I’ll spare you the details, but when I started UNCUFFED - I didn't know what I was doing. I was a dreamer turned visual artist turned wardrobe stylist with a film production degree, so to say that nothing in my past adequately prepared me for this endeavour would be a gross understatement. Now that I’m five years in, I am by no means an expert at entrepreneurship, but I have gotten pretty damn good at things…I’ve also learned A LOT from my mistakes along the way.

My goal with this column is to be honest and transparent. There's a lot of secrecy in this industry, but I'm here to disrupt that, and hopefully help emerging designers and entrepreneurs along the way. Here’s what I wish I knew before starting UNCUFFED: 

  1. Youre never going to feel ready, so instead of dragging your feet in the sand, be like Nike and JUST DO IT. Start with a soft launch for friends and family first, this gives you time to fix any glaring issues that may come up and to calm your nerves, and then go for it! Starting is the only way you'll know what's working and what needs to be adjusted. I can tell you right now, you will NOT get it right the first time, so get something out there and start to iterate - this is when the REAL work begins, so pace yourself accordingly.

2. Dont treat money like a dirty word. It needs to be talked about, and it needs to be understood (and not feared). Women entrepreneurs, especially, are screwed when it comes to things like small business loans and lines of credit from traditional financial institutions. There are a ton of depressing statistics about how women are less likely to receive financial assistance, and if they do, they receive far less than their male counterparts. I'm not here to harp about how unfair life is. F*ck that noise. My advice to you is, unless you have a Master’s in Business from an Ivy League...have the conversations, educate yourself, find people who you can trust and speak with them candidly about money, about managing your expectations, about the realities of waiting for years to turn a profit and about alternate funding sources that may be available to you.  And don’t forget about budgets and shipping costs and expensive services that many designers use but don't like to talk about or financially prepare for… 

3. Get yourself a mentor, like yesterday. It is life changing, truly. Now here's where I blow your mind: your mentor doesn’t have to be in the same industry as you! Whats most important here is that they share your values. For example, my mentor isnt in fashion, but she is an entrepreneur who is also a mother. This was important to me since it helps me to speak with somebody who understands that work/life balance is a sham and who has powered through all that patriarchal crap to build one of the most successful companies in Canada. I’m also inspired by her as a human who is considerate, kind and so much fun to be around AND as an entrepreneur who is tough, grounded and extremely principled (in addition to being a genius). While shes not in fashion, her company deals in brick and mortar and D2C - so her insights have been tremendously helpful. I dont need somebody to advise me on fashion trends (even though she has excellent taste), what I do need is somebody who understands how to market to different customer segments, create killer value propositions - and maybe most importantly - somebody who believes in me and my success.

4. Overnight oats are delicious; overnight success is an illusion. I mean, it could happen for 0.001 of new businesses that get extremely lucky, but it won’t be the case for most of us. Its obviously important to stand behind your product and to believe that it is the most amazing thing ever, but it might still take 5 or 10 years for the rest of the world to catch on, so I think you definitely need to go into it with realistic expectations.

5. Define, or in some cases, redefine what success means to you before you start. DO THE WORK. Is it dollar signs and multiple beachfront properties? Is it a sense of purpose and personal fulfillment? Maybe its more process based, and you want to spend your days listening to podcasts and working on tactile projects in a cozy little studio. All of these are completely valid and worthwhile goals, but you definitely want to make sure that (A) has the potential to lead to (B). Its not enough to pin a magazine clipping of a yacht to your vision board and expect the universe to connect the dots for you…or youll be staring at that yacht until the paper yellows…

I hope that was helpful? If you have any questions, or want me to address any other topics, feel free to email me at olga@uncuffedleather.com


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