Make upskilling a habit to succeed in any industry, especially in new ones.
When James Wakefield, my high school friend and I first decided to pursue the idea of building a made-to-measure suit business, we were both in corporate jobs. I was in between corporate jobs after graduating university and James was working at Macquarie bank as an Associate Adviser — we didn’t have the faintest idea what was involved in starting a business and upskilling, let alone in custom menswear.
Today’s generation switch professions more than any other. In fact, according to research from MCrindle, on average Australians will have 17 jobs between the ages of 18 – 75, switching work fields 5 times. We do this to refresh our careers, pursue other areas of interest and because we enjoy learning.
While this can be difficult and challenging, upskilling can also be extremely rewarding and full of possibilities. Here are a few key lessons from my experience when building the company from the ground up.
Seek out and learn from the best
When you have a very specific skill set to learn, there are often only a select few people who you will want to teach you. Do your research and immerse yourself in the culture before deciding who you can trust to teach you these vital skills.
When James and I’ve decided to upskill ourselves in the custom menswear industry, we spent many months researching and asking people who we respected where they had learnt their craft. We recognised that the lessons we would learn here would be the foundations to our business, so invested the time in travelling around Asia and Europe seeking the very best tailors and pattern makers.
Become a student of your industry
It can be easy when you consider starting a business in a particular industry to just skim over the lessons that aren’t immediately applicable to business development. However, taking the time to become a true student of your genre will reap dividends in the long run. The history of your industry, influential figures and trends over time are all key knowledge areas for any aspiring business leader.
The tailored suit industry is steeped in tradition, something James and I have a great deal of respect for. We worked with many experienced bespoke tailors and pattern makers around the world to deconstruct and improve the build and fit of our suits. While we are constantly looking to innovate within our space, the history is fascinating and the lessons passed down from as long as a century ago are still very relevant today.
Surround yourself with people who have more experience
This is an old lesson, but is all the more essential if you are looking to branch into an industry in which you have no experience. You will have a base knowledge of the industry and a vague idea of how you want your business to operate, but a person hired with prior experience will know how to structure and help grow your business.
Surrounding yourself with people who know more than you has the dual benefit of adding years of experience to your business and giving you someone to bounce ideas off. We are proud to employ some of the most passionate and knowledgeable people in the men’s fashion industry. Not a day goes by where I don’t learn something new from our staff, and it is important that it stays this way.
The power of asking
Entrepreneurs will often be afraid to get to know competitors or existing business owners, but networking and discussing similar business issues or pain points can often be very beneficial for both parties. We spoke to numerous people, in the early days of starting the company, who gave us advice on fabrics, construction and supply chain management.
Whether it be other entrepreneurs who have been there before, a business owner in a similar space or even a friend to give you feedback, there is no harm in asking.
All truly worthwhile things in life take time, and upskilling yourself in a new profession is no different. Building a business from the ground up with no experience is a painstaking process, but one that, for me, has made me the man I am today. Never stop learning.
Robin McGowan, CEO and Co-Founder, InStitchu