Are you ready to take the jump? Meet Sonia Padam who made the leap from accountant to entrepreneur with Eight Hour Studios, a luxury sleepwear brand. We spoke to her about her inspiration to change careers, the importance of strong brand values, how to create a network of influencers and that it’s OK to make a few mistakes along the way. Phew! Her brand may be called Eight Hour Studio but it took much more than a night’s sleep to develop. Read below to hear all about Sonia’s story.
Where did the idea for Eight Hour Studio come about?
The journey that has resulted in the creation of Eight Hour Studio started about two years ago. However, in hindsight, the seed was perhaps planted fifteen years ago when I first discovered hand block printing on a holiday with my family in New Delhi. I kept coming across what I thought were beautiful garments in gorgeous colours and print designs. I learned these were done using hand block carving and printing techniques that were many centuries old.
You originally worked as an accountant. How did you make the initial jump to change career paths?
I was living in Sydney having started my career in accounting and was working for a multinational property company. It was there that I met Ash who would later become my husband and Eight Hour Studio business partner.
In 2007, Ash was transferred to London for work but by late 2008, as we all know, the financial crisis hit, and everything changed. I became burnt out and jaded and decided to have a break from the corporate world.
I started cake decorating which initially began as a hobby but I developed it into a business. It wasn’t for me but I realised that despite working as an accountant I was actually pretty creative! I love the idea of making something from scratch and then seeing the delight when a customer loves the end product.
At the same time, Ash and I started talking about creating our dream enterprise. We had no idea what this would do, but we started by talking about what sort of values and principles we would want any business we created to have – for it to be local yet global, socially responsible, environmentally aware, and using partners who share a similar set of values.
It was then that I found myself thinking about whether a clothing business using the hand block printing method that I had admired for so long could be built on these foundations. From this, the Eight Hour Studio came to be.
So you had this idea. Now what? How did you go about starting? Did you know what to do? And when you didn’t, where did you go to find out?
At the time Ash and I started brainstorming business ideas, a friend referred me to a life coach. I hadn’t known of such a thing but my friend was adamant that a good life coach could potentially give me some guidance on how to go about launching a business.
This is what brought me into contact with my life coach, Judy, who as it turned out had started her own clothing business many years ago. I have to say that since I booked in that first session, I have never looked back. I worked with Judy for about 18 months, and it was during these sessions I began exploring and working on the idea of a clothing business using the tradition of wood block printing.
Having started her own business, Judy was a huge inspiration and source of knowledge and experience. I can honestly say that if it wasn’t for Judy I’m not sure Eight Hour Studio would have ever happened. Judy really taught me to have the courage to network, meet new people, learn how to ask for what I need and to put myself out there – not something that was easy given I am a naturally shy person.
As I began to network I was able to build a supportive group of people around me I could go to with questions and issues. I also took various courses which was a great way to learn and build contacts. One particular course, the Fashion Masterclass at Portobello Business Centre, was my introduction to David Jones, a fashion industry guru with over sixty-five years of experience working in the UK and Europe. Once the course was finished, I joined David’s mentorship program. It has been incredible having their support – whenever I have any questions or obstacles, all I have to do is pick up the phone and call. Having a mentor has made a huge difference, along with a supportive partner and network.
Tell us what your brand means to you and what does it stand for?
There are hundreds of brands that people are familiar with in the fashion industry. The more mass market a brand is, the more likely we are to be bombarded with TV commercials and billboards reminding us of their existence. However, what struck us is that few of these brands actually stood for anything. Many appear disposable but for the marketing budgets they have to keep reminding us of their existence.
Where we set out to be different is to create a brand that means something. We want our customers to know that when they purchase an Eight Hour Studio garment they are not only going to get something that uses high quality materials with delicate detailing, and modern fashion cuts, but that they are also produced by hand by our fair trade supplier, using organic cottons and AZO free dyes. We want our customers to know that they’ll have a beautiful and luxurious product that’s also been produced ethically and responsibly. These are qualities and principles we will not compromise on even if it limits how much we are able to grow.
Who developed the brand identity for you and what was the brief? Can you tell us about the methodology used to come up with the final brand?
Through my mentor, David Jones, I had the pleasure of being introduced to Charlotte Audrey, who is extremely talented at design and brand development.
Charlotte got exactly what we were trying to create as a brand right from the onset. We had one conversation and from there she has done an incredible job of helping us develop and refine our brand’s look and feel. She has been involved in all aspects of our branding, from designing the logo and website, and creating interesting content.
In terms of the methodology used to come up with the final brand, we would give Charlotte concepts and guidance on what we wanted, then Charlotte would come up with various options, which we would discuss, give feedback on and refine further. We repeated this process over many weeks until we ended up with what we felt was just right for us.
Having someone who is great at design and understands your brand is vital. Branding can be costly, so ideally you want to get the foundation right from the onset. Of course you can then build on that and have variations to it, but if you can get the basis right at the start this is a huge plus. You also have to be able to really trust your design team, and we completely trust Charlotte with our branding.
What have been the greatest challenges you’ve faced developing and launching your business?
It has been an extremely steep learning curve (and we are still on it!). You are constantly learning something new, particularly early on.
Also, no one can know everything about a business. Coming from an accounting background I always felt confident with numbers, but in the beginning I had no idea about garment design, print and construction. While we had partners to help us with this, not knowing how these processes initially worked meant we made some mistakes along the way.
Sometimes it can be quite costly in terms of time and money but it’s all part of the journey. The main thing is to learn from your mistakes and not dwell on them. The key though is to never forget what you are trying to achieve and keep working towards your goal.
