On Launching An Apparel Brand With A Positive Message

Gregg Frost
Founder, Be Kind Apparel
$450
revenue/mo
2
Founders
1
Employees
Be Kind Apparel
from Cork, Ireland
started June 2022
$450
revenue/mo
2
Founders
1
Employees
11M
alexa rank
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On Launching An Apparel Brand With A Positive Message

Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?

Hi guys, my name is Gregg and I’m an amateur artist. My brother Eric works in mental health supporting individuals to source employment and his wife Aga works for Deloitte as part of their audit administrative team.

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All 3 of us are university graduates and we had a desire to start a business that left some lasting good in people's lives. That’s why we started Be Kind Apparel, an Irish Ethical and Sustainable leisurewear brand that’s all about spreading kindness and highlighting the power of kindness and its impact on our collective mental health.

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We sell Tee shirts, hoodies, and sweatshirts in a variety of colors and sizes and 5% of all our profits go to local charities. Thus far we've only been in business for around 10 weeks. When we launched we found that our friends and family were our biggest customers, but thankfully this is starting to change, albeit very slowly. In general, our customers tend to be people who share the same values as us. They care about the environment and sustainability.

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They believe in our message of being kind to one another and leaving no one out. But they also know a quality product when they see one and are drawn to the fact that recycled materials are used in the manufacturing of our clothing. Finally, all of our clothing comes with the official Be Kind logo and our hoods and sweatshirts also carry that message on the sleeves. As it stands we’re making a profit of 450 euros per month.

What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?

At the time, Eric and I were still living at home. We were watching the news in the middle of a covid lockdown and as horrible as it was that people were getting seriously ill, there was also something nice happening. As a direct consequence of Covid people were being kind to one another and looking out for those who were most vulnerable in our communities. We saw people delivering groceries to the elderly, calling into their neighbors just to make sure they were okay and not too lonely. People were doing all sorts of things and it was beautiful to see.

That night Eric and I spoke about what we had seen on the news, and the difference it makes when we all look out for one another. We thought it would be cool to have a clothing brand that reminded us to be kind to one another long after the pandemic had passed. We thought the brand could serve as a symbol to others that kindness exists all around us.

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Even without Covid we all have difficult lives, we also suffer from loss and have doubts, we all have regrets and I've never met anyone who didn't suffer in some way with their mental health. Be Kind apparel could be for everyone and anyone. Our basic thought was simple things, we’re not trying to change the world or start a movement. We just thought you were late for work one morning and the boss doesn't give it out to you. You're at a junction and someone lets you out. You're in a supermarket buying 3 or 4 items and the person ahead lets you through.

These are simple, basic acts of kindness and they cost us nothing, but to the person on the receiving end, it can mean so much. It's the difference between having a good day and feeling positive about yourself. As opposed to feeling frustrated and bad about yourself, which consequently can have a negative impact on your mental health.

It takes a ton of hard work and unlike a normal job where you’re employed by someone, just because you spend hours working it doesn’t mean that that hard work will translate into money in your pocket.

Simply put, we were inspired by the kindness that had emerged in the most difficult of circumstances (Covid) and believed this should be highlighted and encouraged long after the pandemic had passed. Collectively we always had an interest in fashion and thought a clothing brand would be a great way to raise awareness. We were also inspired by other Irish brands that had championed sustainable leisurewear in recent years and felt that a clothing brand would be the greatest way to spread our message

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Over the years a few business ideas were thrown around but obviously, none of them ever stuck. Our dad and Eric enjoyed playing golf, so at one point we talked about buying some golfing simulators and charging people to use them. That idea largely fell apart due to the upfront costs which were in excess of €50,000. Our only other idea was to get a van and sell all sorts of baked goods out of it. But that also fell apart because of costs.

Since our launch, Eric and Aga are working part-time at Be Kind Apparel along with working full-time at their own jobs. I then am working full-time at Be Kind and doing my art part-time.

Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

Our business is a small business and to be honest, we’re really still in the startup phase. We sell 3 products in 4 different sizes and 3 different colors. The only thing that’s printed on our tops is our logo, so we knew our logo had to be a really good design. I felt like it needed to be tasteful and transparent so that people could understand it. But we also wanted it to send a message, or better yet, spread our message of kindness.

