Kellie Sands, Founder of Harlequin Belle Shares Her Lessons in Business

I started Harlequin Belle in 2013 with the intention to create beautiful, functional products that will stand the test of time. I have seen it all throughout my career in the fast fashion industry – the waste, the substandard working conditions and the poor treatment of staff in a cutthroat industry. Deep down, even when I was still working in that environment, I knew that my passion lied in creating timeless pieces that have no negative impact on the planet or people involved. I didn’t want my business to be mass-produced, trend-driven and apart of the throwaway fashion industry. Instead I focus on stripping designs back to basics, ensuring that styles will exist beyond trends.

From the beginning I knew this journey was going to be a rollercoaster. I have experienced a multitude of challenges and discovered that I constantly need to be evolving and educating myself in order to grow with my business. And can I tell you, that over the past 7 years I have learnt more about the fashion industry than from my whole career prior. As a business owner things change constantly. There are new apps, new algorithms and changing international trade laws. To stay afloat, you need to be flexible, adaptive and always open to learning something new.

One of the biggest lessons I have learnt is the need to market your product. I put a lot of time and energy into making a product that we think is truly great. Others evidently agreed, as we were quickly able to get quite a few retail stores to stock Harlequin Belle. We thought we were onto something special. However, when we made our website live, I found myself wondering ‘where are the customers?’

I thought if the product was good enough, they would just find us. Now I realise now naïve that was because, as it turns out, it’s not quite that simple.  I don’t naturally seek the limelight, preferring to let the product speak for itself, but if I were starting again, I would be shouting about it from the rooftops. It is so important to invest in getting the word out there and educating people on the product. Of course, having a great product remains paramount, but no one can buy that great product if they don’t know about it.

Every Harlequin Belle product is, in some way, a reflection on me.  Our reputations are intertwined, so I try to make sure everything is perfect before it gets released into the world. This has been one of my biggest lessons – to make a decision once then move on.  I’m getting better at it, but expect that it will be a work in progress for some time yet.

The best advice I could offer to others is also in many ways advice for myself: Put yourself out there.  This is something that I still struggle with today.  Feeling vulnerable sucks but it is the best way I’ve found to learn and grow.  My final piece of advice would be – Just begin.

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