In this podcast we meet Anna-Louise Howard who is the Founder of All Myn which is a ‘slow fashion’ brand.
‘Slow fashion’ encourages design, production and supply of garments based on quality and longevity. It’s premise is to ensure fair wages, slower production times and local manufacturing to lower the carbon footprint of the garment. The ‘slow approach’ takes time to ensure quality production, to give value to the product, and contemplate the connection with the environment.
All Myn was founded to solve a problem that most women have faced when clothes shopping – the item fits one part of the body and feels like an oversized hessian bag in the other. Anna-Louise has created a unique sizing system that has taken years to perfect.
And she is here to share her fascinating business start up story ….
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Happy reading! Now here is the full transcript of the podcast.
INGRID: Hello and here we are today with Anna Louise Howard. Hello Anna Louise!
ANNA LOUISE: Hi Ingrid! How are you? And hi to everyone listening.
INGRID: Let’s just jump right in Anna Louise. What business are you in. What is your business?
ANNA LOUISE: Ingrid my business is called All Myn, it’s in the fashion space and it provides great fitted women’s fashion using a unique design to fit model. This means we use bust waist and height measurement in one garment at the convenience of a great ready-to-wear solution also without the cost of bespoke clothing.
INGRID: It’s so amazing Anna Louise, so when did you come up with this business?
ANNA LOUISE: I came up with this business in 2007 2008 and I started looking at what else was in the market place. I officially launched in 2013 through a crowd funding campaign and I took two years off in 2013 2014 due to unavoidable personal life destruction. And I restarted last year in May.
INGRID: So its had a bit of a, its been a while.
ANNA LOUISE: Its had a bit of a rocky start but its been good because its given me time to refine and reassess where its going.
INGRID: Yes, yes. And why did you start the business – what was your motivation for getting this business started?
ANNA LOUISE: I had lots of issues getting suitable clothing to fit me. And I knew I wasn’t alone so I did some research and found it was a common problem so I knew I wanted to create a business that was a solution. I have a small frame, a large bust and I am quite short, so I know I don’t fit a lot of standard sizing. So I set out to find how I could solve this problem for me and those who are like me. At the same time I found out there are ladies with the opposite problem who had similar problem finding clothes that fitted.
INGRID: Hmm we often hear this story don’t we – when a business starts because the person can’t find what they need and it grows from there. Terrific. So what did you want apart from something that fitted you – and clearly you were making your own clothes – but what did you want from the business from day one?
ANNA LOUISE: Well look, what I wanted from day one, and what I still want now, is to continually help and support business women that want to buy clothing that makes them look and feel great just the way they are. I want women to be able to buy great quality clothing that won’t date in a month or two, which is where our slow fashion ethos comes in. Buying beautiful clothing can get very expensive, and the cost of time and money to get it tailored can be frustrating and out of reach for most women. I wanted to be that solution and I wanted to provide convenient affordable tailored fashion, and I want to continue to do that every day.
INGRID: I just want one, I want all of them. So Anna Louise, when did you actually realise you were actually ‘in business’? Quite often there is that point when you can say ‘ok, its real now’ when was that point for you?
ANNA LOUISE: Well as I‘d run a business before I knew it would be the first official sale. So at the time everything was focused on getting that first sale. Well as most business owners will tell you – they know who that first customer is. And the difference for me is that there were two first customers as I had the re-launch last year. So I was lucky in that fact that I got to have that lovely experience twice.
INGRID: That’s lovely. Those first sales are very precious, aren’t they? The first person to commits to whatever it is, is pretty special.
ANNA LOUISE: Yeah – it is.
INGRID: So, you’ve talked about – well I’ve met you, and I didn’t think there was anything particularly strange about your shape and size but you couldn’t find what you wanted, so I usually ask people how do you know that the business was something that other people want? How did you know you had a viable business and people would pay for this product and service? How did you come to that conclusion, that you weren’t alone.