One key to getting the business to launch stage is to make sure you pick the right partners that understand exactly what you are trying to achieve. This applies to everything from design and branding to packaging and manufacturing. We feel very fortunate to have the team we do that has helped us deliver exactly what we set out to accomplish.
What do you think was missing that could have made a difference to you?
For me, what was initially missing was a lack of experience and contacts in the fashion industry. Not coming from that industry I literally had to start from scratch. Having previous knowledge could have resulted in the development process being shorter and no doubt a few errors being avoided. But, we really wouldn’t change anything because we’ve learned the most from our mistakes.
What has been the most exhilarating part of starting your own business?
The thing that stands out in my mind is seeing our vision come to life. We set out to create a brand using a really traditional, labour intensive craft but in a contemporary, cool way. It wasn’t until we got our first print samples that we realised we were actually making it happen, and I was blown away by those first prints.
It was then that we started to make some real progress. The prints, colours and fabric turned out exactly as we hoped they would and it gave us a lot of pride that what we were creating was being done so in an ethical and socially responsible manner. We were also really proud of the young talent we had found to help us at each stage.
The other exhilarating aspect of launching a business is when you start to receive real feedback from your customers. We have been very fortunate that so far it has been very positive not just about our products, but also about the look and feel of the brand, website, as well as our packaging.
Finally, I would say that getting to meet so many amazing people, including family and friends, who have been so generous with their time and support has been really special. We feel so lucky to have had the support we have and are truly grateful!
Tell us about how you met your design partner Louise? What’s it been like working with her?
As often happens in business, I was introduced to Louise by a friend. Louise is a very talented young up and coming women’s wear designer.
Working with Louise has been fantastic, and she has been key to making my vision of combining traditional block printing with contemporary and fashionable styles, prints and cuts a reality.
Observing her creative process has been fascinating. She really does push the boundaries and always thinks outside the box. But equally, can then be realistic in how to bring her creative process to fruition. It has been a great learning experience for me working with her, given I do not come from a design background.
What have you learnt about design that you didn’t know before?
I have always loved design, but before Eight Hour Studio I really didn’t know what was involved and how complex it can be. As a consumer, all you see is the end product so you have no idea about how much thought and energy has gone into it.
I most definitely have a new appreciation for design. For me the biggest learning has been about the small details. It is all those small details that add up to make great design.
Another learning, still ongoing, is being able to articulate my thoughts properly when talking about design. Having had none of the technical language, I can now hold my own in a conversation about design without sounding like a complete novice which is nice!
From your point of view, why does “Design Work Wonders” for business?
For Eight Hour Studio, design is really at the heart of what we do. Design is where is all starts for us. In creating 8HS, the design started with the fashion design process and creating our product. Once we had the essence of the look and feel of our products, we then started on the design and creation of the brand itself. Again, this was a process we put a lot of thought, energy and time into.
This flows all the way through to what could normally be considered after thoughts which is the packaging. Louise, Charlotte and Clara have all been essential to making these various stages come together, and are key to what design means for us. Being young and very talented, we have pretty much given them a free rein on their respective design elements because we trust them completely to bring our vision to reality.
As a result of putting design first, we are very proud of what Eight Hour Studio has become. And while it is still very early days, we have been getting a lot of positive feedback on both the product and the branding. So for us, design really has worked wonders. I would say for any business, be it fashion, creative or corporate, design is key and the foundation for what customers can expect from the brand itself.
Now that you’ve launched what are the next set of challenges or focus for you?
Now that we have developed our brand and products, the next step is getting the brand out there and building a loyal customer following. We believe our product will speak for itself, so we just need to create as many opportunities as possible for people to discover us.
Another ongoing challenge for us given our product is hand printed, is the lead time it takes to produce our garments which is fairly long, especially by fashion industry standards. So there’s a lot of planning involved in terms of managing our inventory. In addition, hand block printing is quite a labour intensive process and is heavily reliant on good weather, which is obviously something that’s out of our control.
Block printing involves repeat prints by our very talented printers, who line up each repeat by hand on long lengths of fabrics. The fabric is then dried outdoors, which means rain and humidity during monsoon season can disrupt printing massively.
Another challenge, which is the same for any business, is maintaining a high quality in product and service. We want our customers to have a great experience from the moment they engage with our brand, and each and every time they wear our garments.
What does the future hold for you and the business?
I have big plans for what I would like to do with the business and where we can take it. I am always thinking about new products we could introduce in the future, as well as exploring different traditional printing methods from other Asian and African prints and printing methods.
We have only been running since mid-January so I do sometimes have to remind myself to slow down a little and not get over-excited when I think of new things we could do with the business, everything will happen in good time. We are excited, however, to be launching men’s sleepwear later in the year, so keep a look out!
Finally, we would like to thank MOO for giving us this amazing opportunity to showcase our brand! We love the MOO brand and have been customers for some time, so to be showcased by MOO is a real privilege. Thank you!
No, thank you Sonia! We can’t wait to wear our own cozy sets for MOO’s next ‘Wear your PJ’s to Work’ day. Now, if someone can please get organising…
Have you recently changed career paths and started a new business? Share with us your story in the comments below or get in touch via Facebook or Twitter.
I’ve recently had a career change. I’m now a full-time, professional watercolour artist. I had fifty of my paintings printed onto MOO Business cards. Trouble is I love them so much that I don’t want to give them away. …I have sold two complete boxes of them though.
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