At 17 I opened my first business. With the successful completion of my little school project, I was more motivated than ever to start a company that I can call my own.
Adopting the same strategy from the previous t-shirt project, I started Kieron Collective – an empowering t-shirt company. The name ‘Kieron’ resembled the words ‘carry on’ – conveying our mission commit to sustainability in this world, working against animal-cruelty and unethical work conditions.
Kieron Collective was officially born with the first t-shirt design – the diamond tee. It was a piece set to be minimal yet meaningful. A geometric diamond crest, and along the back of the shirt the phrase ‘began flawed, emerged strong’. It was a signification to the new beginning of an individual. Similar to a diamond, we start off flawed and unpolished. Through pressure and expectations, we emerge strong and polished. This simple shirt carried a message relatable to all.
Starting a new business is never easy. Back then I spent way too much time in my head – hesitating, doubting, calculating costs and dismissing optimism. Truthfully, the chances of your first business failing is high. But as every entrepreneur would agree with, the experience earned from it is priceless. The initial stages of starting Kieron Collective was filled with many ‘firsts’ – business incorporation, business introduction, return&refund and more. But without taking this first step of making it happen, I would have missed a whole bunch of life experiences.
With the release of the diamond tee, a few friends showed support and together we decided to go for several ‘pop-up’ events, as part of our marketing efforts. This was the first time I’ve had to present Kieron Collective to complete strangers, and was met with different reactions – both good and bad. It was nerve-wrecking, to say the least, but from it grows new emotion of gratefulness and regard towards customer feedback and value to your own business.
I worked flat-out through the weekends, coordinating inventory, backed operations and setting up a simple website to enable online-processes. I probably should have been revising for my exams during this period, but figured that building a business was going to be way more useful. Luckily, most of my modules this semester was project-based and I was able to maintain a good academic record within that year.
After an initial 2 months of getting the brand out, we needed a second design. Alongside our sustainability commitment, we contacted a artisan fabric maker from Japan, whom kindly created our next gold-traced, wave-patterned t-shirt pockets.
This latest design, ‘the waves’ tee, was meant to remind us of persevering and find our true self in the midst of experiencing life’s cycle of ups and downs. Sometimes, we feel lost and empty, drifting among heights and depths like the waves of the ocean. While we work on overcoming every low moment, there are also times where we celebrate the highs in life.
I ran the t-shirt business for the majority of the time I was in Polytechnic. The business was however not making enough money to cover costs for the ready-stocks. We were therefore limited within our capabilities of continuously producing more designs, paying for pop-up stores and models. Back then, our brand models were just happy to help a new business with a shared vision. They are now successful Instagram influencers with over a million followers. Kieron Collective truly garnered sincere support from many people, and for that I am forever grateful.
While the business was growing steadily, it was not going to be profitable unless we expand our value proposition and reach even more customer segments. I wasn’t going to be overtaking the other T-Shirt Brands in market share any time soon and had to pivot because of my limited resources. After 8 months of working out the strengths and weaknesses of building a T-shirt company, I’ve decided to stop making T-shirts and transform Kieron Collective into an online marketplace, which till this date has been my most successful startup, generating almost 100K profit within it’s lifetime.
The start to end process of Kieron Collective as a small T-shirt company taught me a lot. At the same time I made a whole lot of mistakes. My biggest takeaway was that by working hard and believing in something you feel strongly about, anyone can build something out of nothing.