After spotting a gap in the resources, transport and construction industries for workwear tailored to pregnant women, 27-year-old Kym Clark left her $130,000 job to solve the problem. Launched in July, She’s Empowered is Australia’s first business to offer comfortable, safety-compliant high-vis shirts with box pleats to allow for the growth of pregnant bellies.
Before She’s Empowered launched their workwear, expectant mothers in the resources, transport and construction industries were left with no other option than to wear men’s shirts unbuttoned over singlets.
Embarking on a mission to create an Australian-first, Ms Clark spent 18 months designing the workwear, traveling overseas to source a manufacturer, trademarking and complying with Australian Standards before delivering the first batch of orders in November.
Several large-scale mining companies have already purchased the workwear line to cater for their female staff.
In an exclusive Q&A with Shoe String, Ms Clark spoke about her journey as a first-time entrepreneur starting a business with a unique offering.
What inspired you to pursue She’s Empowered?
Clark: I work on a coalmine site and was in a meeting one day with my heavily pregnant manager, who had to wear a singlet and men’s high vis shirt that wouldn’t cover her belly. I have always loved fashion, but pursued a career in accounting instead, so this moment was a merging of my two passions, business and fashion.
Until She’s Empowered was created, there were no maternity workwear options in the mining industry. The resources industry is one of the largest employers in Australia, and women make up almost one fifth of the country’s mining workforce. I couldn’t believe that no one had catered to this growing market before.
She’s Empowered, through its clothing line and social networking forum, aims to empower women in the industry by enabling them to feel comfortable and confident at work.
When you conceived of the idea, did you choose to raise money or bootstrap? Why?
Clark: I have always had a goal to one day own my business, so I started saving for the future when I first entered the permanent workforce. When I created She’s Empowered, I transitioned to part time to ensure I continued to have cash flow through the start-up phase of my business.
What is the size of your market and what slice of that are you hoping to gain?
Clark: With an increasing proportion of women working in the mining industry (1966, only 4 percent of mining industry workers were women; 2006,15 percent were women; and 2011, 17 percent were women) there is a real need for industry to recognise that fly in fly out, skill shortages, and attractive salaries are encouraging more women to the industry.
It’s time for mining companies and industrial workwear stockists to accommodate a diversifying industrial workforce. Right now I am the only industry workwear line to offer safety compliant, high vis maternity shirts for women in the industry, but as a start-up, I am still building my business.
Traditionally male dominated industries including mining, transport and construction are recognising the importance of diversity in the industry and appointing managers to ensure measures are put in place to promote these values. She’s Empowered aims to respond to the challenges of industry diversity and empower women by providing comfortable, safety-compliant high-vis workwear and a social networking forum.
After you conceived of the idea, how did you go about building the product?
Clark: Research, research and more research! Every spare minute I was online searching fabrics, manufacturers and current workwear providers to try and gather an understanding of how the industry worked.
I was speaking with someone mutual friend’s wedding who manufactured cycling gear offshore, and I told him about my concept. He was kind enough to give me the contact details of his agent in China, however, after visiting him in China this agent fell through. By that stage I had already designed patterns so I wasn’t quitting on She’s Empowered. I set about finding another suitable manufacturer.
I’m also a very visual person so I started where most people probably wouldn’t… one of the first things I did was I create a website. Looking at this made me excited to continue to work on my business – I knew if I wanted the world to see the live shes-empowered website, I would need to create an amazing product to cut through the options already available in the industry.
What is your business model?
Clark: My business model is pretty simple: create amazing workwear that women will love and want to wear. I believe if the product is great, the word of mouth will follow, and so too, will the business development.
How are you marketing your business?
Clark: I’m at a grassroots marketing level at the moment. I believe I have a great product, and women love to talk, so I’m hoping my customers will pass on the positive word of mouth. I am networking and arranging meetings with diversity, HR and procurement managers within the industry and building brand awareness through a lot of hard work, award recognition (I was named Anthill’s 30 under 30 this year) and some advertising.
What is your greatest achievement with the business to date?
Clark: I’ve had a number of milestones since I first launched She’s Empowered but the highlight was my first stock arriving in Australia. It took roughly 20 months, and there were definitely highs and lows throughout the manufacturing process, however I always felt compelled to keep going. Now every morning I get to wake up and work on my business that I love and created. I think that’s something pretty special.
What has been the biggest challenge as a new business? And what lessons have you learned from them?
Clark: My biggest piece of advice for entrepreneurs is “Don’t be in a rush”. I initially thought I would have stock available mid 2012 – a mere 6 months from when I first thought of the concept. From the outside things look pretty simple, get a website, get a bank account and have a product to sell; but it takes a lot of energy, resources, time and perseverance to follow through on an idea. I honestly thought if I just created amazing workwear people would magically know that my product was available and sales would start flowing. How foolish was I!
I believe everything happens for a reason. Don’t dwell on a missed sale or opportunity – recognise that it’s all part of the grand scheme of things and get back up and try again. There’s probably a better offer around the corner. Don’t be turned off your business idea if someone makes a negative comment – use it as validation that you have thought outside the box and that your idea is unique!
Start up business is without a doubt juggling act – get comfortable with wearing lots of different hats from designer and developer to sales person and accountant! And if you’re really out of your depth in one area, outsource to a professional.
What is your plan for the business in 2014?
Clark: I am currently in production for my second order. The next range is scheduled to be available in February 2014. I will be introducing a Yellow/Navy range which will be available in all three styles. In the longer term, I am looking forward to expanding my line with maternity jeans, women’s everyday work jeans, a winter collection and introducing another women’s shirt design.
For more information, visit www.shes-empowered.com.au.