Michael Williams, a student at Chester University, and Alex Franklin, a recent Chester graduate, have made waves over the North Sea after a Denmark-based company fell in love with their ethical products.
The pair have since entered into a partnership with Neutral, to produce what they describe as "the most advanced range of Fairtrade B2B clothing available in the UK".
HuffPost UK had a quick chat with Alex to find out just what was behind the duo's success - and what the future looks like.
Why did you decide to start your own business?
For myself, and my co-founder Michael the reason for starting a business are very different, but our core goals are very much aligned, with the intention to make a difference through our businesses and have a positive impact on a wider scale.
For me starting a business for me was a result of a very cliche moment; having suffered a life threatening illness. This changed my outlook, and goals, leading to my ambitious attitude, with a desire to make an impact. I found it difficult to get a job after graduating with a degree in Graphic Design, so began looking at other ways to make my life successful and satisfy my ambition.
Michael, however setup his first business at 16 whilst still at school and his skills very much compliment mine.
How did you raise the money?
Our business model has been developed to be very lean; this has allowed us to grow the business organically, without any external investment. This has been of importance as it has allowed us to reduce risk, as well as maintain full control of the company.
We felt maintaining this control was vital as it has enabled us to stay true to our values of the highest ethical and environmental standards, as well as maintaining quality and innovation throughout, without the influence of external finance.
This business model has been designed to be highly scaleable and flexible, enabling us to work with larger organisations whilst maintaining positive cash flow.
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Mark Zuckerberg with Facebook, Paul Allen and Bill Gates with Microsoft, Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs with Apple -- those success stories lead some people to think that coming up with big ideas is a young person's game. But the tech entrepreneurs who rose to early fame and fortune are just the outliers. The typical entrepreneur is a middle-aged professional who learns about a market need and starts a company with his own savings. Research that my team completed in 2009 determined that the average age of a successful entrepreneur in high-growth industries such as computers, health care and aerospace is 40. Twice as many successful entrepreneurs are aged over 50 as under 25, and twice as many over 60 as under 20. Source: The Wall Street Journal
You often hear about the pursuit of the new new thing. But I believe entrepreneurs have a lot to gain by looking into history for inspiration. In the mid-'90s, some beer enthusiasts and experts called us heretics for brewing beers with ingredients outside of the "traditional" water, yeast, hops and barley. So, I started researching ancient brewing cultures and learned that long ago, brewers in every corner of the world made beer with whatever was beautiful and natural and grew beneath the ground they lived on. We now make a whole series of Ancient Ales inspired by historic and molecular evidence found in tombs and dig sites. Source: The Wall Street Journal
For entrepreneurs to stretch their brains, they should seek out the unusual. Watch and listen to weird stuff. I enjoy watching obscure documentaries and listening to unusual podcasts. It's thrilling to find cool ideas lurking just a few clicks away. Walk in weird places. I take walks in hidden suburban neighborhoods, department stores, community colleges. When you're walking with no purpose but walking, you see things in fresh ways, because you have the luxury of being in the present. Talk to weird people. Striking up conversations with people who are different from you can be powerful. I still remember random conversations with strangers from decades ago, and how they shaped me. Source: The Wall Street Journal
There are several factors an entrepreneur should consider when choosing a business idea or opportunity. Go big or go home: There are opportunities to make money by building businesses that marginally improve on existing products or services, but the real thrill sets in when the decision is made to go after an enormous idea that seems slightly crazy. Make the world a better place: The best kind of entrepreneur pursues a business that simplifies or improves the lives of many people. He or she repeatedly asks "what if" when thinking about how the world works and how the status quo could be dramatically improved. Fail fast: As overall startup costs decline and markets move much more quickly, it has become easier to test ideas without devastating consequences of failure. Pivot quickly: Many of the most successful companies exist in a form that is entirely different from how they were first envisioned. A successful entrepreneur will realize when a company is moving in the wrong direction or is missing a much larger opportunity. Source: The Wall Street Journal
One thing that isn't a rich vein of entrepreneurship gold: reading a market forecast from a big-name consulting firm and deciding to create a product to serve that need. Source: The Wall Street Journal
When the mind is occupied with a monotonous task, it can stimulate the subconscious into a eureka moment. That's what happened to me. The business model for my company, ClearFit, which provides an easy way for companies to find employees and predict job fit, hatched in the back of my mind while I was driving 80 miles an hour, not thinking about work at all. The subconscious mind runs in the background, silently affecting the outcome of many thoughts. So, take a break and smell the flowers, because while you're out doing that, your mind may very well solve the problem that you are trying to solve or spark a solution to a problem you hadn't considered before. Source: The Wall Street Journal
Ideas for startups often begin with a problem that needs to be solved. And they don't usually come while you're sitting around sipping coffee and contemplating life. They tend to reveal themselves while you're hard at work on something else. For instance, one company of mine, earFeeder, came about because I wanted news on music I loved and found it hard to get. So I created a service that checks your computer for the music you have stored there, then feeds you news from the Internet about those bands, along with ticket deals and other things. Source: The Wall Street Journal