ANNA LOUISE: That’s a good question. Because it’s one thing to have a great idea and another obviously to make it profitable. I did a crowdfunding soft launch to see how much demand there was for both the product and the concept. The amount of interest was incredible and I knew it was viable based on the feedback I got on the idea. I also did farmers markets to provide proof of concept and I did have to pivot on two fronts and move closer to my target customer. I am now building new products to service that demand. So, in that start-ups have that lovely ability to be agile and I really took that 2nd relaunch to take that agility move and to pivot.
INGRID: Could you explain to our listeners what you mean by agile and pivot – because perhaps not everyone knows what you mean by those terms.
ANNA LOUISE: So, when you are looking at an MVP, minimum viable product. You assess it after the fact, of how did it go, how was it received, what you can take away from the feedback that was given, and how you can do it better, or change tack. Which was exactly the idea of pivoting. It’s like a boat, you change tack.
So for me, I really had to sit down and go, ok, the idea was great. It was the execution – I had manufacturing issues, I had a lot of research and development that had gone into the innovation side of the business but applying that to the actual garments themselves meant that I couldn’t just take any design and make it work. It actually had to be engineered to take that design, to take that size system into account while designing. So that agility of being able to do that, was really important in order to be able to relaunch. So, it was definitely that smart, small steps that are measurable and achievable to make sure that you can actually create that product and make it work as a business.
INGRID: And Anna Louise it was very brave of you to be able to see that and make that pivot and changing tact. Cause we so often see somebody so in love with their own idea, they can’t see that when its coming towards them from the customer. So, it was very brave of you to listen to what the customer was saying and make those changes to the ultimate provision of the product to the clients.
ANNA LOUISE: I think that was one of the major things of being successful in your business is being able to listen to the customers and wants and needs and being able to tailor your product, no pun intended (both laugh), and really work with your product to meet those demands and those wants and needs, and I think that is ultimately where the success will come from, if you can fill those desires of the customer.
INGRID: I think you are absolutely right. Talk about money, and you can talk about this as much or as little…..but money is money.
ANNA LOUISE: Money is money and you need it to run a business.
INGRID: Yes, it’s a means of exchange, so how did you fund the business in the early days, then the expansion and how are you growing, where is the money coming from?
ANNA LOUISE: I run a very lean business model. I funded originally through a couple of personal loans. I can’t tell you how easy it is to subscribe to different services and things, and what I do, I constantly check every 3 months where can I cut costs. That has kept the budget very constrained but it has meant that I can keep everything afloat. And now I am looking to refinance and expand to bigger premises and develop new product lines, and officially move to the growth phase of the business. Although I still feel like I am in proof of concept which is quite unusual being 4 years in.
INGRID: Yes, and I guess being fashion that ‘proof of concept’ can go on for quite some time.
ANNA LOUISE: I think fashion houses do a proof of concept every time they release a new range or collection which is, can be, very daunting if it doesn’t go well. I think that is where my slow fashion model is much better for the sustainability of the business.
INGRID: Hmm, and you are talking classics, aren’t you?
ANNA LOUISE: Yes classics, staples and I am more on the minimalist side of things. Choosing classic pieces that will still be able to be worn in 3 months and not go out of date so quickly. I really want to be able to provide women with quality clothing they can wear season after season.
INGRID: And that’s those classic colours, classic lines, kind of thing.
ANNA LOUISE: Yes.
INGRID: So let’s talk about customers, how do you find them, how do you know where they are and who they are?
ANNA LOUISE: My customers seem to find me, I’ve been quite lucky. They are usually people I know, or referred to me by people I know which are the best type of customers to have. I love it. I get to talk to them, I get to provide a really personalised service. Cold marketing, although, provides many leads, it really hasn’t provided many conversions, for my particular business model. Hmmmm, it’s been a learning curve, definitely with testing different methods of communication. Honestly, it’s an ongoing conversation between the business and my customer. I think the most important thing is keeping that line of communication open with my customer. Because they tell their friends, and then they tell their friends. I think that’s the best kind of customer to get and retain.
INGRID: And that word of mouth just develops trust so quickly, doesn’t it? Any time we are given word of mouth referrals we immediately are trusting that the provider whether its someone making clothing or a florist, or a dentist, trust goes up enormously when we have that word of mouth referral.
