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So, You Want to Start Your Own Label?

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If your heart is in design and you want to be in control of what you create then you will one day have to consider going it alone and starting your own business. Easy to conceive of but difficult to know where to start and what things you should consider.

As the founder of Torula bags I have learned a few lessons along the road from selling hand crafted bags on Portobello Road Market and I am happy to share them with the next generation of designers to help promote the culture of great design and worthy entrepreneurialism.

If you are just starting out and you want to build up your own business I suggest you stop, park your ideas and go out and get some real life experience. Straight out of design school you might be bursting with creativity, but creativity alone doesn't sustain a business. Invaluable and often difficult lessons must be learned and it's better if you do that in an established and secure environment that can cope with a hiccough or two. Your own start up enterprise could be shattered by one accountancy error or one ill timed invoice. Learn from someone else about every aspect and listen hard. The more you learn now the better you will later.

Tricky things you need to get accustomed to early on include admin, accounting, VAT, import taxes etc. If you get your head around these early on then you won't be thrown off track later. This is where hopefully working for someone else prepares you well.

Look for someone, a mentor if you like, who is aligned with your creativity and your ambitions, then the lessons you learn will benefit you every step of the day. I would have loved the chance to work at Celine for its fashion forward, yet feminine style. The very ideas I feel are core to my designs and what is at the heart of the Torula brand.

The accessories industry is a fun place to work and offers so much variety you will likely never get bored of it. It's an industry where people are passionate about what they do and want to keep up with everything that is going on, as well as wanting to always push themselves forward, continuously evolving themselves. The more you put in the more you get out.

If you feel you have the self belief and determination then start working on your business plan. Here research is vital; ask yourself questions about your customer, who are they? What do they want? What will they pay? What is important to them? Why will they buy from you? Why will they return to you? Build up a definite picture of your customer and then centre your entire business around them.

Networking and support is important. I know a lot of other independent designers and we all help each other. I also have a great team of contractors that I have carefully chosen and who do great work. And last but not least I have my friends and family who have been incredibly supportive.

You might feel strongly that you will never produce items with fur or use foreign factories. Your beliefs will become your unique selling points later down the line - and if your customer shares your values, even better. Don't be afraid to have an opinion about the industry - I feel strongly that the trend towards cheap clothing and accessories is devaluing the whole industry and something new designers coming into the business should avoid for their own sakes.

Now would be a good time to develop a thick skin. You should accept that you will continuously be judged for the work you produce and you mustn't let that affect you. It is a subjective field and people will have opinions about your designs.

You should have bags of determination, be prepared to work hard and know that you are entering an industry where you will never be bored. The fashion industry changes constantly and you will change with it, evolve, improve and exceed. If you love what you do and surrender yourself to your passion you will succeed.

I love having my own company and being involved in absolutely every aspect of its running. I meet all sorts of people, I travel to great places, learn new things all the time, I'm never bored, I'm intellectually stimulated and most importantly I get to do what I love on a daily basis. I can't imagine doing anything else. I love what I do and if I didn't have my own business I would probably work for someone else in the accessories industry. You can always learn more.

Emeline Coates is the founder of Torula; an Anglo-French handbag label that combines Parisian chic and London cool, resulting in beautifully made bags to cater for every style and occasion. www.torulabags.com

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