This particular phase took us a long time, roughly 6 weeks of trying different designs. It’s funny, sometimes I look back on the first design we came up with. We were all so excited and thought it looked great, but gradually we moved on, trying different things and in the end, our final design was completely different. The meaning of the design was still there but it looked far more professional and polished, and it needed to be. This would turn out to be one of the lessons we learned along the way.

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After we settled on the logo, it was time to source a wholesaler and someone who could print our logo onto the clothing. Eric, Aga, and I all live in Cork and we already knew of a couple of small local businesses who were selling apparel under their own names. Now, the clothing these guys were selling was of a very high standard and recycled materials were being used in the production of the clothing so one day we happened to check the label on one of these tops and it said, Stella. A quick google search resulted in a phone number for a company in Belgium and an international phone call followed that.

As it happened, there was a small tee shirt printing shop down the road from us and they were in partnership with the wholesaler in Belgium. This meant we would call our local shop to put in an order for the clothing and when it came in, they would then print our logo on the clothing before we would pick it up and sell it to our customers

One of the biggest things that drew us to Stella was their stance on the environment and sustainability. We live in an age where the environment and taking care of the planet have become very important issues, so one of our aims was to try and be as sustainable and eco-friendly as we could possibly be. That's why we use recyclable materials as much as we can.

Part of our clothing is made from recycled materials and all of our packaging is done with sustainability in mind. If we have a choice between using something that's eco-friendly and not we tend to go with the eco-friendly cause it's better for the planet and it's what our customers want.

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So far between the 3 of us, we've invested 3,600 euros. It cost us 40 euros to register as a business in Ireland. We designed our website ourselves on Wix and that's costing us 300 euros per year. Our domain www.bekindapparel.ie cost us 40 euros per year. We spent about 3,000 euros on our stock.

Describe the process of launching the business.

To be honest we were very naive when it came to launching the business. Somehow we were under the impression that if we posted on Facebook and Instagram that people would come on our social platforms, click on the link to our website and buy. We actually thought it would be relatively simple. Looking back on it now I can’t believe we thought that, we were so delusional.

On the day we launched we had 7 people on our site, all 7 bought something but all 7 were family and friends. It would be another 3 weeks before we sold anything and that again was to a family member.

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When it came to creating a website it was a straight shootout between Shopify and Wix, both had positives and negatives but in the end, we chose Wix because I had previously used Wix to design another website, so I was already familiar with that particular system.

At the beginning of this process, we had a few ideas as to how we wanted the website to look. We knew we wanted it to look very clean and creative. Our first idea was to make it look like the inside of a warehouse with red bricks and our logo in the background. To do this I ended up photoshopping the inside of a warehouse and then superimposing our products on railings into the picture.

To be honest, I really liked this look, but I think a large part of why I liked it was because I designed it and it took about 4 weeks to make it perfect. This was the face of our website for the first 5 weeks of business but then we decided to make a change. We went from the warehouse look to featuring Eric and Aga wearing our clothing as our main picture with our slogan ‘kindness never looked so good in neon writing.

We stayed with this look for about 3 weeks before changing it again. The reason we changed it this time was that we wanted our pictures to express a certain lifestyle. We wanted to highlight the vastness of space and the beauty that exists in the natural world all around us. It was because of this that most of our photos were taken with a wide lens.

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Thankfully all 3 of us had savings set aside so we all decided to throw in €1,200 each as our starting fund. In hindsight, maybe we should have gone onto crowdfunding, just even to get a feel for how many people out there believed in what we were planning on selling cause one of our biggest learnings so far has got to be, that it’s no good advertising your products to people who aren’t interested in buying from you.

The fact is everybody has different tastes and thus far we’ve gotten our products in front of a lot of people but haven’t gotten many sales from them. In the future, we need to do a better job at finding our demographic and advertising to them as opposed to advertising to everyone.

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Other than that we’ve learned obvious things. It takes a lot of hard work and not everything you try will work. I think you need to be quite passionate about what you’re trying to do otherwise you’ll definitely lose that drive. One of the things I’ve learned about myself during this process is that I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was. When you’re pursuing something you’re passionate about you’ll find yourself stepping out of your comfort zone because ultimately you want to be successful at what you’re doing.

Lastly, if you do decide to go into business try to surround yourself with people whose opinions you value and whom you trust.

Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?

I must stress that we are still very much in the startup phase of our business. As things stand the only repeat customers that we’ve had have been family and friends but slowly we’re finding more people whose names we don’t recognize buying our products.

The main way we’ve marketed our products so far has been through posting on Facebook and Instagram. We’re constantly writing to online publications and newspapers, newsletters, etc to try to get our name out there but it’s early days yet. Obviously, things like Facebook ads, google analytics, and other forms of advertising are out there, but for now, we’re trying to spend the least amount of money as possible and see if there really is a demand for what we’re selling.

To be honest it feels a bit like a catch-22 situation. But I do think it’s inevitable that we’ll be spending money on advertising sooner rather than later

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Something we insisted on having when we were planning out our business was the ‘Thank you card’. We felt like it added a layer of decency or class to what we were trying to do. Also, the fact that our name is ‘Be Kind Apparel’, we felt it was only right and a nice way to thank our customers.

As things stand we haven’t used Amazon to sell anything. We’d probably have a bit of trepidation in relation to going down that particular road. It could even be a turn-off for the customers that we’ve had thus far, the idea of working alongside such a conglomerate. For instance, sustainability is one of our core values and a lot of people would say that’s not particularly important to Amazon.

Of course, we also believe strongly in the ethical behavior of companies and the rights of workers, and Amazon along with many other companies are constantly trying to find machines to do the work of a person in order to save money.

With all that being said, one could argue that if we opened a storefront on Amazon we could potentially see more traffic on our website which could result in more sales. This feels like a topic that definitely warrants a bit more investigation.

Since we’ve opened, the events that lead to us seeing our highest traffic numbers, have been when one of our interviews was published. The problem with this is there’s no guarantee the right people are going to read the article. But also because there are only so many publications out there who will effectively give you free advertisement. However, the good thing with this option is that it works, whenever we’ve gotten something published we’ve made at least 4 sales.

How are you doing today and what does the future look like?

At the moment we’re just about breaking even, but we feel this is more down to the fact that we haven’t managed to drive enough traffic onto our site as opposed to people not having an interest in our products.

On average per month, we’re finding that we’re getting 1,700 people visiting our website. Of those 1,700 just under a third or 550 are turning into page sessions. Of those 550, only 35 people are adding items to their carts. Then, for some reason unknown to us, roughly 13 people per month are leaving the page without checking out, meaning 22 are reaching the checkout. But here again, between 3 or 4 more people are leaving the site without following through on their purchase and only 18 sessions are converting into purchases. It goes without saying that in the coming months we need to do a much better job in increasing our conversion rate.

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When it comes to making sales we’re completely reliant on our website, any and all business that we do comes from our e-commerce platform on Wix. Any of the online directories that we have been linked to the website as well as all our social media platforms. This means that while you can see our apparel being advertised on Facebook, once you click on a top if you want to purchase the item you have to click on a button that says ‘view on website’. As we’re currently set up, a person cannot make a purchase on Facebook, they have to click on a link to go onto the website if they want to buy from us.

If in a year or two we’re doing a lot of business then I think we’d definitely want to look into the idea of doing sales face to face. That may not necessarily mean a brick-and-mortar approach but it would definitely be something we would look into. I’d say this would probably be one of our long-term goals. At least that and trying to become even more sustainable and eco-friendly.

However, in the immediate future, there’s still quite a lot we have to learn about in relation to being an e-commerce platform. For example, finding a way to drive a steady flow of customers onto our site. So far we’ve been lucky in that we’ve had a number of articles/ feature pieces written up on us and that has meant that at times, we’ve had thousands of people on our site. But it’s been peaks and troughs so far and we can’t be relying on a publication to write up a piece on us every month. We need to find another way, something more steady to drive people onto our site and ultimately make purchases.

One small thing that we’ve introduced recently has been to subscribe to people who do come onto the website. So every time someone comes onto our website they have the choice to either close the pop-up and continue looking at our website or to subscribe to us, and if they do the latter we’ll send them a promo code which will give them 5% off their first purchase.

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Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?

