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Starting up an independent clothing label: THE GOOD AND BAD

 

Let me start by apologising for how long it has taken me to find the time to write this piece and for how long of a read it’s going to be- but it will be worth it, I promise.
“Living the dream!”
This is something I’ve heard many times and to an extent it is very true: trying to build up a living from doing something I love. But there are many challenging elements I didn’t expect to encounter along the way and the purpose of this blog is to reflect and share them with you, along with some of the great. I can’t speak on behalf of every small clothing brand nor for everyone running their own business; but I hope anyone reading will be able to relate or understand in some way or another.
“ Thank you , thank you, thank you for this glorious item! You have no idea how many compliments wearing this at Boomtown, for the first time in my life! Recommending you to all my friends! “
Through Bellisa X I’ve met so many amazing people that I would otherwise not met. From working with like-minded creatives and of course, customers. I cannot express how much your support and words of kindness means to me- it never goes unnoticed, whether it’s over social media, email or in person…
 When we spend so long working together on custom orders to make sure they perfectly match your style so that I can then bring them to life, I think it’s so important to see where the product ends up- and likewise for you to know who has made your clothes. Even with website orders where I don’t personally chat to you, If I spy you out// get tagged in your pics then it’s nice to be able to put a face to a name. I couldn’t imagine working all day everyday and not being able to see people out enjoying themselves in Bellisa. Which is why this summer has been so overwhelming as I’ve seen, met and spoken to so many of you at music events we have in common… It takes away the separation of ‘us’ and ‘them’ that you find with online high-street shopping and turns each garment into a personal experience. (That’s the magic of buying from an independent in-house manufacturing clothing brand!)
So you’re probably thinking, yeah I was right , she is living the dream why do I need to continue reading?  But haven’t you also been taught to always start with the positives before you move onto the negatives?
TIME
It’s time to address the root cause of most of the challenges I face: TIME. Even with my alarms getting earlier and nights getting longer, there’s still not enough of it. Even if I worked 24/7 and had no sleep like a manufacturing robot, I still wouldn’t get done as much as I wanted. Managing time efficiently is incredibly difficult but I am learning to prioritise what’s most important. Every week I’m juggling managing and making orders, stock, brand development, creativity, photoshoots, marketing, social media, networking, communicating with customers, organizing, sourcing, researching, financing, blogging (hence why this one took so long!!) the list is endless... And at the end of it all, this leaves very little time for myself and others not business related. Moreover, since I work from home I constantly finding my work and personal life blurring into one, it’s a lifestyle and impossible to switch off from. For example: even on the rare occasion that I’m sat with my family watching TV at night I find myself sat on my phone replying to all your DM’s because I haven’t had time to earlier in the day. I’m either locked to a sewing machine, phone screen or daydreaming away. Because I’m always trying to juggle multiple things at once (so that I have enough time) I worry that I’m never really experiencing the present properly as I’m not focusing on who and what’s happening right in front of me. It’s a daunting thought. Sometimes I have to take myself completely away from the studio in order to try and switch off. ( Can’t be all work and no play and why I love holidays!)
I’m also aware that I play a victim to myself. I’ve developed such a love hate relationship with setting such unrealistic goals that I struggle to achieve and as a result puts an extreme amount of pressure on me. One way I try to overcome this links back to the positives of doing what I do.. taking a step back and living in the present when I’m out (such as Balter festival in June) where I can see all our (and other people I’ve worked with) hard-work come to life. It takes moments like this to realise perhaps for a novice, I’m doing just fine.
STRESS
