Jyoti Sheath, a 32-year-old Londoner with over a decade's experience of working in fashion, is currently preparing to go it alone in the industry.
Her business, Not Another, will sell bespoke trend-led occasion dresses. We caught up with Jyoti to find out how things are going as she moves towards the full-time life of an entrepreneur, and also to ask about her Meet a Mentor experience.
Currently, Jyoti works as a Product Developer, a role which involves developing products once they’ve been designed, sourcing fabrics and working on the fit of each piece, as well as working with suppliers to produce new garments each season. It’s a position that corresponds well to Jyoti’s mix of creative and business talents:
“I’ve always been involved in fashion, predominantly womenswear, and I’ve always worked with designers so that creative element has been there from the start. But I have the business skills too - negotiating prices and making products commercial, and creating garments for the best margins possible.”
These twin capabilities are invaluable when running a fashion business. When Jyoti originally decided to set up her business five years ago, she thought Not Another would be an online platform for new designers to launch their work.
However, that particular incarnation of the company was not to be:
“I came across so many challenges and became quite disheartened. I was quite young and I gave up for a while. Then, last year, I was made redundant from a job I really loved. I was having a few drinks with a friend and he said ‘why can’t you relook at Not Another?’ I’d thought about it but not done anything so I started researching again. I realised that the market had changed and in fashion people now sought personalisation and individuality’.
Undeterred, Jyoti persevered and decided that a rethink of her original idea was needed. She soon came up with a concept with broad appeal:
“As a woman, when you go to a special occasion, whether it’s a wedding or a launch party, your worst nightmare is turning up in the same dress as someone else. I love fashion and I take a lot of pride in my appearance, especially for events like that so I wanted whatever I sold to be unique. My business idea evolved. I would design different pieces of a dress inspired by the latest trends so the customer can go online and create their own dress by picking their neckline, the colour, whether they want midi length or maxi, whether they want cut-outs and so on. It is like a jigsaw puzzle. The customer picks what they like and what suits their body. It’s very trend orientated and quite young.”
Not Another’s dresses will be made in London by Jyoti’s dedicated seamstress and she hopes to officially launch the business in August, although it is already generating plenty of interest from both customers and people hoping to invest.
However, there are areas of the enterprise where Jyoti feels she could do with support:
“I have no experience when it comes to financial forecasting, writing business plans and knowing how to present myself for investment meetings. I’m not always confident and I felt like I needed support. That’s why I decided to go to the Meet a Mentor event in May. There, I met Fiona Barringer. She works for a company called FSE Group as the Mentoring Programme Manager and I clicked instantly with her. I admired her honesty and passion. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about my business with just anyone but Fiona managed to earn my respect within minutes of meeting her and I felt myself open up. It just felt right and you have to go with your gut feeling especially in business."
Having made an initial connection at the Meet a Mentor event, Jyoti and Fiona arranged to meet up and discuss how their mentoring relationship would be structured and the areas in which Fiona’s support would be most useful.
“We decided we’d meet once a month and talk about any issues. She’s helping with my business plan. She’s got no fashion knowledge but I like that. I don’t want someone with the same strengths as me. I want someone with my weaknesses as their strengths. Even just talking to her is good. She brought up the financial side and I was like ‘Oh no, this is my worst nightmare.’ But she said ‘I love doing this!’ My reply- ‘That’s exactly why I picked you!’”
As a mentor, it’s Fiona’s job to help Jyoti see opportunities and challenges from a wider perspective, casting situations in a new light in order to allow her mentee to discover new approaches and new attitudes for herself. Jyoti explains:
“It’s good hearing a point of view on how to tackle a financial task from someone who actually loves doing it. She makes it sound so achievable and easy. Whereas, because I hate doing these things, I had built challenges up in my mind, which don’t necessarily need to be there.”
Many individuals who are just starting out in business talk about what an isolating experience it can be. Having a mentor, as Jyoti has discovered, can provide a valuable and unbiased source of professional support.
“You can ask your friends or family for their advice but it’s different having a mentor. The sole reason Fiona and I meet is to talk about Not Another. There’s no other agenda – it’s a sounding board for me. She’ll never tell me what to do though. When I first met her I was asking her advice on something and she said ‘But why? Why are you thinking this?’ Justifying my feelings and thoughts is really helpful. Someone asking you questions helps you to look deeper into your reasons for thinking things. I would recommend the Meet a Mentor Programme to anyone starting out on their own business journey, especially if you are in it alone.”