We chatted to Emily Somers, former ING Dreamstarter and owner of Bravery Co. about launching a successful social enterprise, how it all started, and her tips for anyone looking to start their own business.
Where did the inspiration for your social enterprise come from?
I’d had cancer twice and lost my hair numerous times, all before I was 30. When I got sick of my wig, I started playing around with scarves and I taught myself how to tie loads of different knots and turbans.
I’ve always wanted to start my own business and, after women on the chemo ward kept asking me how I tied my scarf, I got the idea of a headscarf business. The current head-wear is particularly daggy and unstylish, so it helps women going through the same crap I did. Plus, we raise money for cancer research to hopefully end this stupid disease. It was impossible to not start Bravery Co.
What steps did you take to get it off the ground?
I didn’t follow any set steps! I had no idea what I was doing at the start and spent a lot of time googling and asking friends for help and advice.
It was slow going, but once I had a name and a logo, things felt a bit more real. I opened bank accounts, ABNs and started social media accounts. Then, using a very simple website on WIX, I started small by buying three scarf designs wholesale.
Good photos are key in the world of social media. I asked a photographer friend to shoot another survivor friend and me modelling scarves. We only use cancer survivors and warriors as models so we stay true to why we started.
Deciding where to donate the money was easy – I had part of my treatment at Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and wanted to help fund the cancer research they did there.
How did you know something you were passionate about had the potential to be something great?
Experiencing a gap in the market first hand was the first sign. It was so frustrating to be bombarded with chemo head-wear brands that didn’t suit my style or age. Since opening Bravery I’ve had so many beautiful messages and emails from cancer warriors and survivors who couldn’t find anything to wear on their new bald noggin. It’s nice when someone tells me I’ve helped them get through cancer with a bit more style and confidence – it makes it all worthwhile.
What should people consider when starting their own business or social enterprise?
Do something you fricking love! Not something you think is trending or you have a minor interest in. You need that passion to keep you motivated and customers gravitate to businesses with heart. People love sharing stories and it’s easier for people to get behind a business if you’ve got a compelling reason for starting. This will also help create communities of like-minded people who will champion your brand.
Lots of people are thinking about starting their own passion project or side hustle. What advice can you give them?
Just start! Buy the domain, get an ABN, find someone to make a logo and set up your Instagram accounts. All these small things get the ball rolling and once you’ve got momentum it will feel easier.
Also, try not to over complicate it at the beginning. Start something in its simplest, leanest form – especially when juggling a full-time job. I started with just three designs on my website, sourced from a company whose scarves I loved wearing when I was sick. If I started off trying to print my own scarves I probably still wouldn’t have launched the business.
Did you work at the same time as starting your social enterprise?
Yes – I still work part time as an advertising Art Director. I love having a steady income which means I don’t have to put financial stress on Bravery. But this means I often work late and over weekends.
I’ve recently cut down from four to three days a week at the agency and I’m trying to work smarter, not longer. My list is never completed and I’m always rushing from one thing to the next – but I wouldn’t change a thing. I love my work and hopefully one day, Bravery will become the full time gig.
What are your favourite things about being a business owner?
Knowing that I’m helping solve a problem for women going through a similar ordeal to the one I did. That and having the freedom to work on my laptop from cafés around the world.
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