Time, pressure and stress. The devil trio that run around in circles together. A loop that’s very hard to break. Stress is something that you don’t ever anticipate affecting your life, in a way that it can do. I know that my job is very un-stressful compared to most but how a person reacts and learns to deal with it, is what makes the difference.. and I struggle. For me it builds up over a long period of time of self-pressure , bubbling away until I hit boiling point ( usually due to extreme tiredness), or something weird happens. By weird I mean a ‘I don’t understand what’s happening to me’ moment. Such as earlier this year after a non-stop workload since the launch I took a 2 week period out to travel down to Portugal to go to Frequency Festival. (In the build up to this trip I was working loads, whilst trying to create a new collection, make loads of stock all with the added pressure of what on earth is gunna happen to Bellisa when I leave the UK for this long.) So with and behold, on the Saturday of the festival I found myself non-stop crying the WHOLE day. And I wasn’t crying out of sadness, it was out of relief. Relief that I was having a break; a weight was lifted from my shoulders. It was like everything had hit me at once, and it takes a time of happiness to realise that I had been forgetting about myself these past few months. I remember that day so clearly, I woke up crying, did my makeup crying, crying because I didn’t know why I was crying, crying because I couldn’t stop myself and getting annoyed at myself for being stupid. As the day went on, I couldn’t talk to anyone without fighting back the tears and even dancing in front of the rig that didn’t work. I thought I was turning into an actual weirdo. In the end, I ended up putting myself to bed to sleep through it. I woke up feeling like a new person: fresh and ready to start again! From this episode I’ve learnt to take regular breaks away from the studio and try and prepare much more in advance for when I have deadlines and time away- so that I can go away without this happening again. However this story was very different from last summer…
Apart from crying and tiredness, stress has come to haunt me in many strange ways… it’s time for story number 2. This one isn’t so light-hearted. Last summer Bellisa had just started up on Instagram/Depop and was steadily growing by taking orders through personal messages. However, at this point I hadn’t even established that there needed to be a balance between work and social life with spare time inbetween and I’d unknowingly set myself up to fall. And fall hard, I did. What had planned to be the perfect summer with a festival, event or holiday EVERY single week from start to finish ended up a hospital clinic being examined for MS. Turns out it wasn’t MS, it was stress. Let me explain. With so much happening every week, I’d come home and work solidly to catch up on orders till silly o’clock every night with absolutely no rest inbetween. I remember coming back home from Elements festival on the Monday evening to wake up 6am Tuesday and work until 1am to complete a stage outfit needed for Glastonbury Festival the day after, to then at 1am drive to Bristol drop the outfit off, drive home at 6am sleep for 4 hours to wake up take my unpacked bag from previous festival and head straight off to Glastonbury for 6 days. This cycle was pretty much on repeat for the whole of summer and I wore myself down to the point where I couldn’t even enjoy things anymore. The physical effect this had on my body was ridiculous: headaches, extreme fatigue, Feeling nauseous, back ache, constant pins and needles in my hands, arms, legs and feet, numbness, weak grip with my hands, severe hot flushes, dizziness,  loss of appetite, sleepless nights, episodes where my legs would give way and  I physically felt like I couldn’t walk. Mentally I found myself constantly worrying, I’d panic whenever I tried to leave the studio to have a break but then also worry my friends/family would be annoyed that I wasn’t spending enough time with them when really all I wanted to do was sleep. I was at such a battle with my mind that on one occasion got so bad that I was driving to meet friends and freaked out and started to drive back home and then freaked out again turned around to go back out…and so on. Then one day I became bed-bound and It honestly felt like my body and mind was giving up on me, I remember I couldn’t even get up. This was the point where we thought my body was developing lots of MS- like early symptoms which was why I ended up at the clinic. Thankfully, the DR. dismissed my fears of MS but this left a huge elephant in the room. What on earth was wrong with me? And if you’re ever in doubt, you should probably consider stress.  After summer I went back to UNI where I kinda calmed down a little (if you’ve read my previous blog that will fill in the blanks from there to now!!)
The point from these stories I’ve shared with you is that as running a small business you are always learning more and more about your strengths and weaknesses through your own challenges that you face and more importantly, how to deal with them. I’ve always been someone who will take the best from a bad situation- and that it itself is such a positive because you find yourself doing every day when something doesn’t go quite to plan: you must think on your feet to resolve it and move forward. I’m happy to say that with even up to 10 X more orders a month this summer, that I haven’t experienced that again. This is because I’m improving balancing my time, setting more realistic deadlines and as soon as I get a tingle in my little finger or a headache, I’ve learnt to leave the studio and have a short break until I’m re-focused.
ISOLATION
Now I really don’t want to make out that running your own clothing label is absolutely awful, because it’s not, its incredibly rewarding and I love what I do. But it’s important to help you understand that when you think the ‘grass is greener on the other side’ and they’re ‘ living the dream’ that everyone has had a journey to get where they are now – and I’m not just talking about entrepreneurs, this apply to everyone. And so as life seems to pattern in groups of 3, from TIME and STRESS develops the lowest of lows.. ISOLATION.
