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Episode 228: Making Fashion Sustainable with Sian Gabbidon


The best feeling for a designer is to see their work worn by other people. Sian is so passionate about her craft that she manages to work full-time while making fashion sustainable. In this episode, Adam Stott and Sian Gabbidon talk about how to start a business, create a premium product without the premium price, do marketing, and grow organically with social media.

Sian Gabbidon is the 2018 and first black female winner of the BBC show The Apprentice, winning a £250,000 investment and backing from Lord Sugar in the show’s 14th series. She is the founder of the celebrity favorite loungewear brand Sian Marie with 65K followers. Sian is also a natural and confident public speaker and presenter, having previously worked with numerous clients including Good Morning Britain competition host, National Reality Television Awards host, Urban Music Awards host, The Voice Newspaper columnist, Ford Mustang UK wide introduction, and much more.

Show Highlights:

  • How Sian started her business and grow organically with Instagram
  • The reason why Sian decided to join The Apprentice
  • The benefits of learning marketing for her business
  • What impact the show had on her business mindset; and
  • The transition of Sian’s business during Covid

Follow Sian Gabbidon on Instagram @siangabbidon and visit her website sianmarie.com to see more of her and her designs.

Join the Ultimate Three Day Business Event and learn more Business Growth Secrets

Be part of our Facebook Group Big Business Events Members Network

Connect with me on Instagram @adamstottcoach

Transcript:

Please note this is a verbatim transcription from the original audio and therefore may include some minor grammatical errors.

Adam Stott:

Hello, everybody, and welcome to this very special episode of Business Growth Secrets. I’m with Sian Gabbbidon, who was the series 14 winner of The Apprentice. The business owner has run a brilliant clothing brand, which has just recently launched in Esther, she’s transitioned for a clothing brand and built up a fantastic business. She’s got an awesome story. And I’m looking forward to getting to know her and hearing more from her about her journey in business and all the things she’s done.

So welcome on, Sian, really pleased to have you. Welcome, I’m really, really pleased to have you on and want more and more about your story. You know, I’ve read lots of different things and got to know you through the media a little bit before we met today. To kind of really going on your backstory, I mean, Business Growth Secrets is all about the audience, showing them and serving them, helping them to find those little nuggets that are going to motivate them, inspire them, keep them going. And I think you’ve certainly during your career, you know, certainly a very inspirational one that I think people can learn a lot from. So, do you want to introduce yourself? Go back, right.

Sian Gabbidon:

Yeah. 

Adam Stott:

Tell us a bit about you and a bit about how you came to be where you are today.

Sian Gabbidon:

Yeah, definitely. So, I am a pre-apprentice because everybody just knows. Everybody generally knows me from being on The Apprentice. But I set up my business. I think it was about a year or two before the apprentice, very, very small scale and very organically. It wasn’t, you know, a set plan. As such, when I went to uni, I studied fashion design. And I wanted to do something creative. I wasn’t even sure what it was that I wanted to do. 

To be honest, I just knew I loved the design. And I loved drawing. And I learned how to actually make clothes. So when I finished uni, one of the two was actually a unit. It was basically like you don’t move to London, you can’t make it in fashion. But I couldn’t really afford to move to London.

So I was like, well, I’m going to just stay in Leeds. I’m going to get a job in marketing. And I’ll just do my creative thing on the side with fashion. So that’s exactly what I did. Yeah, I started to work actually. Ironically for as in there like the marketing department. Yeah, yeah. But because their head offices are in Leeds where I’m, this works for us. Didn’t particularly love it. It was very, you know, the same kind of thing every day.

Then on the side, I was just making bikinis. The honest truth with the cane is, I decided to do McKinney’s originally because they were very simple to me on a sewing machine. And I could do everything myself single-handedly. 

So, I started making and I did feel like at the time I was going on holidays going to pool parties, and the options for swimwear were very minimal. So, I will make nice bikinis. And then I set up an Instagram page, just more like a personal page. I was posting pictures of the bikinis. And he started to get loads and loads of interest. And we eventually got like I said we were literally at the time. But we had stylists and celebrities messaging saying oh, can I have this bikini in this colour and in this size?

