With a strong following of over 30k, Alma de Ace has exploded onto the fashion apparel scene with a bang! Seb Agace runs Alma de Ace as a single founder and takes us through the trials and tribulations of building his business. From someone who initially didn’t come from a background in fashion, he is now brimming with knowledge! Seb stresses the need for market research, why you shouldn’t rush into investment and his starter tips for finding a good manufacturer. We have seen Alma go from strength to strength and Seb is still on the high of his hugely successful two week pop up shop at Boxpark…it won’t be long before we are seeing an Alma flagship store in London soon!
Founder of Alma de Ace
Alma de Ace
If you went to university was it a clear-cut path what you were going to do?
Studied Management and Marketing at Leeds University where I was hoping to go into Advertising afterwards.
What is Alma de Ace and when did you launch?
Alma de Ace is a Lifestyle clothing brand that launched in 2014 when I was at Leeds University.
How did the idea for Alma de Ace come about?
It was when I was in Bali the summer before I started that I had met an owner of an Australian clothing business called “Lost in Paradise”. His journey really got me engaged with the fashion world and the life of running one. I had always had a strong passion for the creative side of things and starting something. I found that doing a clothing brand was the best way to combine my creativity alongside my passion for fashion.
Have you left full-time employment to pursue Alma de Ace full time?
I wasn’t in full-time employment to start with but, yes, Alma de Ace is full time for me since leaving University. It hasn’t been easy though with such little knowledge of running a business at University – building a sustainable platform to grow from takes time and I knew there were going to be risks along the way.
What were the initial challenges in getting the ball rolling for Alma de Ace?
I think the one huge challenge which I found was the market I was going into. I had no fashion background and although I liked fashion, I didn’t have any contacts or advisers in fashion to guide me at the start in what is a rapidly growing and competitive market. Finding a manufacturer was also very difficult…
How do you go about finding a manufacturer? Any tips you can offer…
Finding a manufacturer was one of the most important things I would say for my business to be where I am now.
First, I would recommend where you want your manufacturer to be located and then go from there into a directory of factories.
Best to keep it local to start with as that will enable you to travel and keep close communication with them when it comes to production.
You have to sift through a lot and just start emailing them with your key requirements as well as start calling them. Some reply, some never get back, but you start to reduce your list and go from there. One thing I would say is a massive tip is not to rush into finding one. Ask for samples, question the time-lags and minimum quantities and don’t go for a big factory just because it feels safer. They will actually give you less time devoted to you and can take days to reply. The factory we use is a very small one on the outskirts of Porto in Portugal and they have been so great since we moved from Bali.
How have you raised investment? Or equally how are you raising investment?
We have over the last 2 years set up business loans with our bank and also with a few other business loan companies along with reinvestment from our sales back into our business. Paypal has also been great with us, in providing us with finance on a payback sale percentage basis with low interest, and this has given us that extra leverage when ordering new stock. We are currently looking for an investment this year through Angel Networks and funding clubs.
Any advice you could give others looking for investment?
Don’t rush into investment. Your business needs to be at a stage which is attractive to investors. Getting your accounts right is a must but also wait until you have consistency in your business with sales, branding and a clear exit strategy. It won’t happen overnight and the more people you meet the easier it will be to get your business out to the right market. Sometimes money isn’t always the key thing for growing the business but finding the right person can have a big impact on taking it to the next stage.
Have you got a mentor?
Who do you seek out for support and advice (if not a mentor)?
Most probably friends and family still. The best thing is to get out there and meet as many like-minded people as possible for advice.
Do you ever doubt yourselves?
All the time but you just get used to it. You need a bit of doubt in order not to get too excited with what you are doing, because that’s when the mistakes happen. Plus it keeps things interesting!
How are you marketing Alma de Ace?
We have been carrying out a lot of paid advertising on social media which has been the key to building our customer base and reaching new potential customers over the last few years. With our market age range being 17-28 year old’s it works well for the social media side of things. We thrive on creating new and engaging content so what better place than to share it on social media where creativity is at its best? Last year we had a digital marketing company that was working on our marketing campaigns on social media.
