Hannah Lavery: Just stick to what your core values are and you’ll be fine.

Hannah Lavery is a fashion designer based in Cape Town who produces, alongside a team of known and skilled makers, a subtly innovative and locally grounded line of clothing for women. Hanna's brand is dedicated to ethical production that is transparent and relational, feeding opportunity where possible into the local industry. Her designs are available from Convoy Shop in JHB or at The Shed at V&A Waterfront. In this interview she shares the lessons she's learned along the way.

Tell us a bit about your business and what motivated you to start?

I was studying Fashion Design and I was not sure what I wanted to do when I finished, but I was quite certain that I was not keen to go work for a large firm.  I had worked throughout my studies for boutiques and other labels and near the end of my studies was offered an opportunity to stock a local boutique on Kloof street.  So my label was born very rapidly and without much planning and it has grown with me and its course has changed over the years.

How did you raise your start up money? 

I started with about R4000 that I had saved up while studying and the more I sold the more I made.  I did not have any start up capital other than that so I was never taking greater risks that I couldn't manage.  I also worked part time lecturing at the Design Academy of Fashion for the first year and a half of my business.

Did you write a business plan? Was it an effective tool for you?

I did not write one since I started and put together my label in about 2 weeks directly after I finished studying.

Who did you hire to help you with your business - bookkeeper, an accountant, lawyer …? Would you suggest others do the same?

I read a book quite early on in starting my business that said that the best thing that you can do for your business is to know your weaknesses and hire people to do those things.  So right from the start I had an accountant! I never had a lawyer but I do wish that I had been more strict about legal agreements with stockists and suppliers from the beginning.

Have you outsourced any portion of your business? And has that worked for your business?

I still do most things in house, but part of my manufacturing process has been outsourced and I do think that I would like to outsource more tasks in the future to allow me to really focus on the designs and the development of the business.

What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?

I have been quite quite clear about setting yearly targets and saying yes to opportunities that have arisen unexpectedly.

How do you effectively manage the finances of your company?

Cash flow in retail is a common problem and one that we have not completely eradicated, but I plan my year out quite carefully and pump money back into the business as much as possible.

Do you have rainy-day savings for your business?

Yes - absolutely.  Rainy days come very often in retail and without savings you can have one bad season and have to close your business.

What's a financial mistake you made as a business owner in the beginning? And how did you bounce from it?

I did not have proper legal agreements with people that I was working with and in one year I suffered quite a lot under the weight of people not paying money that was owed to me.  As a small business that is hard to absorb, but I was able to get through them and learnt a lot about protecting my interests.   Also, since I completely funded my business and did not have a net to fall back on I do think that I was restrictively cautious in the beginning.

With the current economy slump, what cost saving tips would you share with new entrepreneurs?

Do not go into too much debt in the beginning and incur large interest charges - just grow at the pace at which you are making money and let that dictate to you how viable the business is and how to go further.

What advice can you offer female business owners on making sure they're being compensated fairly for their work?

Surely if they are the business owners they will be dictating there own compensation?

Do you have business mentors, and if so, how have they helped you develop as an entrepreneur?

I have so many mentors and they are just these are other designers in Cape Town that are a few years ahead of me who are always offering me advice and encouragement.  I really do find the local industry very warm and enthusiastic and I have learned so much from working alongside and with them.  For example in a communal shop that I am a part of in Joburg, called Convoy I am continuously inspired by and learn so much from the other designers who are a part of it.  

What have you learned from starting your company that might be useful to would-be entrepreneurs?

Do things your own way and try and focus as much as possible on your own business and its strengths.  Each business has its own unique course and sometimes it is easy to get bogged down by comparing your business to others in the same industry. Just stick to what your core values are and you’ll be fine.

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