At that point, I was actually like, okay, well maybe I could actually monetize this and start to make a little bit of money on the side whilst I’m working. And that’s what I did. It just grew into a business from there. Because once we got some big influences in it. You know, we have a girl who was in town at the time, and she was really big and well known [00:04:16-00:04:18] these bikinis? I had no idea if she’d even wear any of them. But she did. She wore one in I think it was in Dubai. And as soon as you are impersonated. That was where I’d say it became a business because everything just went crazy. I guess at the time.

Adam Stott:

How did you cultivate that concept? Because this is the thing a lot of people listen to that story being the unknown a lot of the listeners and some of the listeners that listen, there are those early stages they’re looking for right for like that. But what I’d be really interested in is how did you kind of get that breakthrough? Was that you? Was it the quality of your products? Or was it actually awesome?

Sian Gabbidon:

I feel like it was a bit of a mixture to various because I think at the time Instagram wasn’t like it is now, it wasn’t where, you know, you pay him for ads and all that kind of jazz, it was very organic at the time. So, people saw what he was posting. And I think because I went down that swimwear route, it did make the product a little bit more unique and give it more of a [00:05:11-00:05:13].

At the time, you know, you have the big stars, like the top shops, but they didn’t do it was like you’d buy a set that was one size, whereas I did different sizes, top different size bottom, and we did reversible and multi-way and all different kinds of things that one-off basis. So, I’d say that having that kind of USP and having Instagram as the platform originally was, is what helped us because it wasn’t even as reached now either, necessarily.

Adam Stott:

And I thought that was really interesting what you’re saying there? Because did you go into the market saying, you know, there’s a problem in the marketplace here. People can’t get the sizes they want. And I want to offer something different.

Sian Gabbidon:

Originally, I started making bikinis because it was easy to do, then when I started to get the interest. And I started to actually properly plan ranges and work out, you know how to get the product to market. That was when I was like, there’s actually a major niche here for this type of product. For the one thing that we even know as a loungewear problem, you know, we do still sell swim, but we’re all about making women feel good. At the time, I wanted to just bring a product that wasn’t like a set for all shapes and sizes we made, you know, high waisted and lowest, we just made bikinis that we want to go smell good in. 

Our motto is more of a, if you feel confident wearing it, wear it and don’t worry about what people say rather than like you should cover up as you were just like wear whatever you want, and you know, make it look good. And then I think having multi-way and having it reversible, it just gives that more of a sustainable element, which is massive now, you know, in fashion, and it lets people make the product their own. 

So you know, back then you might have the same bikini as someone from Sham Maria Pool Party, but you wouldn’t look the same, because you’d tighten it up a different way. Or you’d be reversing it. So, it’s a different print. So, we’ve tried to just tap into a few different areas to yeah, I guess, to fill a gap. And to just let people do something that they’ve not normally done with the cane is before you know.

Adam Stott:

Yeah. And also that really gave you that big differentiator in a way I suppose.

Sian Gabbidon:

I did and back then it was major for us because it was almost like, we weren’t the first year but we probably were in some ways we were just small scale at the time. And it’s harder, you know, now I guess we fast fashion brands, they just churn out stuff every single day. But I think even where we are, you know, as a brand, now, we still have that element of we’re not fast fashion.

That’s not what we sell ourselves, as you know, we want you to buy a piece and keep it forever. And it’s an investment piece in some ways. You know, buy wounds were forever. So, that’s kind of it still sets us apart, and it still makes people want to buy from us the quality of the finished craftsmanship. That’s what we know, we’re all about its good quality is going to last you forever.

Adam Stott:

Why do you think it seems like there’s passion there? Right? You know, you’re proud of what you’ve created in terms of fashion wear.

Sian Gabbidon:

Yeah, I am. I like that my story is not like conventional business stories in a way and I never sat and said, right, I’m gonna set a business up today in these in our budgets. And yeah, it wasn’t like that. It was completely different. And then obviously been on The Apprentice and getting in the position. I’m in now. It’s such a different world to be in. But you know, I started off very, I guess, what’s the word? Very small scale, no investment and no money stuff. You know, for people who are interested in starting businesses or just setting up. 

