Jumping ship and starting a business in a new industry at any age can be daunting, what about at twenty-one? Abi Harvey did just that, selling her beach café (a café she owned and ran from aged seventeen) and founded TAMARA HARVEY, a leather accessories brand. Going from serving ice creams to surveying leather swatches and modelling in photoshoots doesn’t sound like your average, predetermined career path but as I discovered, the bold entrepreneur is anything but predictable.
Two years down the line and relaxing in her verdant garden in South Devon, Abi is chatting animatedly about her journey so far.
DO YOU EVER GET NERVOUS?
A VERY CONFIDENT ANSWER.
Yes. [Laughs]. I don’t really ever feel nervous whether in my personal life or in business. If you can’t already tell I’m a ‘fly by the seat of their pants’ sort of person! As long as I put my all into something and have good intentions, why would I ever feel nervous?
HOW DO YOU GO FROM A BEACH CAFÉ TO A FASHION BRAND? THEY’RE AT THE OPPOSITE ENDS OF THE SPECTRUM.
Well…the beach café was never on my radar of things I wanted to do with my life. Not for one second did I ever think, at seventeen, I would spend three years of my life owning a beach café. It was simply an opportunity; my sister and I saw it and we took it. We turned it from a beaten-up shack to a thriving success. It certainly wasn’t without its challenges and a fair share of screaming matches but it was definitely worth it. Those who work in the hospitality industry definitely earn their money; I didn’t know that before I started.
AND THEN TO FASHION?
After wrapping up the café, and being bored out of my mind at uni-
WHAT DID YOU STUDY?
English Lit. The less said about that, the better! [Laughs]
I have always been interested in fashion, my mum taught me to sew and we often go on fabric purchasing trips so it wasn’t like I was jumping straight into the unknown. It was still a bloody big jump but if you’re creative enough and got enough resilience you can do anything.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST THING YOU’VE LEARNT FROM JUMPING SHIP FROM HOSPITALITY TO FASHION?
With the beach café I had a captive audience; the public would always want something from us even if it was just a bottle of juice so we were guaranteed to make money day in and day out – as long as the weather was shining! With this business I have to build an audience from scratch which isn’t easy and is heavily reliant on the quality of our social media content.
WHAT IS THE PREMISE BEHIND TAMARA HARVEY?
Simple really. I wanted to create leather accessories in bold, bright colours which were of the highest quality but were also practical. It all started when I couldn’t find the right bag and got so frustrated with the mass-produced, low quality – frankly ugly – products on offer and so decided to design my own to bridge this gap and sell them at a reasonable price.
WHAT’S THE BIGGEST HURDLE OF RUNNING A FASHION COMPANY AT 23?
The competition on Instagram is overwhelming. Not only are you competing for views against similar start-ups you’re up against the big guns of fashion who will always be able to achieve more likes / views than you can either organically or paid. I think, especially with tsunami of influencers and brand deals, the platform is much more geared towards fast fashion companies simply because content grows stale quickly and young brands like mine can’t always go on editorial photoshoot each week. Nor can we team up ‘influencers’ each week by gifting them a product because current margins simply don’t allow it. There are other things we can do, of course, to build an audience organically and drive sales which feels like my focus every waking hour of the day!
YOU’VE INDICATED THAT YOU DON’T LIKE FAST FASHION, WHY?
Fast fashion is essentially mass-produced, cheap ‘fashionable’ clothing or accessories which are sold cheaply and pretty much designed to be worn a few times before being thrown out. It’s the old stock it high and sell it low model. There used to be only two seasons a year, Autumn / Winter and Spring / Summer, but now there’s something like fifty-two micro seasons – that’s a new collection every week. How on earth is that sustainable!? I’m all for giving customers variety and being inclusive with sizing but we need to find a way to do it which isn’t at a cost to our environment or consumers’ purse strings. Fast fashion, in my opinion, is the antithesis of quality and that’s why I try to avoid it and promote Tamara Harvey as a sustainable, environmentally-conscious company.
SO, WHAT STEPS DO YOU TAKE TO BE MORE ENVIRONMENTALLY SUSTAINABLE?
I am strict about where I source our leather and materials from for a start. I only purchase from the country’s most ethical suppliers and refuse to compromise on quality. Our leather merchants comply with all UK and EU standards so our customers know when they’re buying from us that they really are getting the best of the best.
