Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
My name is Anthony Mellor, I’m the Founder & Director of Absolute Fitness Apparel. I started AFA at the age of 18, with no business experience, or any degrees/ qualifications in anything business related.
We are an online based fitness-fashion brand that operates out of London, United Kingdom. We’ve successfully launched 5 lines, ranging from cut off tees, all the way to tech jackets.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
I was heavily influenced by the fitness influencer Christian Guzman, who at the time had just started his own fitness-fashion brand Alphalete, and was providing a lot of insight into launching an running the brand in his vlogs. This sparked a fire in me and I became really interested in this area.
I didn’t have any experience within business, or fashion at the time of launching AFA. It was all pretty much trial and error. I always had a passion for both fitness and fashion. I was heavily involved in sports such as Karate and Kickboxing from a young age and decided to join a gym when I was around 15 years old.
Fitness and sport turned from a passion and hobby to a big part of my life. It gave me confidence, allowed me to focus on a particular task and gave me a sense of purpose which is something business has offered me as well.
I planned the first launch for about 6-8 months. I made a list of what needed to be done to build a successful brand and launch a line. The list never ended, it consisted of small tasks such as finalizing detailing on hang tags on the items all the way to building my entire website.
Sourcing suppliers became a painful process, as I had no idea where to start. After building social media platforms for my brand I began to realize that suppliers would come to me and I got around 2-3 suppliers to create some samples and picked the best one, then ran with that.
I did, and still do work full-time and run this business in the hours surrounding my full-time job.
Every garment goes from conception to market, but the process is a lot more difficult than most might think. When you’re designing you have this perfect picture in your head and that can sometimes be hard to convey into the information a supplier will need to piece that garment together for you. Here are some examples of initial sketches that are in the foundation of the design process.
Every garment I designed had inspiration from somewhere, but it doesn’t always have to be another piece of clothing. Sometimes colour-ways have come from the color of a car...literally. Regardless of where I started, I would always go through the same process for every item:
- Basic design- T-shirt, Hoodie, Joggers etc
- Colour-way or design on the item,
- Creating a sketch to articulate how the item will look,
- Asking myself whether the item has the three elements I want every item to consist of: Is it innovative? Practical? And is it going to provide my consumers with value for money?
- After I’ve gone through these stages we then move onto sampling with our supplier, which is where any last minute adjustments are made.
Manufacturing is a long-winded process, and sometimes can be a lot harder than it needs to be.
I sent a basic sketch to a manufacturer who then created a sample for me. We then moved into production and it was pretty fluid from there on in.
Not every garment I have sampled has been this straightforward though. As you start working with more complicated items- such as small detailing, custom zippers etc the process becomes longer as most suppliers outsource this kind of work, and that results in waiting for samples for longer periods of time. I found the best way to mitigate any issues with sampling was to be very, very specific from the beginning and to not cut corners with the design process, tech-packs and communication with the suppliers.
Due to the difficulties, I faced with manufacturing i recently decided to start my own Manufacturing Consultancy- White2Label Manufacturing, which is all about making manufacturing accessible to small businesses that operate within the fitness-fashion industry, particularly startups.
Describe the process of launching the online store/business.
The most important aspect of having an online business is being both accessible and there being minimal friction for the consumer.
My main aim from day 1 was to ensure I had my website fully optimized for both desktop and mobile use. Thankfully, Shopify which is the platform I use is good at optimising sites for both desktop and mobile use. I simply had to learn how to design an aesthetic site from the basic templates they had available. I started learning and developing my SEO and organically grew forms of social media. To this day, 45% off all of my store's traffic comes from Instagram, and its traffic is ranked within the top 10% of all stores on Shopify that launched the same week as mine.
One of the main things I noticed that distinguished professional looking brands and amateur looking brands were the level content. From Day 1, I strived for the best quality content I could get, I didn’t want my brand to have that “new brand” look, despite the fact it had only just launched.
I wanted to give the impression that we were a well-established brand, and that would, therefore, increase social-proof and increase consumers confidence in purchasing items from the brand. Content on the website was absolutely key for us.
You also have to realize that with online shopping, consumers only have images of the items to view and these images have to provide a clear image of what they’re buying, as well as provide a true representation of the fit.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
As Gary Vee says- “the attention is the asset” and I think it’s very obvious the attention is on smartphones, social media and definitely more digital than what it used to be.