ANNA LOUISE: Yes, it does.
INGRID: So, let’s talk about the prices. Again, you don’t have to talk about how much you charge, but how do you decide on your pricing strategy for something as bespoke as this? How do you go about figuring that out?
ANNA LOUISE: Well that’s a good question and it has been hard. The pricing of all my products are roughly industry standard for mark-up and return on investment. But I did have to change that to include Australia Wide shipping. Online purchasing and shipping is a big sticking point with people, so I’ve had to absorb the free shipping on my products. I do try to keep the prices as low as possible to keep my products accessible for the busy working women that are trying to make ends meet week in and week out. That’s my customer and I know that what their able to spend and what they do spend on their clothing, so I try and actually cater for that price structure from the outset of design and products that I use.
INGRID: Oh terrific. I know you are only still getting started but do you have an exit strategy?
ANNA LOUISE: Hmm, yes, originally when I got started I wanted this to be a legacy business, and I knew it was a 20-year plan. A business coach that I have almost fell over backwards and said ‘I don’t think I’ve ever had someone come to me with a 20-year business plan!’ Although I would have loved to have a daughter to hand it down to, but I think I’ll continue to work until I find a person who has the same love and passion as I have, to take it over. But ultimately, I’d love this to change the way people shop for clothing. Its whether or not I succeed at that task – that’s the overarching plan, and it’s bigger than just selling clothing.
INGRID: Yes, it’s changing the way that people approach the purchase of clothing and what they think about what they wear.
ANNA LOUISE: And also, the life of that piece of clothing – quality and longevity of fashion from a sustainable point of view, from producing garments not fast-fashion, but that stand the test of time and what happens to it after.
INGRID: Yes, indeed. What does happen to it afterwards? I remember hearing some time ago about a whole range of tee-shirts, made of cotton, but they can’t go into landfill cause the thread was such a nylon or polyester thread that it would have been destructive to the environment. So how do we make an entire garment that doesn’t have such an impact on the earth as we make it, source the fabric, source the buttons, and the other parts. Where does all that come from?
ANNA LOUISE: That is where I source all natural products so I use cotton, cashmere, tensile and other blends of fabric that are natural fibres so they will break down eventually and won’t be so toxic to the environment. The dying process that I use…. I speak to my fabric suppliers and try to go for vegetable die, but personally I am allergic to soy, so trying to get fabric that isn’t died with soy is difficult, so I look for other vegetable dies. And yes, so I am always on the lookout for sustainable products and technologies that really are environmentally conscious.
INGRID: Terrific. It’s so much more complex then it appears when you go and just buy a dress or blouse off the rack.
ANNA LOUISE: I don’t know if it’s always this complex, but this is my business and my baby and I really want….my previous background on environmental photography has really led that whole perspective that I do want this business to have an environmental conscience.
INGRID: And it sounds like it definitely does. So, if we go back those 2 years, 4 years wherever you want to go, is there anything you’d wish you’d done differently at the beginning?
ANNA LOUISE: Yes! And I think there are a lot of businesses that would say yes. Maybe to do a much smaller Minimum Viable Product. As it is, my sizing system is 45 garments, 45 pieces. And that is very difficult. The good thing is that obviously I have a lot longer to sell those particular garments. But also I’ve learned doing everything myself at first, and maybe not to trust other people quite so much. I got a bit burnt in 2013 which cost me a lot, but I’ve now put that down to a learning experience and I’ve become very hands on in every facet of the business to make sure everything is running how I envisaged it.
INGRID: Yes, that’s terrific. Those costly learning experiences can really knock us sideways, can’t they?
ANNA LOUISE: Yes, and your clients would know. And that whole finances thing is a very important part of the success of the business and that’s very important to make sure that you can do as much of every facet of the business yourself at first.
INGRID: Yeah and that way you know what’s going on. This is a slightly different question – but do you wish you’d known from the start? If someone could have said to you ‘here’s a piece of information, so what would that be?’
