The barefoot days
Starting a business is hard. Starting a clothing brand is really hard. Although we were lucky to have amazing parents who supported us through school and university, we didn’t start Jam with a large barrel of cash. As much as we would have loved a hefty handout, looking back, we’re eternally grateful that it never came. We clubbed together a small some of savings and off we went.
We spent most of our limited budget on a shoddy website, designed by a 16-year-old in his bedroom who quite frankly “schooled us”. For some reason we believed we would launch our website and become overnight millionaires. We pressed the launch button and pretty much all we got from Week 1, was a few sympathy orders from our older brother for which we are eternally grateful. It became very clear, very quickly, that overnight success is not a thing… well certainly not for us!
Only 6 months into starting Jam, we committed to a ‘pop up’ at a major clothing event however, in order to do it, we needed a little more cash. Fortunately, having watched us go through the motions of starting the company, Mum realised that this was not a life choice we had taken lightly, and nor was it an easy one. She also let slip it that she shared the same dream as us. She decided to invest enough money to get us through that first trade show, and just like that we had our third partner. Thank god. They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, and with her investment, we gained her passion. We learnt that from Mum; she’s committed 110% from that day until now, working as many hours as she can find to share the journey with us. Thank you Mum.
What followed was two fairly brutal years of ‘popping up’ and ‘popping down’. The Jam store became a 2x 1m table (pop up) which Mark and I would take from fair to fair trying to sell our clothing. We weren’t generating a huge amount of revenue, and what we did generate we were saving to reinvest into our brand. We went everywhere: schools, farmers market, Christmas fairs in the church, more schools, whatever it was we said yes to doing it. We drove our 1991 Land Rover defender all over the country, breaking down bi-monthly until finally we were forced to sell it in exchange for a van. We were happy sad. Nobody ever wants to sell a Defender, but the upgrade to the van meant one thing… we were growing.
Whilst they were the most brutal times, sleeping in vans, on sofas, and even in our 4x4 pop up tent, they were incredibly educational, and incredibly fun. It’s really easy to get carried away and check into a hotel on these trips, but as Mark regularly pointed out we needed to generate cash, not spend it. Our conflicting brains were starting to become a powerful asset. I was desperate to make more clothes, better clothes, shoot nicer photography, and make a movie! But every time I got excited Mark brought me back to earth, “If you want to do that then great, but to get there we need cash, and to get cash we have to spend as little as possible.” He cunningly used my aspirations of making luxury clothes to convince me to sleep rough. Every day. I’m glad he did. I didn’t really care as long as I could surf, and Mark didn’t really care, because he knew that by saving cash, we would be able to grow. In hindsight, it created the best summers of our lives; surfing, partying, slumming, and doing it all over again. I was barefoot for 4 months (a personal dream come true).
Albeit tough both mentally and physically, that summer we hit a turning point in our business. We saved every pound of revenue and reinvested it in Jam. We ‘popped up’ on a different beach every day, many thanks to an amazing network of friends, whom today we are eternally grateful for. We spoke to customers day in day out, and we built a greater understanding of what it was that people wanted. We painted a picture of the ‘gap in the market’. We gained a clear understanding of what Jam Industries needed to create, and the brand that we needed to become. By the end of the summer we knew what people wanted, and we had saved enough cash to start building it. Sort of. We ended the summer of 2015 on a high with our most successful pop-up to date; the car park at the Winking Prawn in Salcombe. As usual, we took it in turns to go in and out of the sea, chatted to customers all day, sold some clothes and got stuck into a few cold beers. We were lucky enough to have beds that night thanks to a good friend, so we were out to play! That night we ‘played’ so hard that we befriended a random guy in the pub (not the first time). We don’t really know what we said, but somehow, we managed to land ourselves a shop on Island street, in Salcombe. EPIC. Our journey was ready for the next twist, and whilst we often say we got lucky, it could also be argued we created our own luck. We’ve probably popped up over 100 times, and we still ‘pop up’ today.
The barefoot days were without doubt the hardest of our lives, but without them, we would not be the brand we are today. We believe in starting from scratch, because we have learnt so much from doing it. We’ve adopted the slow and steady approach to growing our brand, and that is how it will stay.