Friski Wear. From Side Hustle to International Brand!
Last month, we got in touch with Friski Wear's Founder, Heather Carley, after spotting them on Instagram (it's definitely now the coolest account we follow). After reading that Heather worked as a commodities broker before going full time on her apparel brand, a serious career shift, we knew we had to learn more. With an awesome and hardworking CEO, a collaboration with the hugely successful Rise festival and a new collection of designs coming in November, we can only see great things in store for Friski Wear. Heather kindly agreed to share her story with us, and why it's important to find a job that you love.
Can you describe Friski Wear in a single sentence?
Friski Wear is a unisex, winter and lifestyle apparel brand that focuses on functional design that’s both wearable on and off the mountain with a hint of our Friski essence; always encouraging you to blur those boundaries and let the outdoors be your playground.
We meet a lot of people who want to become entrepreneurs, but they don’t know where to start. How did you find the inspiration to start Friski Wear? What advice would you give someone trying to find their own niche?
My parents both run a business together, something that was essentially thrust on them at a pretty young age (early twenties) they started completely on their own and have a successful business running over 30 years later. Honestly whilst I’ve worked in small companies right through to huge corporates, I knew in the back of my mind I would always run my own business, the funny thing is I never knew what I wanted to be or do as a career, I just knew I wanted to emulate them in running a business. It was just a case of what and when. My advice to someone trying to find their own niche would be to look at what they love, and what they’re good at and find a way to combine the two, then assess if it fills a gap in the market or creates a new one. It may have been said a million times but the only way you’ll stick at it is if it’s something that genuinely excites or motivates you. Then think long and hard if it’s going to be commercially viable from the offset or if you’re committed enough to get it off the ground no matter what. Not everyone is supposed to be an entrepreneur and that’s ok, it is not a pretty gig most of the time so make sure it’s really what you want and you’re not being enticed by getting to call yourself a boss.
Snow and adventure sports are obviously something that you are passionate about. There is a train of thought that says you shouldn’t try and make money from something you love. How would you respond to this?
I actually see this as (in my opinion) a pretty antiquated train of thought. I think it stems from the notion that you should have your work life and there should be release from that in the things you love, for it to provide an ‘escape’. I think it should be looked at differently, even the nature of a 9-5 doesn’t have to be the case these days, we can create our own ways of working and the best way to create effective/ efficient and happy working environments is if it’s not seen as something seen in the mindset of- ‘we have to do this but don’t worry there’s an escape...’ Of course I’m going to want to maximise my time out in the mountains and doing adventure sports, if at the same time I can monetise that without tainting it then it’s a win-win in my mind!
Before Friski Wear, you worked in finance, as a commodities broker. What prompted the massive career shift?
As I mentioned above, I’ve never had a particular career path in mind which many people do. It’s more that I was willing to take opportunities that felt right at the time and go with them. I was actually a mortgage advisor before I switched to commodities, which only happened after a friend on holiday suggested I interview for the role he was leaving. Again it was a complete career change so the idea of a career shift wasn’t as daunting as it might have been to many others. Essentially though I’ve always had a creative side but I was always steered in the direction of academics when I was younger. I guess I couldn’t stifle that side of me and eventually the corporate gig and what it could offer just wasn’t enough to satisfy me on a day to day basis. I got a little bored... sue me! So why not have a go at something where I could flex that side for a little while? Sometimes the beauty of not knowing exactly what you want gives you the fluidity to move in different directions when the time is right.
Friski Wear started as a side-hustle but it’s become much more than that. Can you describe how Friski Wear has grown since you founded it?
After running it alongside a full time job, I’d decided it was the right time to leave my current job and rather than go into something else I figured why not give Friski my full time attention and see if I could really make something of it. It literally started with us living with 10 huge boxes in our small flat in Brixton and sending out packages when we got home from work (working at Hollister back in the day definitely helped me nail all that folding a ha!) We now have a really great and engaged brand following who give us awesome feedback, we sell internationally with packages being shipped as far as Canada, Australia and even Russia, which was pretty awesome to see and we’ve been featured in top publications within the ski industry such as InTheSnow for their top picks of the season.
What advice can you offer to other entrepreneurs who are trying to grow their businesses?
1. Try and look at everything from a sensible mindset, not just with the excitement of starting up a business, at the end of the day it needs to be commercially viable.
2. Start getting used to asking for help, anywhere and everywhere then learn to weed out what’s useful and what’s not. Don’t be afraid to act upon the offer of help, even if it means a new contact or possible avenue to go down it can be worth exploring as you don’t know what else it will lead to.
