Made in Bolivia from 100% Alpaca wool, SoloSix sweaters blend classic sportswear style with traditional knitting techniques giving a modern touch to the century-old craft. Launched by fashion designer Nikki Chapman, the young brand takes pride in following fair-trade practices, knowing, first hand, every aspect of the sweaters production. Here, the young founder, shares the behind the scenes of launching a fair-trade brand in a competitive market.
Nikki what did you do before launching Solo Six?
I worked as senior knitwear designer for a women’s brand based in LA
How did you come up with your business idea ? What inspired and motivated you?
I’ve been a designer for over 10 years, working in both high fashion and fast fashion, from Milan to Hong Kong. Over the years, I’ve found that no matter what market I was working in, there was very little consideration for how the product impacts the world, both environmentally and ethically. I grew tired of this and decided to create my own brand that reflected the beliefs and methods that I wanted to see in every company.
Why did you decide to do sweaters instead of any other type of clothing?
I’ve always been drawn to sweaters. I think it brings me a feeling of nostalgia, having grown up in England where there is so much heritage behind the craft. There is also so much you can do with sweaters and I have barely scratched the surface. I’m still learning new things every day about yarns, stitches and techniques that amaze me.
How long did it take to launch the company from the moment you had the idea ?
I’ve dreamed of starting my own brand since I began studying fashion in England when I was 16. It took a lot of travel and experiences to discover the brand that felt right for me. I began to think about it more seriously 4 years ago. From then, it took 3 years to muster up the courage, and 1 year to plan, develop and launch.
Who helped you to plan and launch? If you did it alone, where did you find the information on how to start your own company?
My husband, Destin was roped in more times than he’d like to remember. He has worn multiple hats, including financial advisor, personal assistant, social media manager, photographer, traveling buddy/bodyguard and general encourager when I’m seriously questioning my abilities. I also have an incredible group of creative friends who did everything from building the website to helping me with the photoshoot. When you have a tiny budget, you’ll be more thankful than ever for good friends. In terms of planning, having over 10 years of experience has helped, implementing a calendar and structure was imperative for me as I’m not a naturally organized person. I planned my calendar to make sure there was enough time to develop the samples, do the lookbook photoshoot, place the orders and have the website perfected. It’s really important to me that Solosix is taken seriously as a legitimate player in the world of sustainable fashion. I don’t think you can build people’s trust if things look rushed or half-finished.
Do you have outside investors or was it totally self-founded?
Right now, I’m doing everything with money I’ve saved up from my previous jobs. It’s definitely been a tight budget since day one. But it’s forced me to keep things focused and intentional in every step of the process. Excess is not an option.
What is your method to compete with bigger brands?
Maintaining honesty and transparency about how we design and produce is key, it separates us from the big (sometimes bad) guys. Staying true to our aesthetic and not conforming to fashion trends is something we really value. We take the design process very seriously, it’s the most important part and it needs to be as organic and authentic as possible so we can offer something refreshing and unique that you can’t find anywhere else.
What would your advice be for entrepreneurs looking to create ethical, sustainable clothes?
Keep it small and strong, enough for you to be able to control and focus on what you have. Have a clear message. As a new company you need to gain the trust of the consumer, and having a consistent message throughout the brand is key. Do your research and know what you’re talking about, especially when it comes to ethical and sustainable practice.
What are the main difficulties and mistakes to avoid?
When you don’t have a budget for ads or commercials or a big marketing team, getting the brand in front of the right audience is one of the biggest challenges. We’ve used social media to tell the story of our brand, being very intentional with every photo or video we post, making sure it’s truthful to who we are, rather than trying to impress anyone. We’ve also been able to connect with like-minded bloggers/fashion-lovers who appreciate the cause and are willing to share our product with their fans (and aren’t asking for $7k in return). When it comes to all of this, our philosophy has always been to stay true to who we are and what we believe as a brand, and in time, our target audience will find us.
“The main mistakes were putting money into promotional projects that don’t work. There’s a lot of bloggers and tastemakers with agents who will sell you on the benefits of collaborating with them for a price, and it’s hard to know how successful these will be.”
