. Even though I had the idea, I had no concept of what it would be called, what kind of clothing I would do, or how I would sell it. And in all honesty, in my early years of completing my fashion design degree, I thought I was going to be a swimwear designer. It’s still something I secretly hope to do one day.
The Brett Robson clothing label started to see light in 2014. I had this idea of turning my blog readers into customers. As a blogger, I was used to selling merchandise. But it was never my own. And being in the clothing industry as a merchandiser, I understood what it required to make clothing. I really just figured that if I didn’t do it at that moment in my life, I would never find the right time, so I took the plunge & started working on it.
And to be very honest, the clothing label was the main goal. But I never wanted to sell it myself. I wanted to be able to have stockists on board that sold on my behalf. And even though I secured ZANDO & Sassychic from the get go, it wasn’t enough for me; so I started working on Shop Brett Robson – my own online store.
What role did your blog play in this process? What kind of market research did you undertake to ensure you constantly carry the right products for your customers?
My blog has played a HUGE role in making this project achievable. If it was not for my blog audience, & also my contacts within the blogging industry, I would not have been able to get people to buy my merchandise. You can have the greatest merchandise, but if people can’t find it – what’s the point?
I really don’t do any sort of market research. As a merchandiser I have to know what is happening in terms of clothing trends. It’s my job. So, I use my knowledge of retail & trends, & produce what I think will work. I also always just do what I feel is right in my gut. I don’t do anything I am not 100% sure of. I need to be able to trust myself, & not be influenced by others. I own every mistake & success in my business.
It can be quite challenging raising capital to start up, especially for new entrepreneurs in Africa. Tell us about your experience, challenges and lessons you’ve learnt so far.
I have been extremely fortunate in this respect. The larger company that I work for as a merchandiser has funded my venture. It’s great not having to live hand-to-mouth, but it is also a lot of pressure to make this work.
What sets Shop Brett Robson apart from other online clothing stores?
I think what makes Shop Brett Robson unique is that we genuinely care about customer experience. That is our number 1 priority. I shop online a lot, & it has always been something that I found could make or break a store for me. So, when I started my own online store, I made sure that we focused on this.
What marketing strategies do you use to promote your business and how did this help with your first set of sales?
I had zero strategies in place to promote my business when I first started. But, I have since marketed my business by sending out merchandise to influencers like myself & hoping they share the clothing on social media & on their blogs if they do have one.
You ship worldwide and that’s really amazing especially for your international customers. How do you stay afloat with logistics and organize the back-end of your business (including software, tools and resources crucial to setting up systems for your business)? Key lessons/tips for doing this successfully?
Yes, we do offer international shipping, but we haven’t really gotten to a place where I can say we have broken barriers. Having a stronger customer base in Africa is my goal for 2017. Our customer base is still very much South African.
Who is the ideal Brett Robson customer and what is your best selling product right now?
The Shop Brett Robson customer is trendy. She is looking for merchandise that is going to be on trend, but is also different to what other people are wearing. She also values superior quality, which is why we invest in better quality fabrics.
Our best selling clothing item has been the Bardot Unitard. And our best selling accessory is the Wrap Around Choker.
You’ve had experience working in the fashion design and merchandising industry. What advice do you have for someone looking to break into the fashion industry?
The fashion industry & the clothing industry are two completely different things. I am certainly more knowledgeable on the clothing industry because of my background as a merchandiser. Clothing is very fast-paced. I would say that anyone looking to get into clothing should not be afraid of hard work. It’s not easy, & man-made items leave lots of room for mistakes & problems, but you make it work, & you learn as you go along.
Give us an insight into the production, design and general planning process of your products and collections
Getting my clothing from concept to finished product takes about 3 months. It can be quicker, but it really just depends on each individual style.
Step 1: I have a concept or fabric in mind. I come up with the styling
Step 2: Junior Designer specs it up (measurements required to make the pattern – this info she gets from me) & does a CAD
Step 3: Pattern Maker makes a pattern.
Step 4: Fabric is requested from the fabric department.
Step 5: Cutter cuts the pieces.
Step 6: Sample machinist makes up the 1st fit sample.
Step 7: Garment technologist measures the garment, checks machining quality etc.
Step 8: Samples are made in my size so that I can fit every single style I do. I don’t believe that fitting a garment on a dummy gives a true indication of what it’s like to actually wear it. I fit the garment; I often spend a few hours wearing it.
Step 9: I give feedback on the fit of the garment. If there are any changes I think need to be made, I discuss with the garment technologist & pattern maker to get their opinion.
Step 10: Final comments are passed on to the junior designer. This is only if I am happy with the garment. If I am not happy with the fit, we the pattern maker makes further adjustments & another sample needs to be made, which means we go back to Step 3.
Step 11: Junior designer puts the approved garment measurements into a spec. This spec is how we decide the measurements for each size. Any other comments I have are added to the spec.
Step 12: I check the spec. If correct it is emailed to relevant parties.
Step 13: Pattern maker makes any adjustments based on my comments in the spec.
Step 14: A smallest & largest size of the garment is made up. This is to make sure that the grading between sizes is correct. And also to see how the fabric reacts.
Step 15: A factory is selected to CMT bulk. CMT price is confirmed at this point.
Step 16: Factory makes up 2 samples which are checked by the quality team. If they are happy with quality, the process to go into bulk is initiated.
Step 17: Bulk markers (this is for cutting bulk) & fabric are issued to the factory.
Step 18: The style is at the factory for about 2-3 weeks until production is complete.
Step 19: Quality team inspects bulk. If passed, it is delivered. Factory gets paid.
Step 20: Warehouse staff accept delivery.
Step 21: Bulk is counted & stock sheets are opened.
Step 22: I receive stock sheets.
Step 23: I select merchandise for marketing (to be sent to influencers), & also for photoshoot.
Step 24: Photoshoots are generally organised in advance, so by this time we have a date & time.
Step 25: We shoot for the online store.
Step 26: Photographer gives me the images.
Step 27: I go through the selection process.
Step 28: Either myself or my assistant resizes the images.
Step 29: I upload every item to the store myself.
Step 30: We go LIVE with the item.
All the while this is happening, ZANDO & Sassychic have been updates on new merchandise, & have raised orders accordingly. As soon as bulk comes in, their orders are sent off to them but the warehouse team.
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