When I returned from my gap year abroad, I began researching ideas for an online business, partly as a hobby, but also with the hope of securing an income during my studies at Kings University.

Travelling in different parts of the world had given me an insight into emerging trends and fashion. I’d fallen in love with the vibrant colours and beautiful fabrics from South East Asia, so kimono style dressing gowns seemed like a good choice.

Choosing the styles presented an instant conflict between what I would personally wear or buy and what my target market would like. Indeed, styles that I was initially unsure about have turned out to sell very well, and vice versa. Its interesting to see which are the most popular styles and this also influences my decisions on how to continue to grow the range tailored to demand.

Another challenge was finding the right supplier – all funds had to be sent upfront, so I really couldn’t afford to get this wrong. I contacted around 250 wholesalers, using feedback from previous customers and the general manner of their sales team to build a short-list. In the end, I connected with two great suppliers and continue to work with them to this day. now has 27 different kimono robes, retailing in four countries. The mission is simple: to offer an alternative to the unflattering, ill-fitting, traditional dressing gown without compromising on style and comfort-and all for an affordable price.

At first, I presumed sales would dip in the colder months, but many women choose to wear their kimonos throughout the year whilst getting ready, as elegant loungewear or teamed with lingerie. Christmas is of course the busiest time, with Valentine’s Day a close second.

Building the business has been both rewarding but also challenging at times. The biggest challenge for me was to stay focused during the set up process and not become deflated in the early stages. For anyone wanting to start their own business, I would say the most important thing is to keep your eye on the goal. From when I had the idea in the summer of 2010, it took me a further 8 months to actually start trading and then any profits were poured back in to continue growth; it’s certainly not an overnight process.

I hope that my story encourages others to follow and persevere with their goals; I have posted my email and twitter below should anybody have any feedback or questions for me.

by Camilla Sheppard

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