The main mistakes were putting money into promotional projects that don’t work. There’s a lot of bloggers and tastemakers with agents who will sell you on the benefits of collaborating with them for a price, and it’s hard to know how successful these will be. I try to do as much research as possible to have some idea of how beneficial the outcome will be (beyond the hype), but it’s still always a gamble. This has been a massive learning curve for me. In the end, I’ve always found the most successful collaborations to be with people who have a genuine connection to our product and mission.
What was one challenge you faced while launching your company and how did you get over it?
We work with a fair-trade company in Bolivia to make our products. When we first started, communication was a bit challenging, due to the distance and language barriers. It was well worth it to fly out to Bolivia and spend 10 days working with them 1 on 1. Getting to meet the talented managers in the office, and the knitters in their homes, was inspiring in so many ways. It ultimately built a trusting relationship and a better product.
What is one accomplishment you are most proud of?
Having the guts to start.
What are three things you learned while running your company?
You have to put yourself out there all day every day and be okay with rejection or never hearing from anyone you reach out to.
Being yourself gets you further than being what you think others want you to be. Stay true to your brand’s philosophy, be selective about who you go after to help promote it.
What are the future projects of Solosix?
We’re excited to be running some collaborations in the near future and we’re also working on the next season that will include more unisex pieces, part of the Solosix philosophy is to encourage confidence in your identity, regardless of gender.
I hope we will become the go-to brand for our luxury, sustainable sweaters, but I’d like to think we would have expanded into other categories too. As for myself, I always hope to be happy and content doing something I love.
What other entrepreneurs inspire you and why?
My parents were farmers who changed their farmland into a thriving golf center. It was a big risk for them, but they went for it and did everything themselves (and raised 6 children at the same time). Because of them, we all had the luxury of going to University and pursuing our dreams. I wouldn’t be doing this today without their incredible example as entrepreneurs and endless support as parents.
What was the best business advice you were ever given and why did it stuck with you?
If it stops becoming enjoyable, it’s not worth it. I quit my job because I lost sight of what I loved about it and it was the best decision I made. I had spent far too long thinking that staying in it was the only option and I forgot how to be happy. Nurturing happiness in whatever job you do is key. It’s something I try to remind myself of every morning.
“If it stops becoming enjoyable, it’s not worth it.”
What are three of your favorite books? Why?
Paul Smith: You can find inspiration in everything. The title says it all.
Overdressed: The shockingly high cost of cheap fashion. Reading this and other books like it inspire me to keep pushing for
to be a leader in responsible fashion production.
I-D magazine, I know this isn’t a book but I’ve been reading it since I was 12 and it still inspires me to this day.
5 apps that help you run your business or make your life easier:
Shopify and Ordoro have been great platforms for making our online store user-friendly, for both sides. Shout out to Google docs too and, of course, the Nike running app for keeping me sane.
What is your daily routine and productivity tricks?
I respond to emails first thing in the morning. Our partners in Bolivia are 4 hours ahead of us, so it’s important to respond quickly so they can keep moving on our projects before the day is done. After that, I catch up on social media (instagram, facebook, twitter) without getting dragged into it for too long. Most of my day involves promoting Solosix with buyers, bloggers and magazines, I’ve had to learn to put myself out there a lot. Self-promotion has never been my strong point, but I’ve had to get over that. Lots of herbal tea drinking helps me stay productive, and running helps me ease the stresses of the day and maintain perspective.
Five fun facts about you:
I’m British (Though I’m not sure how fun that is?)
I am a twin (we’re fraternal)
My shadow is in the shape of a Sausage dog I bought 9 years ago from a pet store in Hong Kong. His name is Morris.
I really want to go to Myanmar
I’m a vegetarian and I love bacon sandwiches
If you could have dinner with three people who would it be and what would you talk about?
My family right now (even though there’s way more than 3). We’d talk pure nonsense for hours and it would be the best.
All pictures courtesy fo SoloSix