Starting your own business can be hard but with the help of social media, it can be easier to get your business into the eye of the world. This is exactly what Naima Issa did when she started Knightsbridge Furs.
Tell us about yourself and your business?
I started my business in winter 2015. At the time I was working for my family business, having to travel between London and Kiev. Whilst I was over in Kiev I noticed a lot of gorgeous furs being worn by the all the girls in the city. I had always been a huge fan of fur, having gotten my first fur jacket when I was around 7 or 8 from my uncle. During my trips I would always buy some pieces for myself and some friends, everyone seemed to love the style which was more flamboyant with the Eastern influence. Since 2013 I have been living around Knightsbridge so I knew from observing the local area that there was a market for luxury goods from the overseas tourists. I knew that if I got pieces from the correct manufacturers and sold the product to the right people it would definitely sell. After this point I took the idea much more seriously, taking trips to Moscow and to Kiev to attend international fur auctions, exhibitions and speaking to people in the industry. We now have a small team of furriers in our studio in Kiev working for us, quality is important so every order is handmade with great craftsmanship by ladies who have been doing this job for years! I simply called it Knightsbridge Furs because that’s where we socialised and that’s where I knew the bulk of my clientele would be frequenting.
Due to the help of social media, I managed to garner some attention for the brand to get the word out and it certainly helped with getting the overseas business. I get a large majority of orders from ladies from Kuwait and Qatar, they are definitely the kind of community that if one person loves something all of their cousins and aunties will be in touch soon! Social media gave us that reach in the first place. During the first month, I made my first three sales, one being over £2000 from a Chelsea football managers wife! At this point, our website wasn’t even set up properly.
A recommended read by Naima: Thick Face, Black Heart
What tips would you give to a start-up business that is trying to use social media?
I’m sure this goes for lots of other industries, follower count doesn’t equate to sales. A smaller more loyal following can make a business more successful in comparison to a business which has thousands and thousands of followers but with no interaction. There are a lot of people who love our style and quality and I would say in the fur industry we definitely are up there for utilising social media. It has revolutionised an old fashion industry by the way we promote ourselves and the styles and colours we also experiment with.
A recommended read by Naima: How to Win Friends and Influence People
What financial tips would you give to someone wanting to start their own business?
I would definitely advise someone to really think about the end picture, I have noticed now that a lot of young women aspire to live a particular “lavish lifestyle”. You will always see girls now who so many aspire to be, with the designer bags and nice shoes, going to the best restaurants and people now look to that, they want that lifestyle and I think we just have to remind ourselves that this all comes in time. Set yourself long term goals, invest in your education and financial stability. I’ve always known that I wouldn’t just depend upon one source of income, so if you do have a job at this moment, set aside part of that income to invest in yourself and your goals. Whether that would be further education, attending a course or even buying books*. Make sure to invest in yourself and your security financially. My Father always said to me that there is no difference between workers and owners apart from capital and knowledge, in order to have gotten that capital you must firstly have knowledge. So always keep in mind we all start somewhere.
I must add, when starting out you never really need to have a lot of money. That’s a misconception, there are a lot of brands than began on a small budget. Of course you need that initial investment and we have always been independent, but after a few months we reinvested profits to make what we’ve got better. It’s a very new company but it is doing well alhamdulillah. When starting out in business, I had made my fair share of mistakes when it came to investing, ultimately all being a blessing as I have learnt and improved on my journey. I would say always do as much research as possible when it comes to risking your own money and ask as many questions as possible.
A recommended read by Naima: Rich Woman
It sounds like you work quite hard, how do you separate your work life from your personal life?
Yes, I must admit over the last couple of years I’ve been working super hard, luckily I have a great group of friends and we all do work together and discuss business so I must admit it can be a little hard to switch off. I make an effort to keep work emails off my phone and I have an assistant who handles all queries and orders for me. I found this to be really helpful because now I have set hours where I do check on work but only in the office. I try not to work from home and always make sure to catch up with friends on evenings and weekends. I’m generally always working – I even think of networking as work – it all ties into one really, because I get involved in a lot of charity and art events and you never know who you will meet. You can build great friendships, learn from people and always be willing to help each other out.
I have all social events in my calendar too, so I make sure to plan for the evenings. Next week I have an event to attend at Christie’s and an art preview at the embassy of Slovakia. This week is pretty free but will be going to The Arts Club to meet with friends. Also, I must stress I have found in business that connections are important so you should always be ready with your “elevator pitch”.
A recommended read by Naima: The 4-Hour Work Week
Last but not least, what have you learned from previous failures? Everybody talks about the successes so we thought we would switch it the other way around!
Mistakes are inevitable, we make them and improve. It happens to the best of us but what we can do is use that as a platform to become better. Also, it’s better to make all the mistakes sooner rather than later! It makes you revaluate your strengths and your weaknesses and have people on your team that can excel in these areas so you don’t have to micromanage and become overwhelmed when your time is better placed elsewhere. For a lot of small businesses, one of the biggest challenges is definitely a lack of experience and cash flow. Accounting is my weak point so I make sure to have someone on retainer who can keep us on track with this. My accountant has been a great help in the structuring of the business and has helped us become savvier with our spending.
Here is a list of recommended reads from Naima Issa:
This interview was conducted and edited by Bola.