My story’s very organic. You know, I didn’t get a huge investment to begin with, like, people think that with the apprentice, just instantly successful. I was running my business. Yeah, I was working full time as well in the beginning. So, I was working full time in marketing, getting up at five o’clock. So in bikinis in the morning, taking them to the post office, it was just very…

Adam Stott:

Was there ever a time when you were a bit like, oh, my god? Was it the passion that carried you through? Or did you ever have kind of, did you ever think, oh, why am I doing this way just like I just say want people to wear my stuff. I just want to…

Sian Gabbidon:

I guess once I realized this was actually becoming a business now. And this was something I committed a little bit of extra money from and it was something I definitely enjoy doing because it was you know, but I chose to do it at uni. It’s my passion. I get up early, even nowadays, you know, I don’t really mind doing it. It’s what I enjoy doing every day, getting up early. I miss a lot. You know, as a business owner, you sacrifice so much. And for me, it’s never like a cactus in the park. I always just think about my future, what I’m doing it for and at some point, I’ll get all that time back and, you know, be in a good position. 

Adam Stott:

That’s great. And how working as a marketing influencer, did you actually learn some bits about marketing? Digital in the conversation helps, do you know? So, I always say I’ve got, you know, a young nephew, and I always say, to get into marketing, you know, that’s why I kind of say to him that you should, because markings had a massive impact on my life. And once you learn it, and you’re in the conversation constantly, it definitely helps you doesn’t it in terms of ideas, or?

Sian Gabbidon:

Definitely, that’s why I chose the marketing part of my degree, there was a really small part of it, that was marketing. And I was actually expected to do my degree, and I think I was at a to one with the design side, she made a collection, and then you had a market inside. Nobody cared about marketing in my class for me. And I thought, well, everybody hated the class except me. 

So, I literally spent so much time on my marketing section that the grid was so high, it bumped me up to first overall and there were about four people in the office. So, for me, marketing was something that I had always had an interest in anywhere. And when I started to work, even though it wasn’t necessarily fashion, you know, it wasn’t necessarily linked to what I was doing. There were links there in general, the same way that businesses all have links, in some ways, even though the different, you know, different sectors.

Adam Stott:

Then we then apply to the apprentice. So, what made you decide to actually apply in the first place was your mindset behind that?

Sian Gabbidon:

I have a massive apprentice firm, and I used to watch the apprentice every single year with my dad, and you know, we’d watch to have the good on this stuff. You know, definitely win it. And he used to be a bit like, okay, yeah. And then one year, I saw the other. I think I saw something about applying for it. And I thought, actually, I’ve got a business now, I was still working full time. But you know, the business was going from strength to strength. And I thought, I think I’m going to apply, and I genuinely just didn’t do it as I’m going to go on it. And when it was my adjuster here at the moment, I thought, you know what, I’ll give it a go. 

But I spent a lot of time on the application. I tried it a bit like I was doing and letting you know, really went for it. And I was at the very last minute, I think it was like the day before the closing day. I sent everything off. I sent it all off. And I thought well, probably won’t hear back. You know, anybody, what are the chances? And then I did hear back and yeah, when an audition, God, even now I can’t believe that. 

That all happened and process. It was the law. It was grueling. And it was, the whole situation was a lot harder than anything I’d ever imagine. You know, as a young kind of entrepreneur and someone who wasn’t worried about getting up early and working late nights, and you know, balancing, being involved in the audition and being involved in the show was a whole different ball game. And it wasn’t just physical. It was mental there were so many challenging kinds of parts to it that Yeah, even when I think back now, it was a really bizarre time but I learned a lot about myself throughout everything from auditioning right through to being on the show until winning it now and being where I am.

Adam Stott:

And what was the reason you think you came through that process?

Sian Gabbidon:

I think that there were a few things that I think as a person and you know, the bits that lodging we’ve got to see and you know, speak to me whilst on the show and you know that we’re not talking off camera like people think it was literally what it was, I think because I’m quite calm and collected and I’ve never lost my head and that was not how I handled things anywhere.

Obviously my background is like a very humble normal you know, upbringing we didn’t come from money, you know, is what it is and I think there were just some connections there with us and even now you know, he tells it how it is that’s how he works and I prefer that you know, I’d rather honesty and let’s just get straight to the point so I think overall. Yeah, we are quite well together as personalities you know, and I think he must have seen something in the show, I don’t know, work really hard right? 

