Here’s a secret that few know about me. When I was 19, I started a business. But here’s the punchline: it failed.
I was young, bored in university and frustrated by how slowly my life seemed to be going. I wanted to do something, ANYTHING… and that anything turned into an online clothing business.
Of course, I had no e-commerce experience, but I knew I loved vintage style and making money. So I got some friends together, customised some clothes and shot some photos.
Although thinking about the figures is pretty painful, our first collection sold well, with little effort. With a profit margin of 50% or so, it didn’t seem like such a bad idea. What could go wrong?
I would search charity shops, flea markets and terribly photographed eBay listings for amazing clothes to style up, and then sell on for double the price. As I saw the orders come through, it became an obsession. “You mean I can sit here and turn £50 into £100 in minutes? WOW.” I thought.
My excitement wasn’t because I particularly enjoyed the work, but because I wanted to be a 19-year-old business owner. Nothing less was good enough.
Quite frankly, I was trapped by my own expectations.
I paid for studios. Promoted it excessively on social media. Travelled far and wide in search of new stock. And told everyone I could that I was a “business owner”. That part is important.
But while the workload grew, the money didn’t. I couldn’t keep up with the demand, and found myself falling out of love with the idea by the day. My anxiety rose with the amount of orders, and with it came fallen friendships and countless arguments.
And yet, I went on like this for months. Desperately trying to make it work while failing my degree.
With the initial money I made, I hired my first office space, hoping that the change of environment would be the change I needed. Wrong.
When you want to do something, believe me, you just do it. Everything you need is right there within you, you’ve just got to be ready to utilise it. I, for one, was not.
I was running away from myself and this business was merely an excuse — it took me a long time to realise that.
How does the story end, I hear you ask? Well, it’s wasn’t pretty.
After disagreements with my small team, I ended up running things alone. The stress of it all led me to alienate everyone around me. I was an overworked mess.
The moment I decided to stop the business was at 2am on my office floor, surrounded by overdue deliveries and merely days away from being kicked out of university.
But this catastrophic, life-changing failure might be the experience that has taught me more than anything else to date.
Why? Because exactly what I didn’t want to happen, happened.
The business that screwed up my finances and strained my relationships, actually, in many ways, made me. Because all of the fragilities of mycharacter were tested. I got to know myself and what I’m really made of. I learned to trust the process.
I put myself in a position of embarrassment and realised that, actually, there’s no such thing. Nobody’s watching that closely. Trust me.
I’m not going to sugarcoat it: starting a business and failing hurt. It hurt my pride and shook my ego.
But my ego needed shaking.
Failing and getting back up is how we become humble and wholehearted. So many of the best lessons can only be found by failing.
Since then, I’ve moved on and done other things. Some have worked, others haven’t. But that’s life. The important thing is to keep going — and that’s exactly what I did, and will continue to do for the rest of my time.
Nowadays, I feel like if I’m not failing at things regularly, I’m doing it wrong. Because if you never fail, you’re not living creatively enough.
I’m no longer afraid to try new things, because I’ve been on the floor and on the brink of a breakdown.
I’ve been there, and I got back up.