Meet Thembi Hanify of Mathys Sinclair, who shares her experience of starting-up a fashion business with her business partner Rachelle Sinclair.
Tell us about you, what made you move to the USA?
I came to NYC kind of on a whim, not knowing anyone, and without a job or apartment. I decided to apply for the J1 visa just before my eligibility post-university ran out, and told myself ‘well, if everything fails then I can just fly home!’. And now I’ve been here for over six years.
What inspired you to start the business?
My business partner and I met almost ten years ago in Brisbane, sharing the idea ‘we have to start a fashion label together one day’!
We had always had the idea in the backs of our minds…so once I switched from full time work to freelancing and Rachelle sold her prior label KHALO; we both had the time and energy to create our own fashion label. I guess it was meant to happen and in 2016 Mathys Sinclair was born.
Can you tell us about your sales and marketing?
As a fashion brand, the bulk of our sales are made direct-to-consumer; either through our website or in person through events and pop-ups we’ve had. We do have two retail stockists and are focusing hard on growing this number in 2017.
In regards to marketing, our strongest marketing tool is Instagram, plus traditional press callouts online and in print.
What have been your greatest challenges in starting up a new business in New York?
I am well versed in the creative side of things, but starting a business and wrapping your head around the organizational and strategic side of things has been a huge challenge. There is also so much going on in New York so it is always challenging to get out there and be seen. We’re lucky we got some amazing press right off the bat with Refinery29 and Hypebae covering our debut collection.
What is the difference between an Australian start-up and New York Start-up?
We’re in an interesting position because we’re based between New York and Australia. There is obviously a lot more opportunity for funding in America, and the start-up culture over here is so strong. In Australia I get the impression it’s still developing and that there is slightly less opportunity for large chunks of funding.
Starting up can be notoriously difficult – what keeps you going?
I am very grateful that I am in business with a partner and not on my own. Rachelle and I support each other through the ups and downs. Usually when I’m having a bad day she’s having a good day or vice versa, so we motivate each other.
The bottom line is our passion to create a brand that is inclusive and positive. We both feel really strongly that a lot of fashion takes itself too seriously and kind of makes you feel like you’re not good enough, so we’d like to connect with people on a more supportive level than that.
Do you work from a business plan or are you intuitively growing your business?
We do have a business plan… but it has changed so much! It’s always evolving. The tricky thing with starting a business is that initially it’s all based on predictions. Then things turn out completely differently so you have to be nimble and able to tweak your strategies accordingly. I have an alarm set on my phone for every Sunday afternoon to review our plan and strategy. We’ve definitely stuck to our core principles, but the ways in which we’re going about them are constantly being tweaked and refined.
Can you tell me about an ‘Aha’ moment – I’ve made it in New York!
Our label launch in New York was such an amazing moment. It was very stressful in the lead up, but we had a great turn out and got some amazing press and sold a lot of our ‘buy-now-wear-now’ pieces. The best thing was receiving authentic and positive feedback on the brand. It made all of the hard work worthwhile!!
An important consideration for any entrepreneur…are you able to draw salary whilst creating the business of your dreams?
We are putting every dollar we make back into building the brand. I am comfortably supporting myself by freelancing for various fashion ad agencies. The pay in NYC is definitely high and plentiful which is great. Sometimes it is a bit tricky to juggle time and money however. Sometimes I need to devote a large chunk of time to Mathys Sinclair, say one month, so I need to budget my freelance earnings over those down times.
The Mathys Sinclair brand mission is “Reality, Positivity and Connection”. Please can you discuss this?
Our brand mission was simply created through Rachelle and I figuring out what we liked and disliked about the fashion industry. Historically fashion has been about fantasy and creating this different version of yourself through dressing up, but I think that mentality is dramatically shifting right now. I have great respect for those who show real creativity and expression through the way they dress, however by large the ‘fantasy’ of fashion has kind of been warped through advertising to tell us that we’re not good enough, stylish enough, trendy enough, thin enough etc etc. So that’s why we wanted to approach things with a sense of reality. Unfortunately the industry takes itself a little too seriously as a whole and can be pretty elitist and snobby, so we wanted to offer something positive and approachable to our customer.
It’s not often that we are offered such ‘reality’ from a fashion brand. Authenticity is another intrinsic value than is mentioned
Personally the more I develop the more I realize that being anything but authentically yourself is kind of like being stuck in a prison, and it’s doing a disservice to yourself and everyone around you. Being able to live your true thoughts, beliefs, likes, dislikes, style etc is pretty key to feeling fulfilled and happy. Rachelle and I both believe this strongly.
What are your 3 greatest learnings in starting up a business ?
1. Reach out – you’ve got nothing to lose. Giving and receiving advice from other friends in similar situations has been invaluable thus far
2. Take the time to think things through and appreciate that every scenario is just a massive learning opportunity
3. Figure out your time/money balance and don’t be afraid to prioritize things accordingly
What do you love about doing business in New York?
- Constant inspiration from the diverse set of people in the city.
- Access to top level contacts, events, publications, talent etc.
- Supportive and open minded people – people are really willing to help out and to share their advice and experience with you.
Conversely, what do you dislike about doing business in New York?
- The NYC Hustle is real. And sometimes it can get very hard and very tiring.
- Sometimes the amount of things going on can actually be a bit overwhelming and can easily cause FOMO/comparison anxiety.
- The Winter. I know that’s not specifically business related but my dislike for winter often pervades all areas of my life nowadays and I try to escape to warmer climates as often as I can.
What is next for Mathys Sinclair?
In terms of where are we going, we want to create a solid customer base, focus on our product, our brand message, and go from there. We are firm believers that if you build the foundation correctly then the rest will follow. With lots of hard work as well of course.
We’re currently developing samples for our Resort 2018 collection which we will show in May/June this year, with the objective is to attain wholesale accounts. We also have a few little collaborations and capsule product drops, that we are excited to release.
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