How do you think Alma de Ace differs from the competition out there?
I think we differ in that we offer retro styled items but with a more modern day fit (retro inspired) – everyday apparel.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently?
To be honest, no. Even the mistakes or failures I wouldn’t have changed. It’s all part of building your brand and without them I wouldn’t be where I am now.
Anything you would tell yourself then, that you know now?
That taking risks is the norm when building a business and you just have to prepare for those times.
What’s a typical day for you working on Alma de Ace?
In the morning I would spend an hour or two going through emails and customer questions regarding orders, problems and products.
Before lunch I would give an hour or so for social media in uploading the posts for Instagram and Facebook. That would also involve planning other posts during the week and searching for new photographers and shoot locations for content.
It’s hard to have a real structure though when your business is constantly changing. Some days I could be spending the whole morning with emails whereas the next day I could be speaking with our warehouse and liaising with them.
In the afternoon I either have a meeting or phone call with our digital marketing team to go through changes that are being made during the week on social media and any changes that need to be planned before the weekend.
Once a week, I would talk to our factory out in Portugal with updates on new stock samples, restocking sold out products or amending any material problems for the items going into production.
Then in the evening, if I’m not out, I would do some research on new products, finish any emails that need to be sent out and listen to a few podcasts on Shopify which is great for hearing about other business, methods in growing their development ideas and their stories.
What is the hardest thing about setting up a business alone?
Decision making and coming to terms with the fact that it’s just you. It can get lonely at times – the number of times when I’ve had ideas, decisions on what to do and you don’t have someone else as a second person is tough. It’s solely you who is taking the risk and when your business is young there is a lot that can go wrong and it’s you at the end of the day who is to blame. But I do love having the say…
Any personality traits you have discovered about yourself along the way?
I’ve found a couple of bad ones! One which I have carried throughout is being able to pick myself back up pretty quickly when things are going wrong. You need the confidence to keep going!
Any fuck ups along the way?
There’s quite a lot to choose from….!
I think one of the biggest mistakes was my Bali collection along with doing a women’s line. The Bali collection was at the time when my business was very young. I carried through an idea of using Balinese fabrics on t-shirts and sweatshirts and thought to myself that it was what people wanted. I had overpriced the products and didn’t look at my actual market of customers who wanted to buy it.
The women’s collection was too early to do as I didn’t have a customer base for it yet and generally had no idea what women would buy or what items would sell or not. This collection nearly wiped my business clean with stock just sitting in boxes and constant sales at discounted prices.
What I learnt was not to follow just your own decisions or what you think people want. Now I carry out more research in trends for our men’s collections, sample products with friends and family and try get the best understanding on a product before I take it online, analysing competitors and pricing it in the category that fits my brand best.
What has been your best moment so far as a result of setting up Alma de Ace?
Would have definitely been this year when we carried out a two week pop up shop at Boxpark. Although it was very stressful to set up it was so amazing seeing friends and family come down to see what Alma’s all about. Plus, the highlight was the lock in at the shop with free booze and music alongside the Alma clothes. I’m tempted to have a round two!
What advice would you give other twenty-somethings who are thinking of pursuing a career in the same industry as you?
Speak to as many people as possible about it. These things take time to get off the ground so don’t panic in the early stages. Every day is different so don’t be put off by the competition in the Fashion world.
What do you think is next for Alma de Ace in the next year?
Got a big year ahead with new products lined up this winter which I’m pretty excited about sharing. Also have a few exciting ideas and projects coming next year but can’t say anything else at the moment as it’s in the early stages.
What’s the dream?
To have a flagship store in London that turns into a drinks bar in the evening, where people can come in and hang amongst the clothes.
In your twenties the three things I tend to think about are…
Overdraft, weekend, Holiday
When I look at my bank statement after a night out I usually… wait for the hangover to go away first. Then try avoid it.
The Twenty Mile Club is….a great place for entrepreneurs to share their journey
To find Alma de Ace online click here for their website
Follow them @almadeace