Rachel Virtue, founder of bathing suit retailer Virtueswim, discusses her mission to build women's confidence and her next move — starting her own resort-wear fashion range.
What does your business do?
Virtueswim is a swimwear and spray tanning store located in Ponsonby, Auckland. We provide a personalised service for women trying on swimwear, our store is about uplifting and making women feel confident. I started the business two and half years ago. I'm looking at opening a store in Mount Maunganui and working on our own label. I want Virtueswim to offer resort wear such as sarongs, caftans and shirt dresses that can been thrown over swimwear. Active wear has become fashion now, I think swimwear is a bit the same.
What was the motivation for starting it?
I grew up on the beach, surfing at a young age. I've always worked for myself, after school I went into make-up, nails and spray tanning. I did that for 18 years, and I wanted a change. Two years ago I was going away on holiday, I couldn't find swimwear that I liked or anywhere to go to buy swimwear in Auckland in the winter time, so I decided I'd start a swimwear store that is open all year round. I'd buy swimwear online but it was never like the pictures so I thought this would fill a hole in the market.
How big is your team?
It's normally three people but it's just two of us at the moment. I'm full-time and then I normally have two part-timers to help out.
Why is Virtueswim creating its own fashion label?
I really want my own resort wear because it can be all the same that doesn't suit everybody and it's so hard to come by a good sarong. I find resort wear not that stylish so I think that's a hole in the market. I do the designing all myself.
I've always grown up in the fashion industry because my mum is a sample machinist, she works for Trelise Cooper at the moment and has always worked for New Zealand designers. I don't have a background in pattern making myself so I did a two-week design and manufacturing course in Seminyak in Bali last year, where I learnt how to draw and how to turn my ideas into creations.
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What's been the biggest challenge you've faced operating the business?
The biggest challenge has been getting used to retail. It's so unpredictable. I'd never done retail before. It is very different to what I expected, I probably didn't realise how much hard work it was going to be but I still enjoy it. I forecasted my years and then you can get used to what months are busy and what aren't, but it just changes so much, I think that's probably been the hardest part for me, and budgeting. This year is definitely a lot quieter. I think people are a lot more cautious with their money for some reason.
Last year, we were selling a lot more and people were going on holiday a lot more, doing bigger trips, but I find this year that is not necessarily the case. Also, each year my buying of product is very different and I find social media influences a lot. Fashion is changing a lot in swimwear, for example, 80s cuts are back.
What advice do you give to others wanting to start their own business?
I went into it very naive and I wish I had researched the market a lot more before I opened the shop. I'm not the type of person who writes a business plan, I just went in and did it, which I do think has both pros and cons, but I wish I was a little bit more organised and looked at the industry a lot more.
As I'd never done retail before I didn't know little things like when product goes on sale, percentage discounts you give staff on items, and policies for sales and returns.