Adam Stott:

So, how does that change things and so you go on the show and you win the show? What was it? We just talked a little bit about the show. What was a moment for you? What do you think was a turning point for you? Or a moment where you think you know what, I think I might actually win this got a shot here. Where did you get it? 

Sian Gabbidon:

You know, I went in. I didn’t have a game plan but I just went in and I said I’ll just be myself and I think the first few tasks as well my main thing was I just don’t want to leave in the first task that was like the store embarrass myself.

So, I guess, to begin with, it was a bit scary because you kind of didn’t want to say too much but then you didn’t want to sit in the shadows because you just got kicked out for that. So, I kind of have weird situations and where the other contestants because I think for the first few tasks, they help you get through as well. You know, if you go in all guns blazing, and you’re a nightmare, they’re just gonna want to get you out. Yeah. Then I think I got to a point where it was about halfway through. 

I had to step up a bit more and be more vocal. When there’s less of you, you know, and there’s like three of you or whatever in a team, you can not give input you have to. But I definitely got to one task, it was the QVC task we did. It was a nightmare, really, it was like a live on air thing. And I was the end, and I decided to go for the really high priced item. And it was a massive gamble. In my head, I was a bit like, if I lose this, I’m going to probably go, but I’ll go with a bone and I’ll have taken a risk, you know, and a bit of me thought he probably likes to see people take risks in business. 

So, yeah, I chose these really expensive earrings. There were like three grand, I think for a pair. It was a bit like if we sell one or two, we’ve won the task. And whilst we were doing the QVC thing, we sold one, and we were like, oh my god, and I think we sold two in the end. But when we got to the boardroom, somebody came on the road and panicked. I thought, Oh, God, I’m good. I’m going now. That’s how I’m going to go. But I think we still want it overall. But I’ve every task that once I got through it, I was like, I reckon I can win this now because I’ve proved myself and I’m not bothered anymore. Like, I’m not scared about making decisions now that I do, but I do.

Adam Stott:

And how has that changed things for you? So, in terms of how things have changed, obviously, you went on, and you partnered up, how I think that a lot of people, the Power TV especially can be very, very powerful for business, the power of getting your message out through media and getting people to see you and understand who you are and buy into your journey, your story, your personalities, absolutely massive. How did that change things for you? After you come off the apprentice, and you start working your business? What happened next?

Sian Gabbidon:

It was obviously as you can imagine, it was amazing to have blood sugar and the contacts that he’s got, and the you know, the kind of infrastructure that he got, I guess, with the show was amazing. But then it’s just a business as well, you know, there was so many changes that we had to make, and so much interest that we got off the back of being on the show from retailers and the business plan wasn’t actually even, we weren’t planning on offering wholesale, and we’re just gonna do online. And then we got these opportunities that it was like, well, we sell it or not. 

And then you know, things like that came with new challenges, I guess, and things that had to change in the way that the business has been run, the way that we produce the products, the volumes, like it was just now when I look at the business and God now that we’ve moved into loungewear, especially, it’s a whole different business to what it was very small scale very, I guess, easy to manage a lot of stress, a lot of pressure, but easier to manage. Now, there’s a lot more branches, a lot more things going on, you know, but yeah, I’ve actually loved every step of the way so far. And it’s been a roller coaster with COVID. But I think I enjoy having a bit of pressure and having hurdles in some ways because it does keep you on your toes. 

Adam Stott:

Absolutely. And you made this change to go into [00:18:22-00:18:24]. Right. So I was reading a bit about that, and how has that affected things? And what was that? Like? Was that a joint decision? That’s something you came up with you said, I think we need to kind of change here what kind of happened with that.

Sian Gabbidon:

So we would plan to expand and go into new areas because swimwear was good. But it obviously was quite seasonal. We are a UK based brand as well. So we’re trying to branch internationally, but we knew we wanted to bring another type of product out as well. And then when COVID hit to be fair, COVID was one that I was just initially… 

I didn’t even get the effects. It was like, you know, as everybody kind of thought it was well, we’ll see what goes on. And the bigger it got, the more I was like this is actually going to massively affect us because at the time we were purely swimming… It was March and we just launched a new swim collection. And we started to get people returning it to say the holidays have been canceled. And you know because of COVID and I started to get a bit of a panic thinking if everything shuts down now, what are we going to sell because no one can go on holiday. The bikinis were not really like spa bikinis and they were shut anyway you know, so it was like, okay, we need to look at some options. 