Surrounded by clothes all day- what more could a gal want? Working up to 12 hours a day alone in a studio, especially when your stressed and tired , and only a head full of thoughts for company it’s easy to find yourself feeling very isolated.. and becoming good friends with the post officers. I’ve always found that I can only properly focus in a creative environment when I’m locked in ‘my zone’ but this really does take it to the next level of silence. Of course music helps, but the loneliness remains. Don’t get me wrong I like working alone most of the time but when the stress is getting high and time is running low, it starts to effect personal life outside of the studio. It’s meant that after a busy week, where I haven’t been able to leave the studio and then eventually do I’ve found it very overwhelming to adjust being surrounded by people in a busy environment. In the past I’ve left social situations because the sudden change can get too much. Luckily this doesn’t happen a lot. I always know the feeling of loneliness will pass, so tend to power through to deal with it. However, when you throw SELF DISCIPLINE into the mix it starts to rock the boat a little more.
When working self-employed there is no-one telling you to work; fundamentally I’m working for my customers but managing the hours myself. Picking your own hours is great and creates a lot more freedom but at the same time it can work the opposite. When you’re so busy a compromising battle will arise:
Do I work solidly to calm the stress but neglect my personal life? Or vice versa?
Either way you can be left feeling guilty of failure to both paths and yourself. This goes back to the beginning, where I feel that I always need to work as there’s not enough time but in effect I’m also choosing to isolate myself because at the end of the day – I am the one telling myself I can’t go out. It’s a really hard concept to explain, process and balance and something I struggle most with. However, it’s made me realise how vital it is to have such close people by your side, who respect that this is your lifestyle, job and passion so that when your busy they understand why you may lock yourself away but also recognise when your very close to breaking, and will pull you away for a break you didn’t know you needed. Because I tell you, unless someone drags me from that studio then I won’t leave. Unless I’m tired, because I can’t function then.
So with all 3 out to play in full force: TIME. STRESS AND ISLOATION. It’s at this point you may be wondering how do I still find the motivation to get out of bed every morning? It’s because I place myself at a crossroads where I can either sit, mope and dwell on my feelings or do something about it. And by doing something about it, I remind myself exactly why Bellisa exists and how lucky I am to have the opportunity to try and make a living out of doing something I love… I love creating clothes for people because I know how much happiness and self-confidence wearing such a special piece can enlighten you with. Clothes that make you feel good inside and out. This is why I’ve always hated the ‘vanity’ side to fashion, because it goes much more beyond that.  I’ve learnt to appreciate my low points because I know these happen in order to bounce back buzzing with motivation and new ideas. ( Bouncing back is not as easy as I’ve made out, but it does happen eventually. )
The idea of this blog was to invite you into a deeper understanding of what goes on behind closed doors at Bellisa X, from a 1st hand perspective . I really hope I haven’t made out that I’m feeing ‘hard done by,’ because I’m not.  I wanted to show you how when starting up a business some of the greatest challenges you face, are the ones you can’t predict about yourself. This applies to general life to. If I wasn’t discovering all of these things then I’d be concerned I wasn’t pushing myself enough. From everything that you feel and happens - the good and bad- the most important thing is to learn and grow from it.
And the future? I’m aware in this blog I haven’t touched upon the topic of money this is because in the near future l plan to relocate and move studios. This will be where the real financial challenges kick in place and well… stay tuned for that blog post because this is where things could get interesting!!
 B X

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2 comments

  • This has been such an inspiring piece to read. I truely admire your hard work and dedication, your perspective on life is so positive and it radiates through your brand! Good luck in the future and wishing you the best as Bellisa progresses x

    Lily
  • Very inspirational. I envy what you do every day !
    We forget about the massive negatives that can come with this kind of work and all the emotional pain which comes along side it aswell ! You seem to being doing just great though and balancing it all very well, keep doing you and stay strong!! :-) Xo

    Sophie

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