Four years ago, I ventured into the world of business with a degree in business management and French, a masters in European business and Spanish, wide eyes and, honestly, a little naivety.
I wanted to create something from scratch that I could be proud of. My dream had always been to build a British luxury lifestyle brand that was the antithesis of the prevailing fast fashion trend at the time and I felt that then was my opportunity.
So what did I have? Admittedly, a limited fashion contact book and minimal funding (other than what was left over from my student loan), but on the other hand I did have business acumen and an eye to spot a niche.
So what did I do? I founded BoBelle London - my own luxury accessories brand with its heart in London.
I started out with rose-tinted glasses; not realising how deceptively difficult the fashion industry is to 'crack'. A brand needs to be nurtured, developed, tried and then trusted before growth can even start to show.
I put myself out there. If there is one attribute I have on my side it is determination. I went to small local events. I did the market stalls (often in the rain). I cold called journalists. I arranged meetings with other entrepreneurs. I never said "no". Then I got noticed.
For me, it was almost like a game of dominoes; once you have your foot in the door, you can build on it. You get recognised, your brand is talked about and is then often seen elsewhere. Instead of market stalls I moved onto trade shows. Instead of small events I took part in fashion shows. I knew my brand better, knew my product better and knew my customer better.
This gave me some much needed confidence in what is, let's face it, a pretty tough industry for a newbie brand to crack. I focused on what I was good at; and that was growing the BoBelle London brand by widening my network - something which was stepped up a few notches when I was shortlisted for the Women of the Future Awards. Just being introduced to the founder of the awards, all-round champion for women in business, Pinky Lilani OBE, was a fantastic opportunity, as well as the recognition I gained from the nomination itself! But on top of all this, I was able to meet a host of other like-minded young women, many of whom, like me, had just started out on their own business path.
When you work for yourself being nominated for such awards gives you that boost; it shows that other people have recognised what you are doing and have a belief that you are getting there. I cannot praise the Women of the Future Awards highly enough and the contacts I have made along the way have proven invaluable to BoBelle's growth.
Not only have we just moved to our new head office at Somerset House but we are also bringing out our new collection next month with our handbags produced right here in England.
My new business partner and I are working exceptionally hard, and beginning to see the fruits of our labour paying off is the most exciting and liberating feeling. Growing, not to mention starting, your own business is the hardest thing I have ever done. This week alone we have moved offices, received samples of the new collection, been to London Fashion Week, featured in The Times, met countless new contacts, gone to 3 events and tomorrow I am travelling to Paris for a leather show. Running BoBelle London might be hard work, but it is oh-so fabulous and I couldn't be prouder of where we have come on this journey. It has been incredibly challenging, risky, draining and all-consuming; I wouldn't change it for anything.
Claire Watt-Smith is a former shortlister of Women of The Future Awards.
The awards ceremony will take place at the London Marriott Hotel Grosvenor Square on Tuesday 20 November and is hosted by Real Business in association with Shell.
Follow Claire Watt-Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/@CWS_BoBelle