SEEKERS OF DESIGN
Connecting designers with buyers worldwide
I caught up with Seekers of Design, a highly innovative site, about championing emerging fashion and lifestyle designers. The site is an marketplace offering young brands their first all important e-commerce platform alongside advice on all areas of the retail industry.
The brainchild of three best friends, Lindy Staadecker, Anoesjcka Gianotti and Michelle Parekh, who with their combined experience and skills in fashion, design and business, developed SODS to help new talent. The site offers consumers the opportunity to have access to sought after labels that are unique and individual and not yet available on the high street.
In this interview, Seekers of Design share what it's like to start a business with friends, the importance of helping emerging designers, teaming up with Google and their best advice for aspiring entrepreneurs.
If you could describe the Seekers of Design brand in one sentence, what would it be?
Michelle: Seekers of Design is the essential tool for every fashion and lifestyle designer; if you're emerging, trying to connect with customers and get your brand out there, Seekers of Design is the place to go!
Friends starting a business together
Your background is in different industries. How did you meet?
Anoesjcka: I know Lindy from Cape Town. We met when we were in our late teens and reconnected when we were here in London. Then I met Michelle at a PR event and we just instantly connected and ended up in the same car on the way home. A week or two later, I introduced Michelle to Lindy at Lindy's hen weekend!
Michelle: Yes, I gatecrashed Lindy's hen party in Ibiza! I was invited to a holiday but I didn't realise it was her hen party…(laughing)
Anoesjcka: …and I forgot to mention it!
Michelle: Lindy must have been thinking 'who is this girl turning up' but ever since then we've been friends.
When did you know that you were ready to start a business together?
Lindy: Michelle was the main driver - we all love to chat but Michelle is really good at saying: ‘Right, we need to actually take the first step to write a business plan’. So that was really important, somebody has to be the person who takes the first step, which is always quite hard.
Helping designers get noticed
The fashion industry has become oversaturated with new brands and social media images which makes it difficult for new designers to get noticed. How can Seekers of Design help talented people showcase their products?
Lindy: We take a lot of strain off young designers so they can focus on their business. We work really hard on social media, do various marketing activities and collaborations to promote the Seekers of Design platform so that all can benefit by going to the platform and seeing different designers.
Anoesjcka: We are grouping young designers together who have small quantities of items they can't negotiate good banking or shipping rates on, rates like the large e-commerce platforms can. So just by putting them all under our umbrella, we can, for the first time, get them to compete with larger firms which before they weren't able to do.
Teaming up with Google
You partnered up with Google Campus London to promote promising artists and designers, how did it come about?
Lindy: Google came about in a very informal way. We met for a coffee with their marketing team and they told us that they were looking to promote artists. I said: 'We have some fabulous young artists who would absolutely relish the opportunity to showcase their work’ and we just built a relationship with them from there. They have been very supportive. They are there to promote start-ups and all of our designers are, in fact, start-ups in themselves so it was a natural fit for them. We thought it was a great collaboration for us and we really like their brand, it fits well, it's young and it's fresh.
How important is teaming up with other companies for you?
Michelle: We like partnerships, we really like collaborations because we want to add value to the industry. We're not a competition to people. We’re giving designers exposure created through our connections and collaborations which in turn creates value for buyers as well.
You work with carefully selected designers. How does the selection process look like and what do designers and their creations have to be like to be featured on the SODS website?
Anoesjcka: They have to be fresh, something different, not on the high street. They have to have passion for what they do and some experience would be great. Not only are we looking to fulfil a need of launching designers and making their route to the top easier, we are also trying to fill a platform for consumers because we feel the internet market is a bit stale at the moment.
We want to offer the consumer something that they did not have access to before, something that is not a big brand, not readily available, something they want to wear or have in their house that nobody else has. We want to make them feel unique thinking: 'My money didn't just go to rentals and shop fees and big brands and overheads. I'm supporting the designer’. So we look at both of those angles to fulfil when we look at a designer to approve them.
Once a designer is approved, they can sign up to the SODS Bible and education programme. What do they learn?
Michelle: They learn everything they need to know to make their lives easier to succeed.
Anoesjcka: All three of us had been in different industries where we’ve made contacts we trust. We have articles from those contacts where they offer their services to all of our designers. It's tried and tested advice that we hope will help designers make their journey faster and more successful.
Michelle: With us, designers don't need to go through the expensive mistakes like the industry has made. There are opportunities to come to events and talks by industry professionals who give them the direction.
If you're an emerging designer with a good collection, if you've got a designer you follow, they can give you the advice of how they made it and mistakes to avoid. It saves you time and heartache so you can concentrate on doing what you're good at, which is designing and being creative. That's what the Bible is there for, the kind of education to eradicate all those years of mistakes giving you the essential tools that you need to grow as a designer and as a business.
What has been the biggest challenge and your proudest moment since creating Seekers of Design?
Lindy: We’ve come through a massive learning curve starting out our business. The biggest challenge for any start-up is that you do everything yourself in the beginning and so obviously 'time'. I think we all feel the same, it's just not enough hours in the day sometimes to get through everything. You're not really prepared for a midnight chat with a designer or someone uploading work that needs some editing on a Sunday at 3 o'clock when your kids are running around.
We are at a point now where we worked it out - we share tasks, calendars and have lots of apps going. And obviously although we've stuck to our areas in the business very strictly, when somebody is away, has a sick child or there is something important they need to do, we can divide up the tasks and we're pretty good at doing that now.
What was your proudest moment?
Michelle: The first sale - that's exciting! When somebody sees the value of the kind of setup as you do. When you get a feedback from a designer who says: 'It really works, it's essential for my life' or when you get a customer who has bought something big and it's not a friend or family but it's a new customer who has come from nowhere. It’s definitely that first sale, you don't forget that one!
A day in the life of SODS founders
Take us behind the scenes of your working lives, what does a day in the life of SODS founders look like?
Lindy: Because we're an online business, everything comes through our inbox and we have to go through it. And the inbox goes wild overnight! We're worldwide so while we're sleeping, lots of other people in other countries are sending emails. Typically, the first thing I do is look at the inbox and get a bit frantic. If we're working from home, it could be a couple of hours’ worth of just sifting through emails.
There are some wonderful things that we've done - we've travelled a lot, we've gone to shows, we’ve been to Paris together - but the reality is that a lot of it is spent online, website troubleshooting, emailing.
Anoesjcka: No day is the same, especially when you have to delegate and work with people on different projects. You wake up in the morning, you have to find nannies for kids and juggle everything, it's not an easy day but we get through it and we make it work. All the stressful moments, the late nights and early mornings are worth it because you're working with friends and you know how much it means to you and to them.
As business owners, you are role models others look up to, what advice would you give to people who are considering starting a business?
Anoesjcka: Team up with somebody you trust and love and just do it!
Michelle: Yes, definitely that and be passionate about what you do and believe in it! Belief makes a difference, it’s one of the biggest things and we know it makes a difference to people’s lives. There's nothing worse than being in something you're not enjoying.
Lindy: You just have to do it! You can talk about it but you just have to go out there and take action, it helps so much. I know I wouldn't have done it without Anoesjcka and Michelle but if you're on your own and it's your goal to work alone, get out there and just start! It's a cliché but it's true.
Michelle: If you have a good idea, explore it. There is 50-50 chance you're going to fail or you're going to win. One or the other, take the chance, you have nothing to lose and just go for it! If you have a good support network and people to share it with, even better!