ISB recently talked to Alex Baro and Catherine Wong, co-founders of Black Swallow, an online fashion retailer that sells women’s clothes, shoes, accessories, and hair and beauty products.
When and how did the idea for Black Swallow came about?
AB & CW: Black Swallow came about just over two years ago. Alex was struggling to hold a job down so we decided to start our own business and go to China to search for that “something” for that business.
What made you decide to go to China, and how did you find your “something” there?
AB & CW: We had poor insight and no business experience. We assumed that everyone simply went to China to find something to import, resell, and become rich. This mentality resulted in multiple failed trips to China where we found nothing and nearly went broke from the expensive trips and meeting the wrong people. We were lost in China and we were ready to go home. A sweet Chinese girl grabbed Catherine’s arm and introduced herself as a dress wholesaler. We decided Black Swallow would start by selling these dresses simply because of the new friend we had made.
What issues did you face with the shift to entrepreneurship, and how did you manage to overcome them?
AB: I’ve never actually had a proper job before. I studied at uni to help pass time and I had a fantastic social life with the boys. My biggest struggle was having to give up the party life and focus on growing Black Swallow. In the first year I wanted to give up many times when things weren’t going well. My friends were out having fun and I was at home trying to sell female clothes. The initial struggles were all overcome through hard work and determination.
CW: I was a nurse and was very focused on my career. Nursing was our only stable form of income so I held onto that for as long as possible working rotating shifts between the hospital and at home on Black Swallow. My main struggle was trying to stay awake and keep the bills paid! Things started to fall into place when I decided to leave nursing and focus on Black Swallow 100 per cent. This was when we saw rapid growth, hiring our first few staff members and we moved into our first warehouse.
On the business side, what have been the initial difficulties you encountered and how did you manage to overcome them?
AB & CW: The biggest challenge we have encountered was when our Instagram page got hacked into. We lost the page and had to start again. It is also difficult finding trustworthy suppliers because everyone will always start off trying to sell you supplies at the highest prices. The key is building strong relationships so suppliers genuinely want to look after you and help your business grow.
What lessons have you learnt about entrepreneurship?
AB: It is actually very hard to run your own business. You can’t simply buy a ticket to China and hope for the best. Success is the result of multiple failures and sleepless nights!
CW: If you want something bad enough, you need to give it your undivided attention.
Finally, what advise would you pass on to others with an idea they’d like to turn into a business?
AB & CW: Anything is achievable if you are willing to learn and be willing to fail, multiple times over. Perseverance will see you through tough times!