Start your brainstorming with problems that you are personally invested in. Building a business is hard as hell and takes the kind of relentless dedication that comes from personal passion. The next big question is "How?" Great ideas and innovations come from executing on your idea in a different way than everybody else is attacking it, if they're attacking it at all. A great way to do this is to look outside of your industry to see how others are solving problems. Approaches that they think are routine might be out of the ordinary for you—and inspire great ideas. Also, most businesspeople tend to ignore our creative side until we really need it. Making sure that your life has a balance of the arts is a great way to stay engaged creatively. This last tip will seem insanely obvious. However, in the world we live in, it's easier said than done: Simply be present in life. I'm sure you can relate to how overconnected we all are. Something as simple as having a cup of coffee becomes a juggling act of replying to emails and managing schedules. It's easy to miss a potential piece to your innovation puzzle when it's right under your nose if you aren't there. Source: The Wall Street Journal
Make a note whenever you encounter a service or a customer experience that frustrates you, or wish you had a product that met your needs that you can't find anywhere. Then ask yourself, is this a problem I could solve? And how much time and money would it take to test my idea? That last point is crucial. As my sage Stanford professor Andy Rachleff encouraged me, "Make sure you can fail fast and cheaply." In business school, I had a couple of big ideas. One was improving domestic airline service—which would have cost millions and taken years. I decided to pursue another opportunity that was a lot cheaper and would show results faster—a clothing line called Bonobos. In the end, it took me just nine months and $15,000 of startup funds to get a little traction and market feedback. Source: The Wall Street Journal
It is important to look at an idea in two ways: first, to consider the initial inspiration for the business, and second, the often very different concept that ends up being executed to create the new company. We typically think of these ideas as the thing that sets these great entrepreneurs on the path of success. However, an idea is only that until you do something with it. Great entrepreneurs also discover the strategies to deliver the new innovative solution to the market. Source: The Wall Street Journal
Entrepreneurs come up with great ideas in a number of ways. Here are some of the best. Get customer feedback: Listen to customers and create products and services that give them more of what they like and/or remove what they dislike. Listen to front-line employees: The workers who manufacture the widgets, interact with customers and so on see what takes too long to accomplish, what is too expensive, what causes problems. Talk to those workers, or even do those jobs yourself. Reverse assumptions: Many great entrepreneurs come up with ideas by reversing assumptions. For example, the old assumption was that a bank needed to have tellers and branch locations. The ATM concept asked: How can we offer banking services without having a branch location and tellers? Source: The Wall Street Journal
What would you have done if you hadn't started up your own venture?
It has always been my intention to run a business, but if I wasn’t doing what I am doing now I think I would go into marketing.
Marketing appeals to me as no matter how great the business or product, you need to be able to market it well, to draw in your target market. I would have used this to build up my current skill sets of which could then be applied to another venture later down the road.
My business partner Michael is also very similar, in the sense starting a business was always his end goal.
What support did you have?
Our main support line is from our business mentors, of which we speak with on a regular basis to get an outside perspective on things.
Furthermore there is a great deal of support from within the company, as we maintain close relationships with everyone within our team, something we feel is key to our success.
What challenges have you faced? What have you learnt?
The biggest challenge we have faced has been gaining credibility at such a young age, as many expect us to be lacking in experience. However, our backgrounds, awards and personal credentials as well as our global client base has allowed us to overcome this successfully.
Furthermore when we were starting out it was also challenging keeping the business as lean as it is. However we have learnt a lot from this, this has further allowed us to build very strong foundations to the business of which we can continue to build upon.
What ambitions do you have for the future?
Our main goal for the future is to lead change within our industry, encouraging businesses and consumers who buy clothing to make more environmentally friendly and ethical choices. We hope this will eventually ensure it is standard practice in the textile industry to be environmentally friendly and ethical; helping both people and the planet.
The one thing that does concern us to a degree is those green washing our industry. There are many companies that appear to be green companies, however a lot of their accreditation is self certified, not external. This leads to confusion and frustration among customers, which we feel is a deterrent.
How well are you doing in business?
Our growth has been far quicker than what we expected. The targets we set for month 6 was achieved during month 2 and we’re projected a turnover of half a million pounds next year.
We’ve formed a partnership with Danish company Neutral® to allow us to take on the UK clothing market with the most advanced range of Fairtrade clothing available. Having sold several thousand in the first month of launching them we’re very excited about their growth.
We’re really excited about the work we do with universities in the UK, as they are leading the charge to make procurement more sustainable and we are one of the simplest ways to do that.
Do you have anyone you look up to?
There are many people I look up to, not just business people, but those from many different walks of life. I feel we can take a lot from others and learn a lot from how they approach things, especially if they are from different industries to our own. I also believe you can learn a lot from those you work with, having learnt a great deal from the team at A.M. Custom Clothing.