Meet Claire Quirk and Daniel van Schaik. Founders of Clan Collective, a design duo creating unique homewares and accessories using fluid aesthetics to create a truly distinct product. This is their entrepreneurial story.
Where did you get the idea for your business?
Our collaborative partnership began in 2014 when we started working together on a range of digital and physical artworks. Clan Collective ‘the business’ was founded when we began selling our pieces; we needed to build a brand in order to establish ourselves in today’s crowded marketplace. Developing ‘Clan Collective’ helped us to differentiate ourselves as a creative unit. It allowed us to bring together our individual accomplishments and skill sets under the one banner.
It began as an experiment; we were both trained very differently in the way that we approached design. We were intrigued not only by what we might produce but also by what we could learn from one another.
Dan’s background was in construction management, furniture design and architecture, while Claire’s experience stemmed from a degree in communication design and a career in the fashion industry. As our skills merged together, our business evolved naturally from producing artwork and sculptures, to creating more functional pieces including a range of jewellery, furniture and homewares.
Currently, Claire is finishing her master’s degree in fashion entrepreneurship. Learning about fabric as a medium inspired us to develop our own range of textiles, including large silk scarves which we exhibited as a part of this year’s Melbourne Spring Fashion Week. Working with Australian suppliers and manufacturers has been an important part of developing our business. As a design studio, we believe it is important to support our local manufacturing industry, and as a result, all of our products are produced in Australia.
How did you get your business started?
Using our individual design accomplishments as a base, we invested a reasonable portion of our savings into the business to get it started. With this money, we were able to purchase the materials that we needed in order to get the ball rolling. We began by selling our products online but found that trading at design markets was an invaluable way of meeting customers face to face and gaining valuable feedback regarding our brand.
From these one-on-one interactions, we discovered that telling the brand’s story, as well as being transparent about our manufacturing processes, was important for engaging a loyal client base. We have now expanded our operations to include three stockists; one in Ivanhoe, one in Brunswick and one in the CBD; but we continue to be involved in as many design markets as often as possible.
What lessons have you learned so far on your business journey?
We’ve learned a lot about ourselves and our business by being naive and just going for it. We firmly believe that failure stimulates growth. The lessons we have learned so far on our business journey have been vital in getting us to where we are today. The following points outline some of the most important lessons we’ve learned to date:
- Always put maximum effort into every project, product, and interaction that you have with your networks and customers. Often, the best opportunities arise through networking and word of mouth. Effort always pays off somewhere down the line.
- Be optimistic, but also realistic. When you’ve had a lucrative month, try not to get too excited and spend a copious amount of money on exciting new tools or materials.
- Take one step every day that could benefit you and your business in the future… whether that be reaching out to a contact, entering a competition, prototyping a new product or brainstorming how to further reach your target market.
How important for you has it been to have a mentor?
To us, the best thing about being co-founders of a business is that we’ve always got our main mentor by our side. We help each other to see the bigger picture, and we are each others’ main source of encouragement. Having a mentor allows you to gain another perspective on the work that you’re doing and the direction that you’re heading in. Having each other as mentors has been vital in growing our business. For us, experience has been the most valuable tool in the development of our business. If you can find a mentor who is willing to share their experiences with you, then you’re sure to gain a great advantage.
What are your top three tips for starting a business?
- Don’t be afraid to share your ideas for fear of someone else ‘stealing’ or ‘copying’ them. The majority of the time, sharing ideas with others will help you to strengthen your concepts, and to develop better ones. Showing people how you think and sharing your inspiration allows for others to see your talents and potential. It could even lead to a great collaboration or partnership.
- Try not to let rejection get you down. It’s likely that not everyone is going to love what you are developing or offering. People have different opinions and tastes — but keep going — because you will find those who appreciate what you are doing, so long as you persevere.
- Test the market early, and test it often. Perform research into who your consumer is, develop your offerings, and then gain some feedback before you spend too much of your start-up capital. For us, the best product and business developments have come directly from listening to our customers.