And yeah, we always attempt to do lounges but the way we did it was a lot quicker than you normally would as a brand. But the success that we had, partly probably because of COVID to you know, everyone’s at home wearing tracksuits chillin. It was one of the best things that as a business we have done, and I guess it cost us to do it quickly. The position that we’re in now has made me realize How much easier loungewear is to sell than swimwear now that I’ve done that transition people use everyday and widens the market massively, you know, 18 to 35 is our target market for females. But really, with loungewear, it’s not set to an edge. It’s whoever wants to wear it, you know, really, and has been in us. And now it’s just widened to…

Adam Stott:

If I were to ask again, what did they like about the product? Or why did you get in touch with them? Why did you see that as a great fit? 

Sian Gabbidon:

I think what it is, with, you know, partly with COVID, as well, I think we, as the, you know, it’s that realization that you can have your customers going to do the big shop, but they can also do the clothes shop. The High Street is not what it used to be. Unfortunately, you know, I love the high street, and I own an online brand. But I do like to go and buy things physically. And because our products are such good quality, and we need people to be able to see them to understand that, you know, and with us, it was one of those where they’re kind of transitioning into bringing in brands, so people can get that overall experience, no one’s really in the high street, so they can go to the food shop, do the color shot while we’re there. 

And we kind of tick that box of being with premium products. But without the premium price really and adult like, it sounds a bit cliche, but I need to find a good way of saying that, like, our stuff will last forever, last wash after wash. And it might be 35 pounds for a hoodie. But really, that’s not bad at all. And I think nowadays, because there’s so many fast fashion brands, it kind of changes young people’s perceptions of how they should shop. But we’re trying to bring it back to how it should be really saying you don’t need to buy new clothes every week, you can buy this tracksuit and it’s going to last year and our color palettes are quite safe, you know, we’ve got your neutrals, your black sheep graze, were all year round. 

And I think it just fits in with that as to have a brand in there. They have different types of brands for different markets. And we fit that kind of, I’d like to say like Zara, like a Zara vibe or? Yeah, and the products, you know, the productions are the quality of the fab, and it’s not overly expensive. And I guess that’s what we’re trying to be. But yeah, a bit cooler than Zara, I guess.

Adam Stott:

So, you know, in terms of along that journey, you know, I’ve done great in terms of the transitioning starting off right from the bottom, getting going using media to kind of prepare yourself and then obviously going out and building the business, what would you say are some of the lessons that you’ve learned along the way that you could share with the audience? Maybe three, three really good tips for them on, you know, what are some of the things that they can do as they can grow their business that you would say you’ve shown that you think we could really help them? 

Sian Gabbidon:

Yes, there’s two ways that I look at it, because I look at it as pre investment, small scale. One thing I’m very proud of, and I’m glad that I did was initially I was not trying to say you should be working full time. But because I was working full time, it wasn’t a panic for me with the business. So for example, I was paying my, you know, bills and rent and stuff. And I could focus on building the business and reinvesting the profits, there was no, you know, I wasn’t needing to pay myself a wage or anything like that. 

And that massively helped us initially, to build, I guess, and then when I look at post investment, one of the key things, I think, when it’s really difficult, because when you, you know, suddenly get all this money, and you’re like, okay, I’ve got this business plan, and I can start spending it. Looking back now, it’s not been silly. Just sometimes I think that you think you have to be working with the biggest company or agency or when really, it’s about being savvy still. 

I think now especially, I’m probably tighter with money than I was free investment, because you know, the value of it. You’ve kind of been through it, you know, you’ve tried people that’s not worked out, you’ve spent the money on things that didn’t necessarily work out. Now you’re really looking thinking, okay, this is what I should have done from the start. 