I think the biggest thing all 3 of us have learned is that it takes a ton of hard work and unlike a normal job where you’re employed by someone, just because you spend hours working it doesn’t mean that that hard work will translate into money in your pocket. That being said, it’s incredibly enjoyable when things start to happen when you make that first sale or see visitors coming to your website. Those moments are really exciting. Another thing I’d tell people is that you need to explore every potential partnership and opportunity and if you can, lean on those who've run a successful business before.

At Be Kind Apparel we’re currently talking to another business, a coffee shop that shares our values. Like us, they’re just starting out but, if we could partner with them it would add a layer of legitimacy to us as a business. Of course, it would also show other business owners that we are a business who are open to working with other businesses. Doing things like this is a great opportunity to learn about yourself, the business, and your business partners.

When it comes to abilities and skills I think we all have different strengths. As part of Eric’s job, he has to approach employers and basically try to get his clients employed once he builds a relationship with the employer. He’s essentially cold-calling businesses but in person. By doing this he has learned some great skills, he knows how to talk to employers and knows what they like to hear. In general, Eric’s role with being kind apparel is more being the face of it. If there’s an interview to give, Eric gives it and he also tends to be the one to get in contact with our suppliers or potential publications.

Aga tends to control the bulk of our social media platforms. The majority of posts that make their way online tend to be created by her. She’s also the main person who packs the product once an order comes in and she also takes care of some of the administrative tasks.

Given my artistic background, my strengths tend to be in relation to the creative side of things. Now, it’s important that I stress that all 3 of us have an input in everything we do. For instance, I largely designed the website, but both Aga and Eric had a huge input into the design and still do. Whenever someone buys from us they get a ‘thank you’ card, I largely designed the card but Eric and Aga again had a huge amount of influence in relation to its design. Basically, while we all have our areas of expertise we all cross over into each other’s areas too. This I think is actually one of our greatest strengths because, when one person works on one section they can get a little tunnel-visioned in relation to what they’re doing, that doesn’t happen with us, instead, we find that someone will come up with an idea, which will then spark a better idea. By working this way we’re constantly coming up with new, fresh ideas

What platform/tools do you use for your business?

When it comes to social media we use YouTube, Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook. We largely use Instagram and Facebook to make announcements to our followers. We use Tiktok and YouTube to make and release our video clips/ advertisements and you can connect with our website through all of our social media platforms

We also use online directories such as goldenpages.ie, shoplocal.ie and finally getlocal.ie to advertise our products too. One of the main reasons we use Wix is for their order processing, email marketing, email automation (empty cart alerts, someone getting an email when they subscribe to the website), and inventory management.

Whenever a customer orders from us we use Fastway deliveries to deliver our packages locally and nationally. We are currently in the market to team up with another delivery service so that we can expand our reach beyond Ireland. So hopefully by the time this comes out, we’ll have achieved that.

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What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?

This is probably going to sound terrible but to be honest we haven’t really read any influential books in relation to starting our own business. However, a few years ago I listened to Ben Francis being interviewed on the ‘High Performance’ podcast and I was blown away by how impressive this young man was. Personally, I definitely took a lot of inspiration from that podcast.

Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?

The first piece of advice I’d give is, that if you’re offering a service or a product, you really need to believe in it. You need to be your biggest cheerleader because there are going to be times when you feel like a huge failure and you’re going to doubt yourself. It’s in those times that you have to pick yourself up and find a way to move forward again.

Even when you suffer what feels like your biggest failure there will be positives to take. Everything you do in your business is an opportunity to learn and get better. If you’re looking for perfection you’re doomed to fail, things are going to go wrong, and that is inevitable. The difference between winning and losing is that winners learn from their mistakes and losers do not so try not to freak out and lose your cool when things go wrong. Instead, learn and fix the problem for the future.

Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?

At the moment, we’re still too small a business to be looking to hire anyone but if things go according to plan we would definitely like to hire for certain positions in the future. As I’ve already stated, my brother Eric works with people who suffer from mental health and they can sometimes find it difficult to get back into work. These are the type of people we would love to be hiring in the future.

Where can we go to learn more?

As I stated earlier, we have platforms on Instagram, Facebook, Tiktok, and YouTube. We also have our website where people can subscribe to our site and get a promo code which is worth 5% off your next purchase. Below are all the details for contacting Be Kind Apparel:

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Gregg Frost, Founder of Be Kind Apparel
Pat Walls,  Founder of Starter Story
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