I think the main issue most startups find is how do they direct traffic to their site. The simple answer is being able to give consumers a reason to click on the link, but more importantly, to find the link.
I have focused quite heavily on influencer and affiliate marketing. Finding influencers that represent your brand and message can become tedious, but I had some help with this area from a friend who was good at negotiating promotions for just one hour. Always try to get promotion for free, or negotiate an hours post...this is where the majority of engagement will come.
Affiliate marketing is an effective tool to grow brand awareness within a select community. The success of our affiliate scheme is down to the community feeling we’ve managed to create. It’s a group of likeminded people, all of which have a common goal. We offer incentives such as free items after 5 sales, personalised discount code, development programmes and social media exposure in return for joining the programme.
Facebook ads, SEO, blogging, influencer, and email marketing are all techniques you can employ to get your website in front of potential customers, but converting those views into sales are a totally different ball game.
Conversion rates are often quite low in fashion- around 1.5%, but a good way to increase those rates is to ensure that content is clear and concise, the website runs fluidly without/ with minimal friction, and most importantly that your brand/ company solves a genuine problem.
The best ROI is on Facebook ads, provided they’re run properly. I watched a facebook ads marketing course on Udemy which helped with my understanding of different types of ad sets and how to A/B split test.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
We’re currently still running at a loss, mostly due to the fact we launched four big lines in our first year of business. This isn’t bad, and it will take time to develop the brand to the stage where it is making money and working on a sustainable business model.
As we are just based online, it would be great to throw in some statistics:
- Average monthly traffic- 1.6k views,
- Average sale- £43.50
- Largest order to date- £267
- Conversion rate- 2.11%
The current time consumers spend on our site follows:
- Instagram- 45 seconds,
- Google- 1 min, 15 seconds,
- Other- 30 seconds.
I am currently planning to have help with the distribution and shipping elements of the business, but remain heavily involved in everything else.
Future plans include a small team of social media marketers (possibly freelance) to help plan and execute social media campaigns and increase site traffic, conversion rates and sales. As well as myself moving into the design/ manufacturing side of the business and focusing a little bit more on incorporating the three elements into every garment- innovation, practicality and providing value for money.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
One of the biggest mistakes I made when starting out was setting a launch date before i had the products in my hand, and expecting everything to go smoothly when it never does.
Being realistic is key, especially with time-frames for sampling and production, and it’s important to remember you’re not the suppliers only client, and delays do occur so being patient and understanding but also realizing when it’s time to move on from a supplier is also key.
My best habit is making a note of all the tasks I have to get done in a day, as it’s very easy to get sidetracked by small tasks and end up not getting things done.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Udemy is a big one for me, because courses are cheap and very useful. It really helps save money because instead of paying someone to complete a task, you can learn it yourself and become self-reliant.
I myself listen to a lot of podcasts and read books/ audiobooks to help develop my entrepreneurial mindset and knowledge about business.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
Podcasts by Gary Vee are helpful at realising you’re not working hard enough.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
Start now, not later. Plan and plan again, don’t think because you’ve launched that you shouldn’t go back to basics and review your business plan and ensure you’re still following it, or change it if need be.
Learn your numbers and keep track of them.
Create something people want, not what you want. Although a business is a reflection of the entrepreneur, it’s important to remember that the business is there to serve a consumer.
DON’T start a business for money. It’s okay for money to be a factor in starting a business, but don’t let it be your sole motivator, because that is a recipe for early disaster. Create something around a passion, a hobby or something that provides value to others and with persistence and an open mind you can go far.
Always have a one minute pitch ready, regardless of the day or time. You never know when you’ll bump into someone influential and need it.
Find a job that will help you develop skills and build connections useful for your business,
Or, find a job that isn’t mentally draining. Something you can do, and then go back and do more work because you’re going to need to get used to those 15/16 hour days, every day.
Network every single day, regardless of the job you’re in.
Where can we go to learn more?
Instagram & Facebook- @absolutefitnessapparel
Twitter & Snapchat- @ABSLTFTNSAPRL
Email: [email protected]
Want to start your own business?
Hey! 👋I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
We interview successful business owners and share the stories behind their business. By sharing these stories, we want to help others get started.
If you liked this story, join our mailing list for new interviews every Tuesday.
Interested in sharing your own story? Find out how!