And that’s why as a business owner, I think the best, especially in the position I’m in now,.I guess where, you know, we’re on a really great track. You know, the best we’ve ever been given advice to other business owners, especially in the fashion industry, there’s so much that I know now that I wish I would have known even when I first got the investment, but you have to go on that journey. I think sometimes the self, because you know, you can get the advice, but you’ll still do what you want to do. And sometimes you have to hit hurdles. 

Adam Stott:

That’s very true, right? Very true. You know, and I think that’s why a lot of people are so after more of a motivational or an inspirational bias because they want to just keep going, but they don’t necessarily want the actual tactic or what they should do next because people will do what they want to do.

Like you said, I think you’ve met you think you’ve known that there. So in terms of taking investment, you know, a lot of business owners, there’s a lot of people out there like, you know, maybe I need investment. What do you think about that? Do you think that, you know, having done it both ways started the business side as a side hustle and growing it versus taking the investment? You know, if you would go back, would you change anything? Or would you think better to get an investment? Or do you think it’s better to start as a side hustle.

Sian Gabbidon:

I think I wouldn’t change my journey now. Because I like that, you know, the way that my journey found out, I actually think what I like about my journey is I have learned what I needed to learn, almost not in time for the investment. But once the investment came.

So for example, I had just an idea, and then got the investment and, you know, gone with it, I probably would have made more mistakes than the journey I’ve had, I had two years of issues and hurdles and overcoming them and, and realizing this is actually what I want to do, you know, because I think sometimes business as well. I always say to people, before you even do anything, just imagine doing this every single day, for the rest of your life, if that’s what you want to do. Is it what you want to do? I have so many friends who have said, I’m going to set a business up and I’m going to do this and three months down the line, you know, hit some hurdles? 

Adam Stott:

And that’s a really good bit of advice. If this is what you want to do every day for the rest of your life. If not, you know, then you’re going to give up at some point, right? Because passion is going to be there. That was the place for you where it was right.

Sian Gabbidon:

Yeah. And you know what I think for me, my driver, you know, any difference with different people in different businesses. My driver isn’t to make loads and loads of money as such, no, that comes with the success of a business. My initial driver was to enjoy what I’m doing and be good at what I’m doing. And to make people feel good. 

As a fashion designer, which is what I originally was, it was really to see somebody wearing my clothes, that’s the biggest enjoyment to get like a good review, or to get messages from girls saying, oh my god, I bought your hoodies, and I love them. That’s what I do it for. And different people have different drivers, I guess. But that keeps me going. You know, that’s what every day I’m like, as long as people are buying a product that they’re happy with, then that makes me happy. I’m doing my job, right? 

Adam Stott:

And the bigger driver is money. You can move an effort in a different way. And especially if you know, as a designer, that makes perfect sense. So where’s the best place for people to go and connect with you, Sian? Is it best to go in front of you insta? 

Sian Gabbidon:

I’d say Instagram and LinkedIn, but I’m not as active on there than Instagram. LinkedIn, maybe Twitter, but I don’t go on Twitter that much. Yeah, or they can just pop on. Have a look on our sianmarie.com and…

Adam Stott:

www.sianmarie.com. We’ll go into a local store and see what’s going on. Right? 

Sian Gabbidon:

Yeah, definitely. 

Adam Stott:

Okay, which is gonna be out soon. Well, once that big thank you for coming on. I mean, it’s a really great insight. I love the fact that you’ve got, you know, it’s almost like two stories revenue. You know, you’d like to say that, the pretty part of that side hustle, which I think inspires a lot of people. And then after that, you know, going and getting that big launch now, you know certainly means running a much bigger business, which is awesome. So, I’m sure a lot of advice and help that people find really useful.  

Adam Stott:

Thank you. For me, Sian, has been absolutely amazing. 

Sian Gabbidon:

Thank you for having me. And I look forward to watching your journey. Thank you. Thank you very much. 

Hi, everybody, Adam here. And I hope you love today’s episode. Hope you thought it was fabulous. And if you did, I’d like to ask you a small favour. Could you jump over and go and give the podcast a review. Of course, I’ll be super grateful. That is a five-star review with putting our all into this podcast for you, delivering you the content, giving you the secrets. And if you’ve enjoyed it, please go and give us a review and talk about what your favourite episode is, perhaps every single month. 

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