This Is What A Founder Looks Looks Like – Blonde Gone Rogue
Unable to find a fashion brand that was both sustainable and the style of the clothes that they liked, sisters Gergana and Deni Damyanova set out to make their own. They took a Start Up Loan from Virgin StartUp to help the business grow. We caught up with Gergana to find out more…
Tell us about your business...
Blonde Gone Rogue is a sustainable fashion brand. We are really working on creating the best possible product at the crossing point of fair price, sustainable product, and beautiful and interesting design. In the fashion industry, you have fast fashion on one side, which is a lot of fun but really bad from an ethical and environmental perspective, and on the other side, you have ethical and sustainable fashion that is very plain and boring, beige and greige, and not very exciting. And on top of that, very often it is quite greenwashed. It's very hard for consumers who want to verify what they're purchasing to find out where their garments have come from and very often when they do, they're disappointed.
We started the brand because my sister Deni, who is also my co-founder, and I were in this situation where we wanted to switch to more ethical clothing choices, but we couldn't afford to buy dresses that were £500 or £600. And on the other side, there were upcoming brands that we would become fans of and then realise they weren't that sustainable. So we decided to combine all this, go for colourful, youthful, fun designs – edgy but also mainstream and everyday designs – and try to give people as much transparency as we can.
We come from a town in Bulgaria that has a very large textile industry so it was very easy for us to find a good factory where we know people are paid well. We know what reputation this factory has as an employer. We've been to our factory many times, we've visited in person and we have documentation that proves they pay a fair, living wage to the employees. It was easy enough for us to get fabric that was leftover from large productions. That's how we started – we found a factory that could produce our products, we found materials that would have otherwise ended up as waste and we've gone from there.
Sustainability is very much at the heart of our business. Every decision we've taken is based on this. And we're not willing to compromise on this. We've made a promise to our customers and it's very easy to make any decision to make a profit, but we're being disciplined and making sure that we stay true to ourselves. It's not about making it cheaper or getting the product out faster, we've made promises to our customers and we're going to stick to that.
What were you doing before you started Blonde Gone Rogue?
I have a business background, I was working in finance and supply chain at a large electronics company. For me, it's always been extremely interesting creating a product that people are willing to pay for. I studied economics and this basic concept of how people value things is extremely interesting for me.
Deni is actually a fashion designer. So when we both found ourselves having the same problem when looking for clothes that we wanted to purchase, that's how the idea for Blonde Gone Rogue came about.
Did you ever think you would start a business?
I think we had joked about how as sisters doing completely different things we would make a perfect team. But I don't think we were ever really serious about it. I don't think when I was at university or starting my career I ever really expected to be running my own business in a few years.
The corporate world is very often not what we expect. Very early in my career, I was beginning to question whether I was going to do that job for the rest of my life. I didn't find it challenging enough, but I've definitely found a challenge now.
What's been your favourite part of running the business so far?
I think seeing the new collections is always a lot of fun. That happens a few times every year. A lot of work goes into making the collection and once we see it in real life, it's so exciting and rewarding. It's the start of the new season and that's when the challenge begins – is it going to sell? Are we going to meet our targets? Are people going to like this? It's a lot of excitement, it's a new beginning a few times a year.
What have been the biggest challenges that you've faced?
Funding is a challenge. We're in an unsexy industry for angel investors. The fashion industry is really big and there are big opportunities here at the moment because consumer behaviours are changing. People do need new products and that is a niche that is completely open. But it's not a tech business, it's a very consumer and product centred business. I think 90% of angel investors that we've spoken to are mainly interested in tech. I think that's been the hardest part so far, trying to convince people that it's a very big opportunity and that we are taking advantage of that.
You took a Start Up Loan from Virgin Startup, how has that experience been for you?
I've done everything that I can with them. Any opportunity to learn, I've jumped at it. I did the marketing series and the PR masterclass - both of these have been extremely good, full of tips and things that we can do right away.
I'd definitely recommend Virgin StartUp to any other entrepreneur looking for funding. Our experience has been very positive, from the moment we applied for the loan, we had extremely good support. I could really see that the person from Virgin StartUp who was helping us to apply for the loan was rooting for us, was really supporting us. Working together with Virgin StartUp, it felt very personal, like they were part of our team. I think we're very lucky to have our loan go through and be part of this community.
If you have a brilliant idea for a business but have no idea where to start visit Virgin StartUp. There you’ll find all the advice and guidance that you need.