For Barbara Fidler, the drive to be independent and start her own business had always been strong.
The passion for working on her own projects started in university, she says. But earlier this year, in March 2020, she took the plunge and launched her own fashion business, called A State of Nature.
“I make shirts and jackets, by hand in my workshop in my house,” she explains. “I strongly believe in this idea of being an independent maker, who sells handmade products, and supports other craftsmen.
“I source my fabrics from a family-run business in Lancashire as well as the British Millerain. For me, getting my fabrics locally is more ethical than securing cheaper materials from other parts of the world.”
Barbara knows that starting your own business can be risky, but she’s been able to develop a robust vision and ethos that is driving her brand while remembering that while starting out, A State of Nature is still growing, shifting and changing as new ideas, new customers and new methods of promotion come to light.
“I believe that people are becoming very interested in how and where articles from their lives come to be,” she says.
“People appreciate the transparency of knowing where my materials come from, feeling a personal connection to me, and being exposed to the whole process of making the shirts.
“When you think about someone making you a garment you might typically think of something very high end, or inaccessible. I want to make this process accessible.
“What develops is a very functional, comfortable garment – the styles are inspired by Japanese streetwear, they are oversized and versatile. You can wear it to work, cleaning, for a walk or dressed up.”
Barbara says she has developed her brand and built contacts and partners mainly using Instagram.
“It’s an excellent free resource, if you know how to really get the most of it,”she says, and has been quite successful so far in approaching influencers, brands and magazines and offering her product in exchange for press.
“If I’m going to approach someone from a magazine, say I like the photography editorial – I will find the name of the photographer in the magazine, locate them on Instagram and contact them directly. Let them know where I saw their work, what I liked about it and what I’m proposing – I really believe in the personal touch, it shows that you understand them, you understand their work and share in and appreciate their art.”
It’s also important to reach out to people and organisations for help, says Barbara, who sought the help of her family, who are graphic designers, artists and animators.
“I had to make sure that my craft was strong, but I needed a wide range of skills, not just in making the clothes and jackets, but also in producing my brand.
“It’s good to recognise the variables of what goes into running a fashion business and the work that you will need to undertake outside of my creative passion. You can’t just be a designer, you have to do the PR, you have to represent the brand, make sure the product is commercially viable.”
Barbara’s business plan involved understanding how she was going to budget for materials, and how she was going to reach out to like-minded artists and stockists.
So does she have any advice for those who wish to start a new business?
“Take a risk!” she says. “I didn’t know if I would be able to do what I loved as a job, but it’s important to be brave, be creative.
“Don’t get stuck, take the slower days with the busier days and know that if you try and expose your passion and your talent, you will grow. Stability can be a mire, if you have a passion, try it out, allow yourself the time to test it out.
“You can’t just think, ‘I’m starting this and I’ll be successful’ – but be smart, start small, approach it with a strong vision and a plan.”
But there’s no doubting how much Barbara loves the independence and flexibility that comes with running your own business.
“I really love being able to do my work from home, I can open the door to my workshop and listen to the birds, having the sun and fresh air streaming in,” she says.
“I can take a break and have a cup of tea and relax in the mornings. I get to dictate my schedule. Sometimes I will have a slower morning and work slightly later into the evening.”
This means that A State of Nature can grow organically, and Barbara can ensure that the quality of her work is maintained while growing intelligently.
Real success doesn’t come overnight, she says, it’s a mixture of hard work, dedication and a bit of luck.
But there are amazing resources out there for anyone with the passion and drive to start up a business, and which have supported Barbara through the process.
Resources like the City Business Library allow you to plan, to understand your market and find the space required to focus on your idea.
You can make use of free resources online and in your community, ask for help, ask for advice and build the relationships you need to get up and running thanks to business one-to-ones, market research resources, seminars, networking and events.