Jane Rafter is the founder of Slinks, an innovative Sandals brand. It is a really great idea and as soon as I heard about it I knew I had to get an interview with Jane. So find out more about Slinks and learn from the great advice of entrepreneur Jane Rafter in my interview below:
Hi Jane, how are you today?
Hello, very well indeed, thank you. I’m a sun-loving girl so always have an extra little bounce in my step when it is out!
First off, can you give me a background to yourself?
A little on the complicated side! My mother is Australian, my father is Irish and I was born and grew up in Madrid. I went to an International boarding school in Wales and then on to university in Dublin to study Fashion Design. I have been living in London for about 12 years now and love it, especially the people.
So tell me more about Slinks:
Slinks are a devilishly clever pair of sandals: a luxurious sandal base with interchangeable uppers. Ideal for the travelling woman (now they really can take 10 pairs of shoes with them on holiday!) The idea is so simple, the base has three attachment points and there are over 40 styles of uppers at the moment. The uppers can be attached to the base simply and easily. A floral leather upper for breakfast in town, a simple brightly coloured strap for shopping and a hand beaded, faceted crystal delight for a bit of sparkle in the evening. The interchange-ability is the wearer’s secret and they are quickly becoming a huge hit with the girls.
When did you have the idea for Slinks?
I have always liked the idea of combining beauty with a product that works. I did a fashion show at college where I made foot jewellery, as I couldn’t find the perfect shoes for the catwalk. These were handmade with a selection of semi-precious stones, crystals with beaded and interlinked rings to create a cover for the top of the foot. I used to delight in wearing them around the house, at garden BBQs and on holiday, friends loved them. They worked really well and I thought there must be some way of combining them with a base so that they could be worn out and about. I thought no more of it for a while but then friends started getting married and after the eighth wedding one summer I thought it was time to stop buying new shoes and bring my idea to life.
How did you fund the business initially?
I had worked hard for a few years before I started Slinks and saved. When I started the business I actually worked part time for the first two years to help with bills. I always knew I would some day do my own thing. Combining my savings and a loan from a family member, Slinks hit ladies feet and we have never looked back.
Tell me more about your experience on Dragons Den:
It was hard work! I was asked by the BBC to participate in the program and at first I wasn’t too sure it was my thing. Once I had decided to do it I put everything into it. I learnt the numbers, practiced my pitch and rehearsed every aspect of it as much as I could. I invited business and finance friends of my sisters over to grill me. I did everything I could to prepare properly – if you are going to do something do it right.
What you see on the Den is basically exactly as it is (minus the scary music!) I was in the den for an hour and 15 minutes, which in general I think is a long time. As you walk up the stairs, all five dragons are sitting there stony faced looking at you. There is no acknowledgement, gentle tip of the head, slight nod or smile as you do your pitch – then they start firing questions, one by one and at the same time. It is hard to keep your cool, answer the dragons and remember to get everything about your business across.
Why did you turn down the investment offer you received and looking back do you think that was the right thing to do?
I don’t regret turning down the offer. Theo and James had made me an offer and I accepted in the Den. There is a lot of paperwork behind the scenes after the appearance and it wasn’t quite suited to where I wanted the business to go. It was an absolute pleasure to work briefly with Theo and James and they were both true gentleman throughout even when I wanted to pull out.
At the time it was the right thing to do and I still believe it is now.
What was your biggest challenge when starting Slinks?
Not having anyone to share the decisions, ideas, success/ failure and the journey with. It is hard to give up a job and go into the unknown
How did you overcome it?
I overcame it with belief in the end result and wanting to make a success of Slinks – realising the potential if I did push through.
Being an entrepreneur has its ups and downs, how did you keep yourself going through the downs?
Belief, determination and a sense of humour.
The belief in what I was doing and creating the end result was what drove me. I got and still get a physical buzz every time I try Slinks on – they work and I love it.
You have to trust your instincts and think independently. Get advice from people but do it your way whether this goes against the norm or not.
Many people have an idea but it is an entrepreneur who will follow it through and turn it into something real.
Where do you want to be in 5 years’ time?
I love doing what I do, so I’d still like to be doing Slinks along side other innovative products. I have lots of ideas and want to carry on creating. I would like to have a little more time to enjoy life and not just work all the time. There is so much travelling I want to do and never seem to have the time. In saying that I wouldn’t change where I am or what I have done. Just hopefully in 5 years time the pressure might have eased off a little!
What advice would you give any aspiring entrepreneurs?
If you believe in it - do it!
Planning, assessment and goal setting is important. Have a to do list every day and plan what to do, how and where. You need discipline and goals. A path to follow is essential. It is also always good to share ideas and get feedback, although someone who might be more risk adverse will never be quite as excited. You have to make sure your belief doesn’t waver at all times.
Be fair and honest with everyone you deal with from the postman to the head buyer at Harrods. It is sometimes the least expected people that make your business run smoothly. I always remember that the man I met and was polite to in the lift turned out to be the CEO of one of the biggest fashion retail companies and he has helped me ever since. Always treat people how you want to be treated and try to laugh when things go wrong - the worst never happens.
Are there any resources you found particularly useful when starting your business?
There are certain companies for cheaper postage systems, online payment systems, printing, legal costs etc. but individual people have been the real key and the most valuable resource for me over the years.
I spoke to as many people as I could and asked around for anyone who had done anything similar. I have been very lucky with the contacts I have made but I have also worked hard at them. As such I recommend staying in touch with people wherever you can. A friend of my aunt, who used to be the shoe buyer at Bloomingdales in New York, recommended my factory to me - information like this is gold dust! Ask anyone and everyone for the areas you need help in – someone will know.
Big thanks to Jane Rafter for the interview. Be sure to check out Slinks by jane Rafter here: http://www.slinks.com
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