ANNA LOUISE: Ok for anyone listening – a lot more cash up front. (both laugh). I think I wish I’d known how much it really takes to produce an innovative product and how much research and development costs. Getting various fabrics, different prototypes, I mean I went through 70 prototypes just to get one that worked, and that was an irony in itself. And also to have enough cash to keep myself comfortable during that process. There is nothing worse than being immersed in your business and not having the funds to say, ok the bills are sorted, just focus on it.
And in my particular case, slow fashion is an expensive business model so if you are thinking about it, don’t do it too quickly. Really do your numbers and not sink too much money into Adwords or Facebook advertising before doing a lot of research. I think that was one of the things I thought would help gain traction that didn’t – it kind of fell, and I am talking over a course of quite a while, it really didn’t, and I sunk a lot of cash into that side of the business into the marketing but without having too much knowledge of all of that. So maybe bringing someone on board when you want to start and doing a lot more or less, and also obviously, having a lot more cash up front. It never hurts.
INGRID: It never hurts, does it? So who apart from yourself, has been of the greatest assistance to you? Again, you don’t have to mention names, you can just mention personas. But who has been the greatest help to you and your business?
ANNA LOUISE: I haven’t had anyone really, being involved in the business, I have had a couple of sideline supporters in friends, but it’s really been a self-driven enterprise. If I didn’t whole-heartedly believe in the USP and the business ethos, I probably wouldn’t be doing it. I really think of a business owner you have to love what you do to really make it a success. It’s that love and passion that gets you through those low points, but definitely make sure you have supporters on the side to share the highs too. So, in that sense I really haven’t had anyone, and last year I was very isolated in southern NSW, and I sort of really put my head down and tried to nut the business out by myself.
INGRID: So, you were physically isolated and not around people who could help you. It’s an interesting model to go completely on your own, but that notion of self-motivation is so important because even if you have great people around you, you are still the one who has to get up every day and do something, aren’t you?
ANNA LOUISE: Exactly and no one is going to motivate you unless you are motivated yourself. It is not easy, and there are days where I thought I don’t want to get out of bed and this is just all too hard. And I’ve, one of the good things was, that I did set aside a separate work space to make sure that was my office and that is where I go to work, and I pushed myself every day and I still push myself every day. I think every business owner has to keep pushing themselves to grow and succeed on a daily basis.
INGRID: Hmmmm, that’s so important isn’t it? To keep going when you’d rather stay under the doona or have coffee with a friend.
ANNA LOUISE: Even when sales are going well you can’t rest on your laurels. Well ok how do I make things better or bigger or different, how can I help my customers even more.
INGRID: Well success doesn’t stay that way unless you are continuously growing innovating and changing.
ANNA LOUISE: Yes.
INGRID: Well my next question is about getting useful feedback and you’ve already mentioned customers and listening to them, you’ve indicated they are good for feedback and you’ve said that there isn’t really other people of good assistance, so how do you get feedback about what is happening? How do you know what is going on?
ANNA LOUISE: Gosh, as I said my customers are my useful feedback. I talk to them frequently about the designs, fabric, finishes, what they want and need to get by. Aside from my customers it’s a really good question. I am a bit stuck.
INGRID: That’s ok. Customers are a great place to get feedback.
ANNA LOUISE: Yes well I guess I also get feedback from other business owners. I do go to quite a few events and we get talking about different things, and you know there is definitely value in talking to other business owners and being part of a wider community which, you know, is exactly what this podcast is, having that loop into getting feedback is also really important. Putting yourself out there and asking for it, and listening to it.
INGRID: And being able to really listen to what people say. So knowing there might be other people listening to this podcast who might be interested in this type of business, or in the early planning stages, what would be the one thing that you would tell them, recommend, or suggest? And you’ve alluded to some of it already. You’ve talked about cash so that’s one thing.
ANNA LOUISE: Gosh Ingrid, the100% contingency fund would be the priority. But often that isn’t realistic for most business owners, but definitely my recommendation would be the ability to plan and execute the product or service on your own before outsourcing.
INGRID: Hmmm yes.