Buying and manufacturing in England is not only great for product quality but it really minimises our carbon footprint too. There is no way, not even for a second, I would ever consider moving manufacturing abroad simply to have greater profit margins because it would go against the company’s ethos. My bags can’t compete with the offerings from the large fast fashion retailers on price but they will blow them out of the water on quality.
WHAT PRINCIPLES DO YOU NEED TO BE A SUCCESSFUL ENTREPRENEUR?
Firstly, I don’t think success is actually that important. It’s far more important that you get out there and give it a try than whether you ultimately have material success or not. As long as you learn something, gain a new skill or a get a deeper insight about yourself or about the world, then you haven’t failed. Not at all. Success is not about the glamourous lifestyles portrayed on Instagram.
SO, HOW DO YOU FEEL ABOUT SOCIAL INFLUENCERS?
I think they’ve spawned something of a counter-culture – it’s a whole new industry which seemed to have come out of nowhere. The most ‘influential’ people on the internet are people no one’s ever heard of! [Laughs]. Personally, unless your margins allow it and you’ve got a product or service with mass appeal, I’d strongly deter start-ups from ‘collaborating’ with influencers. Don’t get me wrong, I have nothing against them in fact I think it’s amazing the volume of decent content they produce daily. Traditional fashion marketing has pretty much gone out of the window. I don’t bother reading magazines anymore – honestly, I haven’t bought a fashion magazine is nearly eighteen months because I simply have no need to. Influencers are the new purveyors of taste and some of them are generating content with the same quality as the big mags which is bloody fantastic. I think they’ve made the industry far more accessible than before but I’d still advise start ups to be weary when using them.
WHAT WOULD YOU LOOK FOR IN A FUTURE EMPLOYEE?
Character. Experience is transferrable and skills can be learnt.
AS SIMPLE AS THAT?
Simple as that.
OK NOW ON TO THE QUICK-FIRE QUESTIONS. ARE YOU READY?
Hit me with them.
Bread with lashings of butter - pretty much drenched in butter. It’s not really a guilty pleasure because I refuse to feel guilty about that; enjoy what you enjoy in life and let’s all be happy.
I do have a problem buying nail polish because – as you’ll see now – I don’t like to wear it! I love the colours but the damn stuff chips after a day so it’s pretty pointless for me.
PERFECT HOLIDAY DESTINATION?
Abroad or staycation?
Summer or winter?
I’m Devon born and bread so in the summer I will always gravitate towards the seaside. It could be here or abroad but you’ll always find me with my feet in the sand and a camera slung around my neck.
BEST CELEB STYLE? PAST OR PRESENT.
I always go past. I really should have been around in the 50s / 60s. Grace Kelly, Elizabeth Taylor and Brigitte Bardot will always be my style icons.
BEST PIECE OF ADVICE?
If you can’t be good be careful, if you can’t be careful buy a pram. [Laughs]
ERHHH, I MEANT ABOUT FASHION OR RUNNING YOUR OWN BUSINESS!
Good advice is good advice, don’t turn it down! [Laughs].
I’d probably tell someone looking to start their own business to be comfortable with risk and the possibility of failure. If you’re ok with working like a dog and taking that leap of faith then you really have nothing to fear.
I’d also tell them to always have an eye on the bottom line but ultimately to have fun. Someone very smart once said – ok I can’t remember the full sentence so I’ll paraphrase-
HAS IT BEEN A LONG DAY?! [LAUGHING]
Been a long week! They said if you turn your hobby into a business then you’ll never struggle with Mondays. Richard Branson probably said it; that man’s got many pearls of wisdom.
DO YOU THINK HE LIKE HANDBAGS?Richard…you know where to find us if you do!
WHAT IS YOUR BEAUTY GO-TO?
I will buy everything and anything from Clinique because their stuff is just so damn good. On a day with no meetings or if I’m working from home, I’ll simply whack on their seventy two hour moisture surge and that’ll be about it. I’ll use it as a base under foundation if I’m going out and sleep with it on too. Bloody love the stuff!
YOU’VE GOT TWENTY-FOUR HOURS TO LIVE, HOW DO YOU SPEND IT?
Two hours writing letters to people I like. Hour long bath. Eat everything in sight. Put on my silver mini dress, full hair and make up and go cause some carnage. Definitely steal some things too!
AND FINALLY, IF YOU COULD HAVE ANY CELEBRITY TO CARRY A TAMARA HARVEY BAG WHO WOULD IT BE?
Obviously the Duchess of Cambridge. No hesitation. Fantastic woman.
Interviewed by Lydia Rosberg.