We know how daunting it can be to start a new business, especially if you’re disrupting an industry or creating an entirely new one. When there is no path to follow, the biggest question is, where do I start? There is so much to do, but before you get ahead of yourself, let’s start at the beginning. To kick-start the process, and ease some of those first-time founder nerves, we’re asking successful entrepreneurs to share their stories in our series, From Scratch. But this isn’t your typical day in the life profile. We’re getting into the nitty-gritty details—from writing a business plan (or not) to sourcing manufacturers and how much they pay themselves—we’re not holding back.
Shobha Philips can remember feeling frustrated by the lack of nude bras available in her skin tone for as long as she’s been wearing one. But it wasn’t until she climbed Mount Kilimanjaro that she discovered the confidence to start her own lingerie line and address this glaring lack of inclusivity in the fashion industry. “It was a nine-day journey, and it was the most physically and mentally challenging thing I had ever done,” the founder tells Create & Cultivate of the climb. “Coming down from the summit, I realized what I was capable of, and suddenly starting a business seemed less intimidating.”
After summiting the tallest free-standing mountain in the world and experiencing this perspective-altering epiphany, she started Proclaim, an inclusive lingerie line. And true to her vision, there is an intention behind every element of the brand, from the name and mission to the ethical production of each garment. The brand’s pieces are made from earth-conscious fabrics (think wood pulp and recycled plastic bottles) and cut and sewn by skilled workers in Los Angeles who are paid fair hourly wages rather than per piece (a practice that often promotes wage exploitation and unsafe work conditions).
Ahead, Philips tells C&C how she brought Proclaim to life, from how she found the right manufacturing partners to why she used her own savings to fund the business.
Can you tell us a bit about your background and what you were doing professionally before launching Proclaim?
I studied marketing in school and had a few corporate roles in supply chain before starting Proclaim. I always knew in the back of my mind I wanted to start my own business—it just took a while to figure what that business would be.
Did you write a business plan? If so, was it helpful, and if not, what did you use to guide your business instead and why did you take that approach?
I started several versions of a business plan, but what I ended up with before launching Proclaim was more of an outline than a full-on business plan. I ended up pivoting and adapting throughout the development process and the first year so much that it felt like my business plan would have been invalid almost instantly. I do think it is important to think through each of the components of a business plan, but perfecting a business plan document was not something I focused on.
How did you come up with the name Proclaim, and what are some of the things you considered during the naming process?
I had a long-running list of possible names on a spreadsheet that I shared with friends and family to get their feedback. I wanted a name that spoke to the bold and disruptive vision and I had for this business, and in the end, Proclaim was the one that just felt right and resonated with people the most.
What were the immediate things you had to take care of to set up the business?
Setting up separate business accounts for checking and credit cards was important to keep track of business expenses and to keep them separate from personal expenses. I also made sure the domain name and social media handles were all available with the business name.
What research did you do for the brand beforehand?
I did not have a design background so I spent almost a year and a half researching the fashion industry in general and really trying to learn everything I could about bra construction and manufacturing. I purchased a ton of bras and took them apart to see how they were made. I also just had a lot of conversations with friends about their bras; what they loved, what they didn’t. I spent that year consuming all the information I could about this industry I was jumping into.
How did you find and identify the manufacturers that you work with? What was important to you during this process and are there any mistakes you made and learned from along the way?
Making connections for sourcing material and manufacturing took a while. It was a lot of Google research, cold calls, and dead ends trying to find the right partners who aligned with the brand values of being a sustainable and ethically made brand. I would recommend taking your time with this step. It takes a while to find the right manufacturing partners. I remember feeling like I was not moving fast enough and was anxious to get my collection made, but I think it’s such a crucial component to your success that it’s worth taking your time.
How did you fund Proclaim? What were the challenges and what would you change? Would you recommend your route to other entrepreneurs?
I used my own savings to fund Proclaim. As a values-driven brand, I wanted to be able to bring my vision to life without compromising for investors and outside stakeholders. As far as what I’d recommend to other entrepreneurs, I think it depends on the industry and what success looks like for you. For me, success was bringing a product to life that I felt needed to exist. If your goal is to be like the next Amazon, you’ll probably need outside capital.
Did you hire an accountant? Who helped you with the financial decisions and setup?
I have an accountant for taxes and I do all of the bookkeeping with Quickbooks. I recommend keeping up with it weekly because it does become daunting if you keep putting it off.
How did you promote your company? How did you get people to know who you are and create buzz?
Proclaim has grown mostly through Instagram. I’ve been lucky that I’ve had a lot of success on the app reaching like-minded people organically who believe in our mission. I started the account six months before launching so by the time we launched, there were already a few thousand followers who supported the vision.
Do you have a business coach or mentor? If so, how has this person helped you, and would you recommend one to other entrepreneurs?
I’ve met so many amazing women on this journey of running a business. There are a handful of women who are fellow designers and fashion entrepreneurs with whom I am in constant contact during the week. We help each other with everything from sourcing issues to marketing strategies and everything in between. My business would not be where it is today without the support and guidance of these fellow small business owners.
What is one thing you didn’t do during the setup process that ended up being crucial to the business and would advise others to do asap?
I’d say, make sure you’re building your email list from day one. Make it easy for customers who discover you to sign up on your website and social media pages. It is such a powerful and relatively inexpensive tool; I wish I had focused on it earlier.
What is your number one piece of financial advice for any new business owner and why?
Find a good CPA! Even if it seems pricey when you are first starting out, in the long run, it will save you money.