3. I think it’s also insanely important to learn how to roll with the punches (which I think is the most polite way to put it.) Essentially, and especially when you’re trying to grow the business and taking on more risk, shit is going to hit the fan at some point. It’s so important to be able to deal with this in a way that doesn’t bring about the downfall of the business and pivot where necessary without losing sight of what you’re trying to do. It may seem like the end of the world, most often it’s not.
Your experience in the finance industry has obviously given you an excellent knowledge of the numbers side of business. What other personal traits do you think have helped you to grow your business?
I like to think I’m an eternal optimist with a pretty level headed perspective on most things. That gives me the balls to go for things but the reality check to know when it will actually pay off from a business strategy perspective. It doesn’t always work and I often get it wrong but I won’t give up when I know the end goal is achievable (which could also translates to I’m horribly competitive).
You took part in the Virgin Startup program. How was your experience of it? Is it something you would recommend to other entrepreneurs?
I’d definitely recommend it to other entrepreneurs, trying to get start-up finance is incredibly difficult and the Startup program is specifically designed to factor this in and to assess your business proposal in a way that many other financial institutions might not. Whilst it’s still one of the most important factors, your finances aren’t the only indicator for a successful application. They give opportunity to startups that otherwise might be overlooked but could still be a great business in the long term and they offer a whole host of extra support while your at it.
The Rise Festival is a music and snow sports festival that is held in the French Alps. Friski Wear have a close relationship with Rise. Can you tell us more about your collaboration?
Rise is an incredible festival, with an even better team behind it. The festival Director Lou Jennings had the opportunity to go with bigger hitters but loved our brand and what we stood for and took a chance on us. We’re now going into our second year of a great partnership with them as their official merchandise partner. With this we create a series of limited edition Friski Wear x Rise products each year for the guests to purchase and rep, along with kitting out the staff with event tees and extra merch. Rise is a great platform for us to increase our brand awareness, get some incredible content and it just so happens the Friski team gets to have a great time while doing it!
Where do you see Frisk Wear in five years time?
We have financial goals we would like to meet in five years time that would keep the bottom line happy and with that my aim would be to reach a point when we can design and develop a full outerwear outfit along with the necessary accessories to be kitted out in Friski on the slopes, but from a more personal perspective I want to see Friski as an established brand in the ski industry that is at the forefront of trying to be as sustainable as possible and shunning the norms of the fashion industry and the timelines you’re supposed to work towards. I want to put out great designs & products, when they’re ready and not satiate the desire for new things unnecessarily each season. I’d prefer to encourage people to embody the Friski ethos in what they do and just so happen to be wearing a Friski product they love rather than positioning the brand in a way that encourages people to buy and discard when the next item comes around. Offices in the Alps would probably go down a treat too.
Most entrepreneurial journeys are tough. At Growth Rocket, we like to believe that a little inspiration and encouragement from time to time can really help. Have you got someone who you find particularly inspiring?
My parents, when I see what they’ve gone through in business and how they handled themselves, with implicit dignity at all times and how they’ve treated their staff. I couldn’t think of anyone better to look to and try to be a fraction of what they are. I think it’s so worthwhile to look to incredibly successful and inspiring people running fortune 500 companies but it’s also just as important to see real people doing great things and to hold them in as just high esteem, if not more so. There’s a handful of people I see in this regard but my ma and pa are definitely at the top of the list.
Finally, can you give us a quick rundown of a typical day running Friski Wear?
Let’s just say depending on if I’ve pulled a late one the night before or just ever actually, I LOVE my sleep. I’m not the earliest riser, so unless I’m going for a sunrise ski tour, which I don’t start to enjoy until I’m actually on the snow, red faced and sweating profusely! I generally roll out of bed, skip breakfast and head straight for coffee. Cliché I know. First thing I hit is the emails to get a steer on the key actions required for the day. I then write a quick to-do list of the priorities so they stay at the forefront of my mind when other things come up and I know I need to catch up if these don’t get done. Then I get into the actual task of running the business. A typical day is always different, being a teeny tiny team I have to oversee or enact pretty much everything so that means that it could be accounting and forecasting one day, to speaking with the technical drawer and feeding that into the manufacturers the next. During the summer season it’s heavily geared towards finalising the new designs we’re going with, planning overall marketing strategy and dealing with the manufacturers to make sure the samples are all ok and the line is going to be delivered to the high standards we need. In the winter the focus is on content creation; which is a great excuse to hit the slopes, business development and sales, carrying out a planned and reactive organic marketing plan through our socials and speaking with the agency to keep on top of our paid digital. There is also normally a number of events that Friski is involved with, Rise for example that we need to be on-site with and activate. Then depending on the day and what needs to be done I’ll either work into the evening or drag someone out for beers. There’s never really an in between on that last bit!