ANNA LOUISE: And it doesn’t really matter what that product or service is, so long as you know enough about that product or service and you need to understand all the moving parts so that you can direct people afterwards, but at the same time doing it yourself helps to keep your costs down while you build your client base. Also get your marketing in place before launch. Create an event, do lots of pre-startup activities. You can never do enough. And that is something I would have loved to have done a lot more of, looking back, and definitely something I’ll be doing a lot more of in the future.
INGRID: Hmmm, and I think the beautiful example of that is Apple, and Cinemas, you know, we see trailers for movies long before they come out. Apple tells us about products long before they come out, they tease us for what is coming. That is very astute to mention that – often people keep their idea under a bushel and then they “ta dahhh” launch but in fact sharing and creating an expectation is so much more powerful.
INGRID: Now you Anna Louise, you have alluded again to some of the answers to this. What are the 3 characteristics that you think makes you successful in your business? I am already thinking of some of them for you, but I want to hear your answers.
ANNA LOUISE: Obviously determination, every business owner has to be determined. Genuine love for what you are doing. The ability to multi-task, but more than anything else, the priority is the ability to deliver.
ANNA LOUISE: I think there are plenty of people out there with ideas, and they may be listening right now, but they fail to execute the ideas. I think you really have to have that vision, and have it so clear that you can execute it and not just execute it, but execute it well. And be quality and deliver something that exceeds the expectations of your customers. That huge characteristic that really distinguishes people who say they have an idea, to those who say ‘hey I have a business and this is what I do’.
ANNA LOUISE: The ability to execute I think is the biggest characteristic, and after that multitask, and love what you are doing. Be determined to make it happen and all of those become the recipe for success.
INGRID: Oh my goodness, and this is why so few businesses become truly successful, and with all of these characteristics it takes a lot to be that person, doesn’t it?
ANNA LOUISE: I mean it’s hard. There are tears, laughter, the whole ‘Sons and Daughters’ going on. For those who don’t know what that is, google it. But it is a process and there is no one set formula but there are definitely characteristics that are inherent in most business owners because that is what it takes to succeed.
INGRID: And that is my final question, the characteristics of a budding start up? How would you summarise those for everybody listening?
ANNA LOUISE: Hmm, characteristics for a budding start-up. Someone listening and thinking about it, what do they need in themselves to go from a budding thinking about it, to actually doing something?
I think they need to be forever clear, as far as a start-up goes, I think it needs to be an innovative solution for a problem if it’s a product, or if it’s a service, that your service provides an exceptional expertise or value compared to your competitors. Or maybe the best question listeners can ask themselves, is your USP, or your reason for starting a business, strong enough to weather the start-up storm?
INGRID: Yeah, you are right, because it is a storm, isn’t it?
ANNA LOUISE: Well if it’s a boat you set the boat up, you put it in the water, and you put the sails up but there is always going to be bad weather ahead. It’s just whether or not you can hold on or get to the other side. It’s not always smooth sailing. If you have that realistic perspective and you completely believe in what you are doing and its servicing a genuine need and want in the market, then you will succeed. And to everyone who is considering, I do wish you all the luck. I love these podcasts Ingrid and I think it’s wonderful to foster the start-ups and if you have that USP you have that determination, you will!
INGRID: Well that’s a lovely note to finish on Anna Louise, it’s been delightful listening to you. Can’t wait to see All Myn clothing everywhere.
ANNA LOUISE: Wonderful, thank you so much Ingrid and I really appreciate it.
I’m Ingrid Thompson and I’m a Trainer and Business Coach and the Founder of Healthy Numbers; creator of online training program “So You Want to Start a Pilates Business”, Host of the popular podcast “So You Want to Start a Business” and author of much anticipated and soon to be published book “So You Want to Start a Business”.
If you are thinking about starting your own business you may be interested to take our Business StartUp Readiness Quiz, click here to take the quiz.
“So You Want to Start a Pilates Business” is an online program especially for Pilates Instructors who are keen to create their own studio. While it says Pilates in the title this program covers Business and Marketing Basics for anyone starting a business in any of the health and wellness professions: Yoga Studio, Dance School and all businesses related to Acupuncture, Nutrition, Physiotherapy, Podiatry, Chiropractic, Osteopath, Kinesiology and other similar modalities…..
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