There is no denying that the advent of online shopping has introduced a world of convenience and innovation to the South African landscape! Still in its infancy, the trend of online shopping in SA is gaining steady momentum, with plenty of room for growth and development. We spoke to Claire Martin, Founder and CEO of affordable online boutique, Sugar & Spike, about her decision to pursue fashion, becoming a business owner, and the scope of opportunities and challenges of running an online store in South Africa. Read on as Claire gives us a genuine, stimulating account about running her online boutique…
Full name: Claire Ann Martin
Current title/company: CEO of Sugar&Spike
Educational background: Obtained a Bachelor of Journalism; Rhodes University
Current City: Johannesburg, South Africa
Claire, you displayed an avid love for fashion years before starting your own online boutique, Sugar & Spike. Could you tell us about the journey you took to where you are now?
I have always been a fashion lover! Ever since I was a youngster, I always used to mix and match my clothes. I studied a Bachelor of Journalism at Rhodes University majoring in Design. While studying, I started curating fashion shoots, putting together various looks and styles. I knew from my love of clothes, photography, make up and styling that I wanted to be involved in the fashion industry. I moved to Johannesburg after University and started styling shoots. Shortly afterwards, I realized that there was a gap in the market for affordable jewelry and accessories. Most of the shops I went into had beautiful jewelry pieces, but they were extremely overpriced! I wanted to fill this gap by introducing beautiful pieces for half the price, so that is exactly what I did!
The year 2012 saw you start your very own online boutique and fashion label, Sugar & Spike! Could you give us a glimpse into this venture and tell us your responsibilities in this role?
I wanted to bring trendy and affordable pieces of jewelry to the public at an affordable price. I believe that retail in this country is extremely overpriced – besides for stores such as Mr Price, it is hard to keep up with the ever changing trends. I want to bring fashion and style to this country at an affordable price.
Apart from running your store, you are also a professional photographer and make-up artist. How have you managed to balance these various passions and what is your advice for the millennial woman trying to balance the different sides to her?
The online community is still new to the South African market and is a difficult one to crack. Some months orders are few and far between so I keep myself busy with my other two passions which are make-up and photography. I personally love being busy, most weekends I work. In the beginning it bothered me, but shortly afterwards I realized that nothing comes for free in this world, this is the choice that I have made, and I am willing to put in the hard work and time to reach my goals. As long as you have great organization skills and time management, anything is possible. There is a saying that goes ‘if you want something done, give it to a busy person’, because they will always get it done.
As the Founder of Sugar & Spike, could you give us one major tip you have learnt about business acumen and leadership?
As the founder of Sugar & Spike I have learnt that making business decisions is not easy, and the correct decision is not always obvious. You always have to weigh up the pros and cons of each decision made, and calculate the possible outcomes of each possible decision. With experience, this does become easier, but it is never straight forward as you learn that unforeseen consequences can drastically change the direction and flow of your business within an instant. Having said that, you have to be brave and take the lead, and be willing to take responsibility for decisions made – whether they yield good or bad results. This is part and parcel of running a business and it is invaluable in gaining knowledge and experience of how to run your business as efficiently and effectively as possible, while still maintaining your passion for the business.
I have also learnt never to give up, no matter how tough things get. You will surprise yourself with the personal strength you behold in the face of adversity.
How did you ultimately determine the type of career you were most passionate about? When did the “aha” moment take place?
Through trial and error. I don’t think there was an ‘aha’ moment, I needed to combine my passions in order to create a profitable business. I took a chance and worked at it. Many people think it is easy to be your own boss and run your own business. Believe me, it is anything but easy.
Fashion is notoriously fickle and ever-changing, and running a business is known for its difficulties. As a business owner, what have been the biggest challenges or obstacles you’ve faced in your career and how have you been able to overcome them?
Yes, fashion is ever-changing and it is important to keep up with the trends. I think the biggest obstacle I have had to overcome would be the working hours. It has proved to be a challenge drawing the boundaries between home time and work time. When it is your own business you never turn off. I find myself doing business at 12 o’clock at night. Some times my partner has to hide my phone and computer! But I have gotten better. The online community is still developing in South Africa, the public is nervous to buy online as they do not trust the system entirely as yet. This is a huge obstacle for an online business. However, I am using other media platforms to create hype around the brand and draw traffic to the website.
What is a typical work day like for you?
What I love about my job is that everyday is different. Some days I am on set or location. If not, I wake up early, go to gym, have my morning tea and start the day off with social media and emails, I then start to sort the orders and deliveries for the day. I also check out the trends. A few of my products I make. I have to squeeze this into my daily routine.
What is most fulfilling about being your own boss?
The fact that everything I do, I do for myself. I don’t mind working late or going the extra mile because everything I do is for the bigger picture.
Advice for aspiring business owners?
Take the risk, you wont know until you try. Most of all hang in there! There are definitely tough times when you think of giving up. Don’t give up! Try everything you can to make it work!
Morning or night? Night
If you could have lunch with any woman, who would it be and what would you order?
My 90 year old Grandmother, she is amazing, she still works and drives! I would definitely have a BIG piece of red velvet cake and a glass of champagne.
I wish I knew how to… do a backflip
African women are… strong and beautiful
South Africa is… unique and beautiful
Motivation in 3 words… Progress not perfection
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