Monday, 20 August 2012

How to Set Up a Company While Working Full-time

An Interview with the Creator of Soraya Amaia Beachwear

We often think if only we had more time then we could do all those things we've always wanted to do.

But could it be that we’re very busy but not very productive? 

When I heard how Soraya managed to start her own swimwear company while working full-time for an investment bank, without any previous design or retail experience, I was so impressed I wanted to know how she did it.

Do we have more time than we think? Or does it just take a special sort of drive?

Soraya of Soraya Amaia Beachwear
You describe your company as a ‘Hobby that got out of Control’ – when did you get the idea to start a beachwear company?

It was always supposed to be a hobby, a creative outlet after spending 12hours a day analysing bonds and derivatives. After 5 years in the job in London, I jumped at the opportunity to work at another investment bank in Sao Paolo.

It was only a temporary escape to try something new. However it’s where I met so many entrepreneurial people that inspired me. My suitcase was full of suits and old, low key clothes, nothing expensive that would draw attention to myself as it wasn’t the safest of places. But I couldn’t have got it more wrong. I was taken aback by the wealth in Sao Paolo: so many women dressed in Gucci with perfectly manicured nails and the latest Chanel handbag. A cocktail in Sao Paolo is just as expensive as in a bar in Knightsbridge! Was I the only person who didn’t know this?  It was nothing like the other parts of Brazil I had travelled to.

In Sao Paolo I met some of the fortunate people lucky enough to live this Miami-vice lifestyle and who were so generous and incredibly kind to me. But looking at their massive houses with pools and huge gardens, the obvious question in my mind was, ‘What do YOU do for a living?’ And if I was going to work hard to get that sort of lifestyle, did I have to spend all day looking at numbers? Or were there other routes than my current career?

Meeting so many women who were entrepreneurs in areas other than banking got me thinking. I don’t know what sparked my interest in designing beachwear specifically, but it definitely started in Brazil and the hours spent on the beach in Guaruja. It wasn’t until I got back to London that I decided to start my own company and even then it took months and months of work.

What were the first steps you made when you decided to take it seriously?

Before I even properly decided to start my own beachwear label, I enrolled in a course for Swimwear and Lingerie at the London College of Fashion. I had a degree in Economics but nothing even close to an Arts GCSE! I had to know what was involved in design and starting up a label. There was a high probability that I’d be awful at it, but it was all supposed to be fun anyway! Turns out that vision is a large component of starting up a label, and I knew exactly what I wanted.

Where did you get the energy/inspiration from after working a full day?

I got a new job after getting back from Brazil and when I started the label, I managed to postpone the start date for another month which certainly helped in getting things organised and the wheels in motion. There’s no way around the fact that working 12hrs a day and then spending 2hrs in the evening on Skype with the factory in Brazil on designs, materials and stitching consumes your whole life, but it’s temporary.

The beginning is very hard, not only do you have the designs, you have to continuously improve the samples, plan a photo shoot, get your logo approved, fill out endless forms, set up the website etc - but  most importantly, how will you market it?

My friends will admit that there was a period of about 5-6 months were I fell off the radar, particularly since I also had to focus on my other full-time job - and working on a trading floor can really take it out of you. Sundays were sacred though: going to the gym and catching up on sleep saved my sanity.  Once the label was set up and I managed to get a shop in Gloucester Road on board, Exotica Brazil, it was much easier to get my work/social life balance back on track. It really is possible to do it all if you want it enough.

You must have come across problems during the process. Is there any that stick out that almost stopped you in your tracks?

There are always problems. Mainly though because I was so inexperienced and learnt as I went along. How much stock do I buy? Where do I keep it all? Where do I source the fabric? The biggest shock was the VAT and import tax that you pay and when I got a call from customs telling me how much it was!! But the quality was worth the extra money of getting the swimwear made in Brazil. You can really feel the difference.

In your opinion, what qualities were essential to achieve what you have?
Vision, determination, organisation…oh and patience, nothing happens overnight. Know what you want and then figure out the steps to get there.

What’s the most rewarding thing about having your own company?

It is something tangible that I can say I’ve done. I can’t do that with my day job, no one outside banking understands what I do!

You say there is so much you want to do, are you thinking of expanding your collection beyond beachwear?

You would laugh if I told you all my plans, expanding the collection internationally would be starters but then why stop there?  Creativity isn’t just designing swimwear for me; I nearly enrolled in an interior design course, but realised I don’t actually have the time working 12hrs already and that I should concentrate on one area. I’m not sure what direction my label will take, but I always have big plans.  

Finally, do you have any advice for someone wanting to start their own 

Yes, do your background research: learn about your market and if there is a niche for you. But be realistic! It takes a lot of time before you can actually make money, so you will have to be prepared to work two jobs to support yourself. If you’re looking at starting up your own business in fashion, do your research on trend spotting and other similar labels. You can take inspiration from practically anywhere, too. Create a book with all your ideas, then write up a plan and organise your time. Finally, networking is incredibly important, if it wasn’t for my course at London School of Fashion, I’d never have met the owner of the shop that stocks my designs. Nevertheless, it is so rewarding, having your own label, and if you want it you can have it!

Visit to view her full collection of stunning beachwear.

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